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Massachusetts non-profit working to create new network of angel investors focused on science- and engineering-intensive startups

Posted by Scott Kirsner  June 5, 2012 08:39 AM

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There's not much of a web site yet at FundingWhatMatters.com, but it could eventually be the online home for a new network of investors called the Science & Engineering Angels. They'd focus on materials and chemistry ventures, device makers, and startups built upon scientific or engineering breakthroughs that can grow to profitability with less than $1 million in funding, says Joseph Steig, one of the people helping to lay the groundwork for the new angel group.

"I think there's some need to aggregate investors interested in things that aren't Instagram," says Steig, referring to the mobile photo-sharing service recently acquired by Facebook for $1 billion.

While Steig says the group isn't yet formed, or meeting regularly, it is now registered as an "in formation" entity with the Angel Capital Association, the trade association for angel groups. Steig says he is working on the project with Judith Giordan, a former R&D executive at PepsiCo and Henkel Corporation, a large German cosmetics and consumer products company.

Both Steig and Giordan are based in western Massachusetts, and both have connections to the non-profit National Collegiate Innovations & Inventors Alliance in Hadley. (Steig is an employee, and Giordan an advisor.) NCIIA gives grants to college students interested in further developing and commercializing academic inventions, and a network of angel investors willing to back capital-efficient concepts could help those students and their startups. "The idea is," says Steig, "how can we begin to better aggregate or associate with investors who are interested in supporting not just NCIIA-funded projects, but interested in capital-efficient deals in particular categories?"

As examples of the types of companies that have received NCIIA grants, and which might be interesting to angels, he mentions Strongarm, a startup from the Rochester Institute of Technology that is working on devices to help people lift heavy objects, and Ecovative Designs, which wants to replace styrofoam in packages with a material made from mushrooms. It came out of Rensselaer Polytechnic, and recently attracted funding from 3M.

"The whole project is still speculative," says Steig. "We're talking to investors about how this might take shape. There's no critical mass of investors yet."

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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