Spark Angel Network welcomes Northumberland entrepreneurs

Article published in Northumberland Today written by Cecilia Nasmith. 25 Jul 2016

If you’re a fan of the CBC show Dragons’ Den, it may interest you to know that what Malcolm MacTaggart terms a non-fiction version of that show exists in the greater Durham Region.

MacTaggart founded the Spark Angel Network three years ago in support of entrepreneurs operating out of the Durham and Northumberland areas by enlisting a cadre of members like himself.

“Mainly entrepreneurs themselves who have had failure and success and failure and success, and have gotten to the point in their lives where, as I tell them, you can be the person you needed 25 years ago,” he explained in a recent interview.

They get together monthly in Ajax to welcome several young entrepreneurs or start-up businesses to pitch their ideas (similar to Dragons’ Den).

In addition to monetary help, network members also focus on supporting new businesses through coaching and training that will give them a fighting chance at success. Although, MacTaggart said, this kind of help is more of the standing-beside-you variety than the watching-over-your-shoulder kind offered on Dragons’ Den.

He began with the simple thought of transforming the economy of Durham Region from metal-bashing to knowledge-based. Now he has a specific goal.

“From a practical perspective, I am more focused on creating 100 companies in the Durham Region over the next five years that employ 50 people. I think that is something that is reasonable,” he said.

“Advice is wonderful, but you also need money in many cases. That was the genesis,” he said.

The network is primarily (but not exclusively) approached by young entrepreneurs with great ideas and high potential, but who need more than the (as MacTaggart puts it) love money they have to start out with.

“Most people, when they start out, have money from friends and family and, as their business gets some traction, they need money to grow. They have no track record, no credit history, no assets, so traditional financing sources won’t look at them.

“Angel money is leap-of-faith money. Because we are entrepreneurs, we can say, ‘Here’s a high-calibre person with a great idea that has potential.’”

As far as funds they may be willing to invest, he added, “$50,000 to $360,000 is our sweet spot.

“We do our due diligence, to the extent one can. But at the end of the day, it’s a leap of faith.”

Over the past three years, they’ve set up nine to 10 meetings a year and seen about 35 companies from all kinds of sectors at various stages of start-up, some within Durham Region and some from beyond, investing some $2.3-million in the ones they deemed to have potential. They are in the process of closing their latest deal, investing $280,000 in the project.

“We want to let people know there is a group of people who want to give back to the community, and also have the opportunity to make some money. We don’t do grants — this is an investment.”

The network’s 35 members are largely from Durham Region (including one from Prince Edward County), and MacTaggart added that they would welcome Northumberland members on that side of things too.

“Everybody says, ‘I wish I could have been in on the ground floor for Google, Microsoft, Apple.’

“All those companies started out with angel investment,” he stated.

“We give them an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of private-equity opportunities. I am not suggesting we will have the next Google, Microsoft or Apple, but the type of investing we do is the type of investing that leads to those types of successes.”

Potential Northumberland pitches, as well as potential Northumberland network members, are invited to learn more by contact Malcolm MacTaggart to find out more.