30 Nov 2017

New Study Sheds Light on Angel Investors in the US Economy

Andy Wu
Photo: Russ Campbell

BOSTON—“The American Angel,” a new comprehensive national study released yesterday, provides a detailed picture of angel investors--who they are, where they live, and how they make investment decisions.

The report is based on a comprehensive survey of 1,659 accredited angel investors in the United States led by Laura Huang, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Andy Wu, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Their team of researchers designed and implemented the study in collaboration with the Angel Capital Association and Rev1 Ventures, which raised the John Huston Fund for Angel Professionalism to fund this research.

“Angel investors are a key component in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, providing indispensable capital that kick-starts the journey of tens of thousands of startup firms in the United States every year,” said Wu. “We are excited to share the findings of this first large-scale survey of its kind in this country, shedding light on the identity of the ‘American Angel,’ and how that is rapidly changing.”

Highlights of "The American Angel" report include:

Angels are everywhere: Most angel investors (63 percent) don’t live in Silicon Valley, New York, or Boston, the traditional homes of venture capital. “The American Angel” also reports that angels in those three communities write smaller checks than angels elsewhere (average of $32,000 vs. $37,000).

Entrepreneurs become angels and are especially active: More than half of angels (54.8 percent) have experience as entrepreneurs and often advise the startups they invest in, informally or as board members. Angel investors with entrepreneurial experience write bigger checks, an average of $39,000 vs. an average of $28,000 for angels without entrepreneurial experience. They also have more companies in their angel portfolios and see better returns.

More women are becoming angels: Women comprise 22 percent of angel investors in the study. The report’s results indicate that number is growing. Among respondents who began investing since 2015, 30 percent are women. In comparison, other studies have shown 5 to 8 percent of venture capitalists are women.

Women invest differently: 51 percent of women respondents consider gender of business founders to be important when making investment decisions (compared to 6 percent of men). “This indicates that women are seeking to support women entrepreneurs,” said Huang.

Another gender difference: Twice as many women as men reported they strongly consider social impact of a startup when making investment decisions (33 percent for women vs. 16 percent for men.) Both men and women angels agree that the quality of the founding team is the most important consideration when investing.

Eyes-open risk takers: Angels said an average of 11 percent of their portfolio yielded a positive return.


Jim Aisner

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.