Theses Doctoral

Essays on Angel Investing in the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Piazza, Alessandro

Throughout its three chapters, this dissertation examines a phenomenon that, although underappreciated and underinvestigated in the existing literature, should be of great interest to entrepreneurship scholars: angel investing in the United States. While most of the existing studies of venture financing have predominantly focused on venture capital (VC) funding, angel investing—that is, wealthy individuals investing their own money in new ventures—represents almost as large of a market as venture capital, and recent empirical evidence suggests that ventures financed by angel investors tend to be more successful than comparable ventures that are not angel-financed. More interestingly, perhaps, angel investing tends to focus on ventures at the earliest stage, which leads to investor making decisions based on very little hard evidence. This results in the attempt, on the investors’ part, to reduce uncertainty by leveraging one’s connections and community-level patterns of social relations. In this regard, this dissertation’s main objective is perhaps to tackle the existing literature’s “undersocialized” take on venture financing, and to show the sociological mechanisms that might underpin the decision by entrepreneurs to enter the angel investing market by becoming suppliers of capital, as well as their capital allocation choices, i.e. their investment decisions. Additionally, this work also examines the drivers of success for angel investors, with a view to explaining—at least in part—why certain individuals are wildly more successful than others at angel investing. Empirically, my work relies on a combination of archival data—primarily data gathered from online data source CrunchBase, but also U.S. Census data and hand-collected information from LinkedIn—and fieldwork in the form of interviews with entrepreneurs and angel investors, as well as participant observation at the Angel Capital Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco, the largest yearly gathering of angel investors. The resulting empirical patterns, both qualitative and quantitative, when taken in their entirety suggests that angel investing is a social process, and particularly that entrepreneurs are socialized into becoming angel investors by interacting with the angels who finance their ventures. Further, this work offers evidence that community-level patterns of socialization—i.e. what is generally known in sociology as community social capital—also plays a role in determining whether entrepreneurs will become angel investors and, once they choose to take this step, whether they will show a preference for financing local ventures vis-à-vis pursuing investment opportunities elsewhere. Finally, this work also addresses the question of angel investing outcomes—that is, why some angel investors are more successful than others, as measured by the number of exits in their investment portfolio. In this regard, empirical results suggest that generalists do better than specialists, and that angel investors with broad entrepreneurial experience are found to do especially well. Success is also a function of effective knowledge translation: on average, successful entrepreneurs tend to become more successful angels, and especially so the greater the overlap between the entrepreneurial experience of the founder and their angel investment portfolio.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Phillips, Damon J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2018