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Angel investor network lands in Sussex County

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GEORGETOWN Mark Wdowik hasn’t been in Delaware too long, but he’s already starting to get a feel for how interconnected things are in the First State.

That’s exactly what he was looking for when he opened a second location of East Coast (EC) Angels, a North Carolina-based angel investor network, in Sussex County. With international members of accredited investors looking for projects in search of capital that inspire them and would see a great return-of-investment, EC Angels thrives on a strong network to bring good ideas to the table.

“I’ve been having conversations with the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, and they connected me with a CEO. That CEO connected me with someone looking at manufacturing leasing, and I can’t say too much at this point about that,” Wdowik, the president and CEO of EC Angels, told the Delaware Business Times. “That network is already how we’re working. There’s a lot of good ideas out there, but there’s not a lot of capital in Delaware.”

Unlike venture capital funds, angel networks are a membership organization with experienced management to vet investment opportunities on behalf of its members. There is no valuation of the network, as each member has the opportunity to opt in or out of an investment. 

EC members must qualify as an accredited investor: with $200,000 in individual annual income, $300,000 income per household or assets valued at $1 million. The network includes members from Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, Virginia, Colorado, California, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Since EC Angels launched in 2019, the network has invested $2.3 million in six investments, ranging between $75,000 and $1.2 million. EC Angels’ greatest strength is the diversity of its members and a broad focus, Wdowik said, as its members weigh prospects for pre-revenue startups or those with $50 million in the bank looking to expand.

Wdowik previously led his own startup company, Bandgap Technology Corporation, then valued at $50 million, and later moved on to launch a boutique banking and investment firm. He was later brought on at the University of Kansas to teach how to start up companies, and eventually other universities hired him to start venture funds to secure private dollars. He led funds at Colorado State University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and East Carolina University.

Delaware’s strategic location to the Northeast corridor and its beaches marked it as the best location for both business and family, Wdowik said.

“We were looking to expand further north, maybe in Maryland. But on a personal side, my wife and I always wanted to live closer to the beach. Our children live in D.C., and Delaware was closer than the other locations,” he said. “But it’s also a great place to be as we’re looking for expanding investment opportunities further north.”

Investment opportunities land on EC Angel’s radar four ways: through the university network that Wdowik has cultivated over the past 20 years, referrals from professional services, other angels, and pitches.

“I personally sit through 130 pitches before narrowing them down to a handful to bring to the network,” he said. “Whatever does catch our attention is put through our Slack [instant messaging] channel, for people to evaluate when they have the time. If someone takes an interest in it, they will make a package, and ask if anyone else is interested, and then it goes from there.”

EC Angels plans to tap into University of Delaware and its assorted programs, similar to what Wdowik has done through East Carolina University in the past. There’s some possibilities of building off existing federal programs for rural communities like southern Delaware that could catch an investor’s eye if they were looking for an upfront return on investment, Wdowik said.

Since EC Angels is a network of investors that do the “heavy lifting” of looking into prospects, each investor can pick and choose which project to invest in. But speaking for himself, Wdowik said he’s interested to see what investments can help lift up rural communities.

“When you look at Greenville, N.C., it’s surrounded by farms, and East Carolina University has a lot of programs for it. There’s a support network, and there’s capital. In rural communities, it’s hard to find that level of support,” he said. “There’s good ideas everywhere, it’s just about putting the support behind it.”

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