What is it like to give and receive a helping hand in business?
After philanthropist Mark Dunajtschik donated $50 million to build a children’s hospital in Wellington, we went looking for Christchurch’s angels and found the city has an army of them.
SUE SKEET AND PAUL CLARIDGE – CANTERBURY ANGELS.
Sue Skeet, founder of memorial website A Memory Tree, and database app NoticeMATCH, which records information about deaths in New Zealand.
I launched A Memory Tree in 2009 and from that, NoticeMATCH was born. But in the early days of NoticeMATCH, I was badly affected by the Christchurch earthquakes. I lost homes in both quakes. I knew three people who passed away. It was eight hours before I knew if my daughter was alive. It was just too much. I moved to Timaru and had a bit of a hiatus from building my business.
After taking part in a Lightning Lab business acceleration programme last year, I presented NoticeMATCH to the Canterbury Angels and there was a lot of interest. They did some due diligence – they are angels, but they are investors. It has to be a solid business proposition.
The due diligence process was a lot of work and it wasn’t just a case of them choosing me; it was me choosing them, as well. I had to ensure these were the kind of people I could work with. They’re not only investing in you financially; they’re investing with their skills, knowledge and connections. Paul is just incredible. He is so hands-on and he’s there to help and answer questions.
It’s a very lonely road being an entrepreneur. The success rate is so low because people start with a hiss and roar and then fail. It requires grit, and grit over a long time, and consistency. They’ve invested some funds that have enabled me to focus on my business 100 per cent – that’s really been the biggest thing.
The angels come with a lot more than investment. It’s a business relationship, but it’s also very supportive. Paul and I really get on. As an entrepreneur, you can get tunnel vision, so it’s really good to have someone to say, “you’ve really got to focus on this now, and just put that other thing to one side”.
Paul Claridge, a member of the Canterbury Angels, is Sue’s lead investor and business mentor.
I joined the Canterbury Angels about 18 months ago. They’re a group of people who are very experienced in business and are really interested in helping young companies. A large number of start-up companies don’t succeed, and often because they don’t get the right advice, or maybe their idea isn’t that flash. Canterbury Angels is part of an eco-system at the very early stage and there’s a lot of other players as well, like the Canterbury University Centre for Entrepreneurship.
All of the Canterbury Angels have day jobs, and this is an interest and a hobby for lots of the angels. I’ve got a background in senior roles in a wide range of businesses in different sectors so, like other angels, we’ve learnt a lot and we are applying some of that knowledge and experience to companies that are forming and starting to grow. I think that probably takes some of the pain and suffering away from them in a sense. I do it because it’s really interesting and I enjoy helping people grow companies.
It can be pretty lonely for a founder or an entrepreneur, and to have some support from experienced people is almost more valuable than any investment. I’ve been working with Sue for close to a year. I’m one of five or six angels that have invested in Sue’s company and I happen to represent that group – we call that the lead investor.
I work one-on-one with Sue, but I’m representing the group. There are about 50 members in Canterbury Angels, some more active than others. Canterbury Angels has been going for a couple years. It takes about five to 10 years for a business to grow from a little seedling into something bigger. As I said, it can be lonely and tough when you’re trying to build a business.
*Canterbury Angel Investors is the Canterbury region’s angel investment network. The group helps young companies gain the investment they need to grow, while generating returns for investors.
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