He Believes in Angels: The Story of a Company Backed by 400 Angel Investors


By: Elaine Bolle, RTP Capital Associates

Rob Neville is a serial entrepreneur, and his story is a powerful testimonial about the importance of angel funding. 

Savara Pharmaceuticals, Rob’s 4th startup, is an orphan lung disease company working on inhaled investigational therapies. Rob’s personal philosophy and growth strategy involves leveraging the expertise, relationships, and capital of angels around the world. His belief in angel funding is a direct result of his success — his third company, Evity, sold for $100M just one year after it was founded, and a single round of angel investment provided the startup capital.

Fast forward several years, and Rob leveraged his success with Evity to start Savara, using his own money and $1M from 10 angels. Early angel investors included leading ACA member groups Keirestu, Tech Coast Angels, and Central Texas Angel Network (CTAN).

“We never eliminated venture capitalists as a potential source of funding, but we had such great momentum with angels that we never needed any VCs. Our story confirms that angels fuel the economy and are a critical part of the entrepreneurial landscape,”  commented Rob. In fact, Rob and his team raised more than $50M from nearly 400 angel investors around the world.

"Angels want to do a little good, make a little money, and have a little fun," explains Rob.
"They fuel the economy in many ways, and our story is proof of the positive impact angel groups can bring to a company."

Rob managed the acquisition of angel groups and investors like he managed the acquisition of customers — as a process and a science. He created a sales pipeline and managed it to success by telling a powerful story; angels invest with both their heads and their hearts. On average, each angel group made an initial investment and then followed-on 2.5 times. Every round of funding was oversubscribed. “Outside of North America, investors are even more driven by relationships,” said Rob. “One investor can quickly become 20 if you’re networking with the right groups and angels.”

Savara also recognized the value that angels could bring to its governing practices and leadership team. Several angel investors, including an M.D. with relevant expertise, joined the board of directors. The team recognized the importance of proactively communicating with angel investors and leveraging their hard-earned experience to help the company grow.

The primary downside to relying solely on angel funding, according to Rob, is the IPO process — it can be harder to build credibility and have an institutional book without any venture capital firms involved. Instead of a traditional Initial Public Offering (IPO), Savara went public using a reverse merger in 2017, and once public, they raised more than $200 million. 

The Angel Funders Report 2020 is the only source of verified data provided directly by active angel investing groups. The report is based on information collected from a variety of ACA member groups, including some of the most active investing communities. It analyzes angel capital investments made during 2019, and features profiles and insights from leading angel investors and startup company executives. The Angel Funders Report 2020 also includes initial perspectives regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the investing ecosystem.  Access the full report here!

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