Donna Blake retired from the corporate world in 1996 and switched to investing in the stock market. It was a new challenge, but she missed her work: “The planning, the excitement, the strategy sessions, the marketing campaigns. I missed it all.”
"The planning, the excitement, the strategy sessions, the marketing campaigns. I missed it all." Donna Blake, Investor and board member, Seaport Airlines. // Photo by Eric Näslund
She heard about the Oregon Angel Fund from a friend and signed up immediately after sitting in on a meeting. She enjoyed the collective approach and the fun atmosphere, but the real attraction for her was the work. “What’s exciting to me is learning about all of these business ideas,” she says. “It’s such a wealth of exposure to so many industries. We’re vetting businesses starting with concepts I never would have thought existed.”
With a background in sales and marketing, Blake stayed away from leading due diligence into the high-growth technology companies seeking funding. But she is also an avid pilot who earned her license in her 20s, so when Seaport Airlines came before the group, “My hand shot up and I said, ‘I want to lead this team.’”
The group ended up investing $400,000 in Seaport in 2009 following a thumbs-up recommendation from Blake and her team. Blake also moved outside of the fund to invest as an individual. The company struggled finding business commuters during the recession but found its way to profitability by smartly tapping into the market for essential air services for rural towns. Since expanding its business plan with encouragement from angel investors, Seaport has expanded to 120 scheduled flights a day in seven states, soon to be eight. Blake has been deeply involved with the expansion as a board member, flying to Memphis to help close the deal to move into the Tennessee market.
Blake has personally invested in other companies vetted by the angel fund, including the vacation rental business Second Porch; the e-commerce business The Clymb; and Celilo Group Media, the publisher of the popular Chinook Book. She also plans to bring three friends into the fund this year as new investors. “It’s a great diversification tool, and it’s fun,” she says.
Nick Wade agrees. He joined the Oregon angels last spring. After being introduced to Rosenfeld through mutual friends, he sat in on a meeting and immediately saw the potential. “I walked up to Eric afterwards and said, ‘I’m in,’” he says. “It was the vitality of the group that sold me.”
Wade, a former researcher at Intel with a lifelong interest in investing, appreciated the group’s methodical yet aggressive team approach. “It’s a risk investment,” he says. “But the thought and consideration that goes into each investment is prudent and thorough… And it will lead naturally to a more diversified Oregon economy.”
It already has. Among the companies within the OAF portfolio are the latest Oregon medical devices firm to gain FDA approval (Bend-based Clear Catheter Systems), the fastest-growing private telecommunications business in the nation (Vancouver-based Clear Access) and an emerging player in the wide-open wave energy industry (Corvallis-based Columbia Power Technologies).
Those are exactly the sorts of companies that could help improve Oregon’s lagging per capita income if they catch on and grow. And they all benefited from investors who might not have heard about them had it not been for the Oregon Angel Fund. “No way would I have considered investing in small companies in Oregon without this structure set up,” says Sandler, the former Novas CEO.