Robin Hood Ventures – Successful Part of Philadelphia’s Startup Ecosystem


ACA Membership Director Sarah Dickey interviewed Ellen Weber recently as part of a series of ACA member profiles.

Meet Ellen Weber – ACA member angel investor, Executive Director of Robin Hood Ventures and Executive Director of the Temple Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute. Ellen provides insight into how the 16 year old angel group maintains its edge for investing in dynamic markets.

How and when did you get involved in angel investing?

Robin Hood was founded when two long-time friends attended a local pitch event with little structure and no follow up.  They wanted to create an angel group that would not only get deals done as effectively as possible, but would also work closely with the entrepreneur after investment.  I agreed to help them start this new angel group with an initial role of serving as the back office to get things off the ground. Very quickly my role grew and I also became very active in the local entrepreneurial community. 

As an investor, I am most interested in companies that solve the problems I experience – especially in my professional work.  For example, an early investment was in Intellifit, which designed custom-fit jeans for women and later created sizing solutions.

One of my best investments, and the group’s first exit, was a 4X return in less than four years.  Novartis purchased Protez, which had an antibiotic that could be used to fight MRSA, a growing threat in hospitals. The great thing about this exit is that so many ecosystem partners were involved in the deal and returns; Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the greenhouse program, local VCs and angels.

Tell me a little about your Robin Hood Ventures. 

Robin Hood Ventures is a group of 35 highly engaged serial entrepreneurs who, over the last 16 years, have invested $20 million dollars over 55 investments.  Our members are intimately involved in the sourcing, selection, and post-investment growth of our portfolio companies. 

We prefer B2B deals with varied sector interests including niche software, healthcare and education IT. There are a number of life science deals in our portfolio and have done a few investments in companies that support renewable energy.  While we may invest $250,000 to $500,000 in the first round of an investment, we generally plan to invest $1 million over the company life cycle.

What would you say is the most important investing trend for you and the members of Robin Hood Ventures?

The investing ecosystem is so important to the success of our success of our startups in Philadelphia.  Syndication was the major trend looking back the past few years because it was and remains vital to our success.  Nearly all of our deals are syndicated with other angel groups.  And syndication happens with other groups as well: in about 60 percent of the companies we’ve invested in, we were a match for Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and we recently invested in an early stage VC to see their deal flow as well. 

Our group is very focused on supporting our companies before and after investment, really throughout their life cycle.  Robin Hood Ventures has relationships with local innovation and capital sources such as accelerators, VCs, universities, city government, institutions such as the University City Science Center and service providers. We are actively pursuing relationships that help us bring value to our portfolio companies beyond advice and money, such as a special program with Amazon AWS, introductions to key partners, etc.

What is the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs in your market?

It is still access to capital. Philadelphia is like a lot of the east coast - we are looking for proof of concept before we invest. So the initial money is hard to come by. Our challenge is that we need to make sure we fund companies with enough money to ensure they can get to the next milestone.

What is the most important issue or trend for angels to be aware of in the next year?

It is really important for angels to understand the impact of equity crowdfunding and other new platforms on our deal flow. We need to stay ahead of that trend. 

What’s next for you?

I just took on leadership of the Temple University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute, with a goal of helping launch and grow new companies.  It is very exciting to be working with students, faculty, and alumni, and connecting innovation at Temple with the Philadelphia ecosystem. In addition, part of my role at Temple is to lead the Mid-Atlantic Diamond Ventures forum.  MADV works with early-stage companies, and provides coaching to make sure their business model, value proposition and product is venture-ready.  These companies present to a group of investors on a quarterly basis. 

How has ACA helped Robin Hood Ventures achieve its goals?

Our group started at a time when there weren’t many professionally active peers so initially ACA was our source for best practices. We set the goal to be efficient and entrepreneur-friendly and ACA helped us get this done.

ACA helps us think ahead to how changes in the landscape may impact us – especially public policy. ACA’s work helps us anticipate these change and continually innovate our practices to meet the future needs of the market.  

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