Angels continue to help new businesses

Centennial Investors elects new leaders
Thursday, April 21, 2011 | 7:14 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The city’s host of angels is looking to attract new investors after electing new officers Tuesday.

Centennial Investors, a local angel-investing organization, is now lead by newly elected president Bruce Walker, who is the Lansford Professor of Leadership at MU’s Trulaske College of Business.

Angel investors are individuals who provide start-up capital to new businesses.

The other newly elected officers at Centennial Investors include:

  • Vice president Gene Gerke, Gerke & Associates, a management consulting group.
  • Treasurer Don Laird, Chamber of Commerce.
  • Secretary John Thompson, retired financial executive.
  • Past president Andrew Beverley, Landmark Bank.

Centennial Investors has been operating for fewer than five years. The idea to start the organization came from a chamber task force that was asked to come up with a way to commemorate the chamber’s 100th anniversary, according to a news release. The group formed a second task force to develop a plan for the organization. After the chamber granted its approval, Centennial Investors first met in June 2006.

Centennial Investors comprises 50 accredited investors, and Walker is looking to make that number grow.

“We want to recruit new members, both on campus and from elsewhere in the community, through informational sessions held later this summer,” Walker said.

Laird said Centennial Investors gets plenty of proposals from start-up companies. "We would just like to give investment opportunities to a wider range of people,” he said.

To become an accredited “angel investor,” one’s net worth must be equal to or greater than $1 million, Laird said.

Centennial Investors has infused 10 newborn local businesses with more than $2 million in collective investments to date. “We tend to look at companies who are in tune with the present and look to build upon the future,” Walker said.

One such technology-based start-up company is Equinosis.

Founded by Kevin Keegan, a professor at MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the E. Paige Laurie Endowed Program in Equine Lameness, Equinosis is a company that develops wireless sensors that gather data used in diagnosing diseases among horses.

Equinosis was the first company Centennial Investors helped start.

“It was exactly the sort of investment we look for,” Walker said. “It was a university-based business with support from the innovation center, and it made an enthusiastic presentation.”

Keegan, along with P. Frank Pai and Yoshiharu Yonezawa, invented the “Lameness Locator,” a set of wireless sensors used to diagnose lameness in horses.

As the angel-investment group moves forward, Walker keeps two goals in mind.

“We hope to continue being profitable through these high-risk investments," he said. "We also hope that these investments will boost Columbia’s economic vitality by helping new firms become viable.”

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