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Yesterday, I attended the Keiretsu Forum (“K4”) East Bay monthly meeting.  Keiretsu is an angel investor network founded by Randy Williams with 17 chapters and counting.  Some folks in Fresno are interested in starting a chapter here, and Keiretsu brought its show to town last fall.  So, in turn, five of us Fresno State folks went up to San Ramon to see the East Bay show yesterday, through the auspices of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Coleman Foundation.

We saw five great companies present.  They go at it for ten minutes, then ten minutes of questions.  The questions come fast, delivered with courtesy but a suitably hard edge.  All the entrepreneurs acquitted themselves nicely, though some better than others.  Randy Williams ran the meeting.  Randy is a personable no-nonsense guy, and even with an agenda full of presentations, questions, updates, committee business, introductions, etc., he somehow kept us on schedule.  Randy managed to move people — members and entrepreneurs alike — to the point without talking over or cutting anyone off.  We started on time at 8am and ended on time at 11:45am.  The agenda went off as scheduled, almost to the minute.  It really was a masterful performance.

The highlight of the morning was the presentations themselves, and the companies ranged from medical devices to dotcoms.  These guys (the presenters were all men) hang themselves out there for 20 minutes for things in which they have much invested and lots riding.  They all pulled off some degree of success and they received a cordial, professional hearing.

The meeting ends with the Mindshare.  The members go back over each company, with mandatory positive comments followed by criticism.  Members sometimes debated fine points of technology and current trends on the relevant sectors.  My perception of the presentations shifted as more information came out from those with sectoral insight.

All of this reminded me of something I saw last fall around the time the K4 came to Fresno.  That’s when I saw the following comment on The Funded, a site that evaluates and rates funding sources:

We were approached by this forum for pitching.

However, when we inquired more about their model, we were explicitly told that we must have: (a) our product ready and (b) at least one customer waiting to buy it. If a company gets to this stage, then why should it approach this bunch of clowns for a fee” Do they know what is meant by angels” Aren’t VCs around if you have come up so far on your own or with friend & family or with some other mode of help”

But, hey….you will see a lot of angelers (service providers) at their meeting! Nice business model. After you collect so much free money from cash-strapped start-ups, anybody can be a investor!

Is it ethical”

“Angels” …..Hell NO!

You can search “Keiretsu” on The Funded site yourself.  There are some neutral-to-positive comments.  Of the critical comments, the one above is among the more charitable.  Many comments revolve around the $3000 fee entrepreneurs pay to pitch to K4.  Randy Williams noted yesterday that 49% of firms that pitch to K4 receive some funding.  Assuming these investments are for more than $3000, K4 seems like a good gamble.

The Funded recently released its latest list of blacklisted VCs.

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