Here's the pitch: Canyon Angels students learn from expert

Author Eric Ries shares what he's learned about startup companies at Friday's Canyon Angels Startup Pitch Event in the Canyon Ventures Innovation Center.

Photos by Ralph Freso

New York Times best-selling author Eric Ries knows the ups of startups – and the downs, too.

He is on his third startup and failed at a few of them before getting there, though he has seen plenty of success, too

That's why the entrepreneur was the perfect fit to talk to Canyon Angels, a nonprofit investment group founded at Grand Canyon University's Colangelo College of Business in 2015 by Tim Kelley, the college's chair of entrepreneurship. The group loves to invest in startup companies.

Ries, author of popular blog "Startup Lessons Learned," spoke to students during a conference call at the Canyon Angels Startup Pitch Event on Friday in the Canyon Ventures Innovation Center at 27th Avenue and Camelback Road. He shared methodology from his book, "The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses."

The book is a blueprint for entrepreneurship in GCU's Colangelo College of Business, and its methodology has been written about by The Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

“The first and most important part of being an angel investor (those who provide the initial seed money for startups) is first learning to be a nondisruptive investor, and then eventually learning to be an additive investor – someone who actually helps make entrepreneurs better,” said Ries, who added that he never sources deals.

They come to him.

Canyon Angels Chairman Tim Kelley listens during a panel discussion of industry startup companies.

“If you build a personal brand that stands for something in the startup ecosystem, you will never lack for deals. The problem is that most people don't stand for any particular thing, so no one knows to route deals to them," he said.

Ries also spoke about the latest buzz for investors: artificial intelligence.

People are making “terrible, just abysmal” AI investments, based on the theory that AI is the same as Software as a Service (SaaS), which allows users to connect to and use cloud-based apps over the internet.

Sophomore Isabelle Cutuli and junior Zac Velthouse give their research presentation on CrisprQC during the Canyon Angels-sponsored panel discussion on start-up companies.

Finance/economics senior Cole Daniel, deal flow director for Canyon Angels, was excited to have someone as experienced as Ries share his know-how with the group, which gives undergraduates real-world experience in investing. As of March 1, 2023, Canyon Angels touts 70 active angel investor members who have funded 64 companies and provided more than $6 million to those companies since the group's founding.

“We were able to bring in a guy who has lived the entrepreneurial life since he was in college, even before,” Daniel said. “To bring a guy like that with so much value into a room with all these investors that are all respectively very successful in their fields, and to hit on things that they did not know already, was great.

“On top of that, to teach our student analysts so much of his past and what he’s learned will help shape them as they go into the summer, write things down and bring it back to GCU as analysts in the future.”

Ries revealed that his first startup had an excess of analysis but a shortage of experience, emphasizing the importance of learning what a startup looks like when it’s working and when it’s struggling.

Sophomore Parker Pastrell gives his research presentation on the company Sweater during the Canyon Angels-sponsored panel discussion on start-up companies.

“If you're going to attend the pitch-generating meeting the night before, you can learn everything there is to learn,” said Ries, who stressed the importance of getting into the room where decisions are made and trying to make your own decisions.

Reis talked to Canyon Angels just before the final pitch of the academic year, when students who have done the research pitch three companies they'd like to see Canyon Angels invest in.

Analysts who are part of student-led due diligence teams pitched Sweater, a platform that makes venture capital accessible to anyone; RealPlay, which provides video, statistics and integrated ball-tracking data for baseball and softball players, teams, coaches, scouts and families; and biotechnology company CrisprQC.

Canyon Angels chose to invest in CrisprQC, which touts itself as the gold standard of gene editing in an effort to treat serious diseases.

GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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