Grand Angels funds more small companies


Grand Angels, a Holland-based investment group, made five more funding commitments to small businesses in Michigan in late 2013, including Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing in Grand Rapids, plus Ablative Solutions, ProNAi Therapeutics and Vestaron Corp. in the Kalamazoo area.

“Our next round of funding includes a range of investments such as ProNAi, a company that was one of Grand Angels’ earliest investments, as well as a handful of other talented companies from across the state,” said Jody Vanderwel, president of Grand Angels. “Michigan is an exciting region for growth in technology, health care research and agricultural advancements, and we are thrilled to see these companies flourish in the coming year.”

According to its 2013 annual report, Grand Angels invested in 10 deals last year and plans to start 2014 by closing on two or three new deals. Since the firm was founded in 2004, Grand Angels has invested more than $13 million in 28 companies. Its goal in 2014 is to invest about $2.3 million in 10 new funding commitments.

Some of its latest funding includes:

  • Ablative Solutions in Kalamazoo, which has developed technology involving endovascular catheters to provide an alternative to surgical renal denervation for the treatment of hypertension and other diseases caused by an overactive sympathetic nervous system. The outpatient denervation process developed by CEO Tim Fischell, M.D., and President Vartan Ghazarossian, eliminates the painful “burning” treatment most other companies perform. The treatment has been found to quickly reduce pain and recovery time and also decrease the need for long-term medication.
  • Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing in Grand Rapids, which specializes in pre-clinical Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials, and small- to medium-scale commercial production in certified clean rooms. The company supports clinical, small-scale and commercial stage products, including sterile product development and manufacture, terminal sterilization, pre-filled syringe filling and analytical and microbiological services.
  • Local Orbit, based in Ann Arbor, which provides sales and business management software for entrepreneurs in the food industry, including farmers, producer co-ops, food hubs, farmers markets and independent distributors who need to efficiently sell to local restaurants, grocers and institutions. Online marketplaces powered by Local Orbit already are active in 12 states.
  • ProNAi Therapeutics, an anti-cancer biotech company that has a novel and proprietary DNAi drug technology platform to advance a new class of drugs. With offices in Plymouth and Kalamazoo, ProNai has seen recent success with safely treating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients in clinical trials, offering hope to patients whose tumors have failed to respond to other therapies. ProNai has received funding from Grand Angels repeatedly since 2005.
  • Kalamazoo-based Vestaron Corp., which first received funding from Grand Angels in 2011 and is developing a new generation of insecticides using natural peptides from spiders. The company’s products can be used in agriculture, animal health and specialty non-crop uses and are effective against insects and related pests while being harmless to non-target species, including humans.

Grand Angels, which typically invests from $250,000 to $1 million in early-stage companies, now has nearly 50 active investor-members. According to its website, it is the only regional investment group that offers mentoring to select start-ups, paired with a “relatively patient exit strategy,” meaning its invested funds may not have to be returned as quickly as would be expected by commercial or other investors.

Grand Angels was founded in 2004 by former Grand Bank founder and CEO Charles C. Stoddard and entrepreneur Craig T. Hall. It is led today by Chairman Richard M. Lievense and Vanderwel.

Many of its members have served on panels, judged pitch competitions and mentored entrepreneurs through organizations including Accelerate Michigan, Hope Entrepreneurship Initiative and Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Grand Angels is a member of the Angel Capital Association, an organization sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo.

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