The answer to the question of, "Where can I get financing for my business?" now has a new option.
Tundra Angels, an outflow of the Greater Green Bay Chamber Economic Development Strategic Plan, is pairing angel investors and entrepreneurs to provide funding.
Matthew Kee, startup development manager, explained that Tundra Angels is about giving hope to entrepreneurs who have great ideas but lack the funds to launch those ideas. As an entrepreneur himself, he understands the need.
"I moved to Green Bay in mid-2016 and was pitching for capital for my business, but it was hard to make connections and progress here," he said. "I actually had to go out of state. Since then, it is a totally different environment. To see how far we've come and be able to play a role in that process makes me very bullish on the future of Green Bay."
Kee, who holds two MBAs, started a business called Upper Room Technology with his father. The business was developed to make it more accessible to do bonds trading in underserved markets. The products helped users determine what to buy and sell. To finance the business, money was raised from a Fortune 500 company.
But most entrepreneurs are not in a position to tap into that financing market. The choices are limited.
"There are the basic ways to fund your business. Grants are limited and might be available to nonprofits, and bank loans are difficult to get unless your business has a track record," Kee said. "The challenge of traditional lenders is that with the risk profile of banks being what it is, you can't get funded."
To obtain investment through Tundra Angels, a track record isn't needed. A business plan isn't a requirement, either.
"We are looking for businesses with high-growth potential at the seed or pre-seed stage. What matters is not looking at the business plan, because once you get the product to the market you will learn a lot more about the direction. It will change and pivot. What matters more is the person, and we get a sense of that during the pitch," Kee said.
Pitching to investors is the start of the process. Kee said it isn't like an episode of "Shark Tank" where decisions are made immediately. The pitch starts the conversation. At quarterly meetings about three of four entrepreneurs, all who have already met with Kee, will give a pitch that includes a 10-minute presentation and 10 minutes of questions.
After the pitch, investors will say what companies they are interested in having a conversation with, and Kee sets up the meetings.
There are already about 15 angel investors ready to provide a minimum of $25,000 in capital to a startup they connect with. In return for a capital investment, the investor gets equity in the company.
It is more than funding, however. Kee said the group promises to provide mentorship and connections, something he considers vital.
"As an entrepreneur, I have had a lot of mentors come alongside me in my journey. They spoke into my journey and formed me into the person I am now," Kee said. "The funders we have can provide opportunities to network with high caliber professionals, and they want to see world-class companies being built in Green Bay."
He says the Chamber of Commerce has the same motivation in developing the program. It also sees the benefit in building companies in Green Bay that will attract and keep talent in the area by providing opportunities.
"Because we work with the Chamber, what excites me is a thriving ecosystem where companies are starting locally, getting funded locally and building business locally. My vision is to help accelerate the flywheel of that system," he said.
That will mean careful selection of startups within the program. Kee encourages those with great ideas to contact him (TundraAngels@greatergbc.org).
"It starts with a validated idea or active business. We have a conversation to decide what the best avenue of funding is. I try to ascertain if it is something that strategically fits with Tundra Angels, and if it doesn't, I help them think through that and point to the right source for them," Kee said.
He also noted that not every person should try to be an entrepreneur.
Although it seems like the cool thing to do, he emphasized that a person's motivation must be right and they need to be willing to put in the work needed to make it a reality.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.