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QA with Nebraska Angels’ Laura Classen on EyeVerify’s recent acquisition

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Kansas City based EyeVerify announced last week their acquisition by Alibaba subsidiary Ant Financial. Anonymous sources say the deal was over $100 million. Nebraska Angels was one of the first investments in the company. Laura Classen is the Executive Director for Nebraska Angels. SPN caught up with Classen over the phone.

SPN: It may surprise some people that Nebraska Angels invest in companies outside of Nebraska. Talk a little bit about your investments outside of the state.

LC: Nebraska Angels opened their doors to companies outside Nebraska in 2012. Since 2012 they have invested in companies across the Midwest and nationally. Currently our portfolio is about 55% Nebraska and the remainder is scattered between Iowa, Kansas City, California, Texas, etc.

SPN: Why did you decide to do that?

LC: The group was founded in 2006. [That year] was an early time in Nebraska’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Individuals were trying to figure out how to be investors, and entrepreneurs were trying to figure out what it meant to raise to capital. For the investment demand of the group, there was not enough deal flow.

SPN: So Nebraska Angel investors will be getting a payout from the EyeVerify deal?

LC: Nebraska Angels were approximately 30% of the first angel round for EyeVerify. So the fact that it was an acquisition and all the investors are coming off the cap table, yes—that means there’s a return on money.

SPN: What’s the significance of this deal for the region as a whole in terms of venture capital?

LC: It is such a big win for all of us. Angels and venture funders came together to fund what is, we now know, a very successful technology-based company that attracted international attention. That’s pretty incredible.

SPN: How has the region’s angel investment community changed since that initial investment?

LC: We are incredibly organized. The other two groups Mid-America Angels and Women’s Capital Connection that have been mentioned along with EyeVerify as well, and groups in Minneapolis, Oklahoma, Iowa—we all meet regularly, share deals, deploy and lead deals. In 2012 there were definitely angel groups, but it wasn’t this mass syndicate of angel funding that is now going on.

SPN: If someone has heard about this story and they are interested in becoming an angel investor, how do they get started?

LC: The first step is to contact me and come out to a monthly angel investor meeting.

SPN: What are the characteristics of angel investors in our region?

LC: I love the Nebraska Angels because they are such an eclectic group of people. They are incredibly passionate. They are passionate about the local ecosystem. They also have a big picture perspective in terms of how their work here in the Midwest is beneficial. They are lifelong learners. They like to be engaged and learn new things. They are interested in what happens in the broader world beyond what comes to them as they operate individually. There’s a really great camaraderie right now.

SPN: Is this the first exit for Nebraska Angels?

LC: It is. It’s a pretty big deal for us.