Eric Hiatt exudes confidence, energy and optimism. When we met at his office one morning a few weeks ago, he grasped my hand firmly and fixed me with a warm and direct gaze before gamely answering my (somewhat impertinent) questions about the organization he leads, Shasta Angels. “Your questions are making me a little nervous” he admitted, before enthusiastically jumping in front of the whiteboard to illustrate a few more points.
I appreciated his courage in the face of the news media.
Shasta Angels is a group of “angel investors” who are attempting to slowly and quietly transform the economy of Redding and its surroundings. They operate with a vision to increase the prosperity of the region they call home. But let’s be clear, the mission isn’t primarily altruistic. They’re business people and they’re investing for personal profit.
These so called “angel investors” are what the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) refers to as “accredited investors”, a title requiring either a minimum net worth of $1 million or $200K in annual income in each of the last two years. “Angel investors” are presumed to be financially sophisticated investors with a reduced need for the usual regulatory protections afforded to others. The Shasta Angels are a group of individual investors who meet these criteria and who’ve banded together to create investment opportunities bigger than their individual resources.
While Eric Hiatt seems to take business very seriously, he is clearly a busy man with a lot of irons in the fire. “I don’t get paid to do this” he says of his position as Executive Director of the Angels, before pulling up a slide to remind himself of some of his talking points for the organization. But it’s clear he’s passionate about the work of the Angels who he describes as “mostly old Redding”. The Angels were first organized in 2011, but didn’t begin investing until 2013. Since that time, according to Mr. Hiatt, they have invested $1.97 million in 11 different companies representing a value of $153.45 million. These companies have generated $19.3 million in revenue over the last 12 months and currently employ 224 people.
I couldn’t help but compare this success with the vision of Stillwater Industrial Park’s potential for generating local employment. But when I asked Mr. Hiatt for his opinion on this he only smiled and looked down at the table before quickly replying “ No comment on Stillwater.” Can’t fault me for trying, right?
The Shasta Angels were started to bridge the gap between local startups and local investors. Per Mr. Hiatt, they look at around thirty deals every year and usually invest in about 2 companies. They are what are referred to by the SEC as a “self directed investment club” meaning that while they pool their deal opportunities, their knowledge, and their experience base, they don’t pool their funds, investing individually instead. They are also a part of In Sync, a network of angel investor groups across California who cooperate with each other to share “deal flow.” The Shasta Angels do not cooperatively generate any income. According to Mr. Hiatt, a deal is considered a “Shasta Angels investment” when a member of the Angels invests in a business brought in through the Shasta Angels pipeline.”
This is to differentiate from investments made by members of the Shasta Angels outside of their Angel affiliation, as apparently happened recently when Joel Taylor, Bethel Music CEO and Shasta Angel, purchased what used to be the Old Oregon Street Antique Mall. Mr. Hiatt clarified that the property was purchased with Taylor’s personal funding sources, and not as a member of the Shasta Angels, although Joel did reach out to his Shasta Angel friends and colleagues for advice on the purchase before completing it.
This is pretty typical for individual angels, according to Mr. Hiatt, because collegial support is a significant part of the organizational benefit of the group. When high powered business people from a wide variety of backgrounds band together in a sort of club (officially an LLC), the shared corporate knowledge is a huge boost to each individual member. Which is why Joel Taylor, or any member of the Angels, may turn to other Angels for advice or guidance.
“Think about it” Eric told me “I’ve got access to banking, attorney, finance, medical, and technology” leaders whenever I make a personal investment. “Of course I utilize those resources. I’d be crazy not to.” And it’s worth mentioning that like Joel Taylor, Eric Hiatt has been buying up some significant Redding property with his own personal resources. He and Luke Miner are co-owners on the Pine Street property that houses Salvation Army and Crowning Jewels.
But I wasn’t done making Mr. Hiatt nervous. I asked Eric if he was familiar with the facebook group Bethel Affiliated Businesses, which could be more aptly named Boycott Bethel Businesses. Driven by curiosity, I recently joined the active group, and found that it functions to crowd source connections between local businesses and our local megachurch for the purpose of avoiding supporting Bethel. Mr. Hiatt’s not on social media at all (which is probably one of the reasons he’s so dang successful) and had only heard of the group, but quickly pointed out that he is a Redding local, born and raised here. He attends a local Vineyard Church, not Bethel.
More importantly, he (and the Shasta Angels) don’t differentiate business affiliations based on race, ethnicity, gender or religious affiliation, including Bethel. “I invest in people” he told me, repeating an oft quoted line of his about how ideas are a dime a dozen. He believes some people have the intelligence and drive to make good ideas happen and those are the ones he wants to invest in. He quickly looked over the Shasta Angel investments and pointed out that of the 11 businesses the Shasta Angels have invested in so far, only one has a Bethel connection that he knows of. ( A listing of the businesses can be found on the Shasta Angels website.)
And while Joel Taylor is Bethel Music’s CEO and Luke Miner (another Angel) originally came here for Bethel (Hiatt was unsure if he still attends), many of the Shasta Angels have no connections to Bethel and could be more aptly be described as “old Redding”. He cited Michael Daquisto (local attorney and Redding City Council Member), Mike Davis (CEO of MD Imaging) and Scott Putnam (Apex Technology Management) among others.
Honestly, Eric seemed annoyed that any connection was being drawn between the Shasta Angels and Bethel at all.
Drawing rapidly on his conference room white board, Eric showed me three interconnected circles representing the Economic Development Corporation, Start Up Redding and the Shasta Angels. “This is a fragile, developing, interconnected balance”, he told me several times. “We don’t want to scare away old Redding, they are our foundation, we need them. At the same time, if new people who have come here bring a good concept and good execution, there is no reason not to invest in a profitable idea with a potentially profitable individuals. That’s how we connect old Redding with the best of new Redding,” according to Hiatt.
While the Shasta Angels invest significant finances into the region, their goals are even bigger. They want to shape the next generation of business leaders, influencers and thinkers throughout the region and they hope to do this by offering significant business mentoring alongside their financial investments.
Shasta EDC, the Shasta Angels and Start Up Redding are working on a number of small off shoot projects cooperatively. These include Pub Talks, a kind of local Ted Talks for business, held at Theory Collaborative. I asked about the venue, which is well known to be “Bethel affiliated.” Eric’s response? “They’re a really cool venue and they have good coffee.” One gets the feeling Eric Hiatt doesn’t waste time thinking about what church the owners might go to, and he’s a little impatient that I do.
The Venture Conference is another cooperative project of the three organizations, and Eric is quick to point out that it was his brain baby. “I came up with the idea about five years ago” he said, smiling broadly and asking if I attended. “You should come next year. It’s pretty amazing.”
Pitch Breakfasts, a kind of mini Shark Tank held monthly, are the third project that the Shasta Angels, together with the EDC and StartUp Redding are cooperating on.
As we wrapped up, I wanted to know Mr. Hiatt’s thoughts on the new Shasta County sales tax that’s being proposed. After all, the startups he’s a part of incubating will be some of the potential sources for new tax funds. In response he shared the story of making the building he now works in his own. Located near the “UnSafe-way” downtown, the building was a hub for transients when Mr. Hiatt first bought it. “I came down three times a day for three months, 6 am, 12 am and 3 am. My wife didn’t like it. I told the people sleeping on my property ‘I like you but this is my building now and you can’t sleep here anymore.’ Then, after three months I put a fence up.”
If you want things to change, Mr. Hiatt said, you have to do something.
Does joining a new facebook group count?