How Canyon Angels work pays off for students

GCU student Tyler Baldridge earned an internship at AZ-VC, the state’s largest venture capital fund, and uses what he learned from his Canyon Angels experience.

Baldridge blazes trail to major venture capital fund

Photos by Ralph Freso

Going to a Canyon Angels meeting is like watching the future unfold right before your eyes. Years ahead of their time in the business world, Grand Canyon University students share with potential investors the due diligence they did on each startup.

It’s great experience. But it’s not easy.

“It takes a lot of work,” said Tyler Baldridge, who was co-president of the group last year. “I’m always blown away by how driven the students are to do something like that. It is above and beyond the call of duty of what’s required for your normal class.

“They’re working 10 hours outside of class just to get this done, and it is the early steppingstone for a career in entrepreneurship or investing."

Baldridge’s path is proof. Thanks to his involvement in Canyon Angels and the mentorship of its chair, Tim Kelley, the senior business administration major became the first GCU student to work at AZ-VC, the largest venture capital fund in Arizona.

And Baldridge didn’t just score a summer internship. He stayed on this fall as a junior associate, the kind of role that attracts applicants from all over the country and usually would be reserved for college graduates.

Tim Kelley is the "mastermind" who makes GCU's entrepreneurship program chug along, Baldridge said.

Not surprisingly, Kelley’s connections were the key. He introduced Baldridge to the Campus Founders Fund, a student-run venture capital fund that wanted to expand to Arizona – and meet GCU students.

“I bridged the gap,” Baldridge said. “That’s how I got introduced to the venture capital world.”

And, thanks to Canyon Angels …

“I was preparing this whole time without knowing I was preparing for it.”

There's something in the air over there, where all the students just rise to the top. They always get really good opportunities from Canyon Angels. .... It's always the first thing an interviewer wants to talk with you about.

Tyler Baldridge

He was preparing in class, where he learned Kelley’s favorite saying – “The only way to learn business is to do business” – and watched in wonder as the Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Colangelo College of Business had the students watching rocket launches one day.

“He can just nerd out about technology with us,” Baldridge said. “He was like a 7-year-old.”

But Baldridge also was preparing in Canyon Angels and continues to be amazed by how new students keep popping up, ready to contribute.

“There’s something in the air over there, where all the students just rise to the top,” he said. “They always get really good opportunities from Canyon Angels. I was a benefactor of that, and there are more than a handful of other students who use Canyon Angels on their resume. It’s always the first thing an interviewer wants to talk with you about.

“Tim is the mastermind of all that. The time he takes with each individual student is incredible. He’s an amazing mentor. He’s all about the students. I’m grateful for him, and I know a lot of other students are because he built what’s helping so many of us really excel.”

Kelley also is amazed as he watches students step up at every Canyon Angels meeting. Much of the information comes from the company’s CEO, and Kelley doesn’t arrange the interview for them. They do it themselves.

“They self-recruit. They self-organize. You just put a little goal out there and let them know they’re expected to do it, and they do it better than I ever expect,” he said.

The “little goal” is $1,000, donated by Hool Coury Law, split among the five members of the student team investors vote the most effective at each meeting. “That’s a significant incentive for them to step up their game,” Kelley said.

Students grab some literature at the Canyon Angels booth during the Club & Community Fair at the Canyon Activities Center on Sept. 7.

Baldridge’s tenure in Canyon Angels leadership also proved valuable. As co-president, he had to apply an emotional intelligence that Kelley calls “absolutely spectacular.”

“I’ve seen him in challenging management situations in which teams were in conflict. He has the charisma about bringing peace to the group and asking smart questions and gaining the empathy and commitment of the teams to move beyond whatever little problems are there to solve the problem. That’s a unique skill among students.”

THURSDAY, NOV. 3, EVENT, 1-4 p.m., Building 66 lecture hall
Arizona venture capitalists explain how state's new funding ecosystem
could dramatically affect economy.

That’s the sort of experience that convinced Baldridge to come to Phoenix and leave behind his home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. His family moved there from Claremont, California, when he was 15, and he loves the place. But he wanted to attend college in a bigger city where he could make more business connections.

“I just felt this was going to give me some outside experience instead of having my head buried in a textbook. And that was valuable to me because I don’t necessarily learn the best if it’s all textbook work,” he said.

Instead, his work at AZ-VC is a textbook example of how the lessons learned at Canyon Angels can be applied elsewhere. Now he’s doing the due diligence and getting paid for it.

“We’re looking for the next big startup to come out of Arizona,” said Baldridge, who also leads new interns as they come on board. “Arizona has always been underserved in later-stage venture capital, but there’s a lot of innovation and technology here. The fund was launched to fill those gaps.

“We’re putting the puzzle pieces together. Why is this the right person to solve this problem? We’ll look into that and ask for the company’s financials and talk to customers.”

The idea is to find a startup that fills a need and is adored by customers. If the due diligence uncovers issues that should be fixed, that is addressed, too. 

Baldridge's AZ-VC role and his GCU studies keep him plenty busy.

Baldridge’s off-campus role enables him to live in a high rise in downtown Phoenix, where he loves the culture and walkability.

But he’s still a student, working toward graduating in April. He remains involved in Canyon Angels, showing other students how his experience could be theirs someday, and has the usual class load. It’s a lot to do.

“If you know somebody who knows how to balance work and school and life, let me know,” he said, smiling. “Life loses a little bit. The thing that keeps me going is an extreme passion for what I’m doing. It feels like I’m actually enjoying it, so it doesn’t feel like work. If I want to open my computer on a Saturday morning, it doesn’t feel too burdensome. It’s just fun.

“I still love going to school. School and the mentorship are what gave me this opportunity. I’m eternally grateful for all the mentors and my friends who were around me to bounce ideas off of.”

But it wouldn’t have happened like this anywhere else. Technology is booming in Arizona, and GCU has played a major role in that growth with Canyon Angels and the Canyon Ventures business incubator.

“It’s the byproduct of what happens when you get a lot of talented people in one place,” Baldridge said.

And provide opportunities that make them feel like the future is now.

Contact Rick Vacek, Senior Manager for Internal Communications, at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].

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