Exciting things are on the horizon for Augusta, Aiken, and the broader CSRA region. Peter Buckley, a local venture capital investor based in Aiken and a VentureSouth Aiken team member with over 25 years in investment banking, is particularly focused on investing in the area and helping startups and small businesses take off.
Launched in 2015, VentureSouth Aiken consists of several investors interested in the development and growth of hospitality in Aiken and Augusta. VentureSouth Aiken is an angel group within the larger organization, one of the largest angel investment groups in the U.S., located in Greenville, S.C., and comprised of 250 investors based in 13 different geographies in the southeast.
Buckley says that with 250 investors with varied background experiences and interests, there are more opportunities to run across interesting deals and invest in ventures they find attractive.
VentureSouth started in Greenville in 2008. “It was a terrible time to start anything, particularly something that involved high risk investing. But it ended up thriving,” says Buckley. The VentureSouth Aiken team is small with just 12-13 investors. The team primarily looks at deals coming though Greenville, and North and South Carolina.
“Our brand of angel investing is different than you may have heard about in California and New York,” explains Buckley. “There are many more groups on the west coast than in the southeast, which is important because there’s less competition, which is important because we get to invest in companies at later stages in development. So we almost always invest in companies with some revenue.”
VentureSouth Aiken usually invests in companies that have already received investments, often personal and emotional contributions from friends and family members. “They invest as much with heart as with head,” says Buckley.” But VentureSouth Aiken, unlike supportive friends and family, does not invest with their hearts. The group has a significant due diligence and screening process to ensure return for their investment. “We do a pretty darn good job and results are reflected in early data,” says Buckley.
When looking at companies to invest in, VentureSouth Aiken is “industry-agnostic.” The team looks for industries and companies that are capital efficient, have potential to expand rapidly, and can return an investment at 50 percent IRR (Internal Rate of Return). “We’re trying to make a profit in a risky investment category,” explains Buckley. The team generally looks to invest in health care services, biotech, business services, and web-based companies. Buckley says “It comes down to the single most important quality we look for: quality of management team (CEO).” VentureSouth Aiken looks for capital efficiency and asks the question: does your target market care enough about your service or product to actually pay for it? The Aiken-based investors invest in companies willing to accept help, assistance, and advice. “If you’re not willing to accept help, the risks go up for us as investors,” says Buckley.
“Companies have to understand the likelihood is they’re going to be selling their business in 3-5 years, which means we have to get out,” he says. “We are not a place to go if you’re thinking you’re going to take an investment and pay us back over 15 years. We have very defined timeline of three to five years.”
The Aiken angel group generally invests between $250,000 up to several million dollars depending on the company or business. Buckley says with the NSA and medical centers in Augusta, and a host of new startups, now is the time for businesses to reach out to VentureSouth Aiken for potential investment opportunities.