Australian Angel Awards 2020: recognising Australia’s angel investors

The winners of the 2020 Australian Angel Awards have been announced, recognising those active in the Angel investment community.

Greg Riebe was awarded Angel of the Year, in recognition of his contribution to Angel investment and overall positive impact on the Angel community. Riebe was one of the founding members of Perth Angels – at the time known as the Western Australian Angel Investors, and has been involved with the group since 2010.

“I’m extremely grateful for the recognition that this award gives,” Riebe commented, “and especially pleasing as Perth Angels is celebrating ten years this year. It’s a wonderful reward for the vision that I and my co-founders Jim Tweddle and Ray Hart shared, and the incredible effort by my Perth Angel colleagues who are tirelessly growing the awareness, participation and growth in early stage high growth ventures in WA, and across Australia.”

“Western Australia is generating some amazing emerging technology ventures and there are real opportunities for the WA private investment community to participate in the value they present, as well as grow jobs and diversify our economy.”

Brisbane Angels again won the Most Active Angel Group award, with 37 qualifying investments (up from last year’s tally of 29) into 30 companies recorded over the 12 months. While Brisbane dominated in number of investments made, the total amount invested was a closer call between the top four Angel groups (Scale, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne).

In a positive sign, total funds deployed by the main Angel groups increased by close to 50% from FY19 to $14 million in FY20, despite a drop off in activity in the last quarter following COVID-19.

Brisbane Angels founder and Chairman John Mactaggart was delighted to hear the news: “As always the year was full of challenges for Angel groups and their members - but with COVID-19 the last quarter was unprecedented,” Mactaggart said. “We managed to get 40 deals across the line with a total of $2.9m invested”.

The group also launched their own new ‘Members Portal’ during the year to streamline member investment transactions and portfolio management. “The new portal and existing bare trust investment platform put Brisbane Angels at the forefront of investment execution and management for our members,” he said.

Mactaggart commented that the group remained as active as ever during the COVID-19 pandemic with member meetings conducted via zoom throughout. “We’re now back to having face-to-face meetings and both member participation and deal flow are as active as ever. Indications so far are that the 20/21 year will be a strong one for Brisbane Angels.”

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Australian Angel Awards founder and Techboard co-founder Rafael Kimberley-Bowen highlighted the encouraging strength of the field of nominations this year:

“This is only the third year we’ve held the awards and it’s a particular challenge to attract the most worthy nominations from Angel investors who sometimes prefer to shun the spotlight. But with fantastic support from a collaborative community of Angel groups around the country, we’ve managed to draw out another impressive shortlist of nominations. Again this year we’ve seen representation from each of the major Angel groups on our judging committee, and received award nominations from almost all states, including from investors outside of the Angel group ecosystem. This is an encouraging sign, and signals that the awards are maturing.”

Melbourne Angels took out the award for Best Angel Exit of the Year, with a 4x return on its investment in Rome2Rio made back in 2013. While the return on the deal was financially less than last year’s category winner Scale Investors (with a return of over 20x in TrademarkVision), it was an exit certainly worth celebrating especially in a year where COVID-19 has impacted many companies’ planned liquidity events.

“The Best Exit category is one I’m always excited about – as this is really why we invest in the first place,” according to Kimberley-Bowen. “People talk about Angel investing being about supporting the community and giving back, and that’s all true to an extent, but the sought-after exit is really what it’s all about. Celebrating these successes helps boost interest in Angel investment as an asset class, which ultimately is good for startups, good for future job creation.

“It was a particularly tricky category to judge this year, as we had a lot of great entries, but some of them unfortunately failed on technicalities, for example where liquidity had been achieved through an IPO but the investor hadn’t yet sold their shares, or where an investor had sold sweat equity but not their purchased shares, and so we had to get quite technical and precise about what constitutes an actual exit.”

Victorian investor Bill Grierson was awarded Most Active Angel Investor for the third year running.

“Most Active is an honour that is clearly dubious, one part dedication balanced with an equal measure of lunacy. It is a Black Art at best,” joked Grierson. “But if you do enough of it, and do it consistently, in between the mandatory failures (usually with no fanfare, and sometimes not even a forwarding address) and the water-treaders with limited prospects (confirmed by their equally limited communication with their long forgotten shareholders), there are going to be a few investments that could make you feel downright smug if you dare.  Sitting on a couple of 20X plus uplifts and a nice bundle of 4X to 8Xs do not necessarily mean you know what you are doing… but at least they keep you interested enough not to stop!”

Despite claiming to be winding down his activity, the Melbourne based investor still made 17 investments over the year, up on last year’s 13. According to Grierson’s tally, these latest deals now form part of a portfolio of 110 separate investments into 50 different companies, accumulated since 2014.

Byron Angels won the Most Active Regional Group award with 7 qualifying investments over the year, an increase on Fraser Coast Angels who won the award in 2019.

The judging panel was led by Jordan Green, and included representatives from the seven main Angel investor groups in Australia. Green was himself a winner of last year’s Angel of the Year award. “It is exciting to see the great ventures and globally dominant companies that Angel investors in Australia help start and grow. The organised Angel groups have carved a strong path, leading the investment in startups in Australia and we are seeing an increasing number of individual Angels tread that path too. The Australian Angel Awards is the only program to celebrate the efforts of Angel investors in every state and territory. We already know that Australia produces globally competitive, innovative companies. These awards recognise the internationally respected Angel investors who help make those ventures succeed.”


The winners of the 2019 Australian Angel Investment Awards

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