Haley Marie Keith, CEO and co-founder of MITO Material Solutions, knew she and her co-founder Kevin Keith were on to something with their advanced hybrid polymer modifiers. But startups in manufacturing and materials science often face an uphill climb when looking for funding. You see, there are plenty of investors who understand apps and SaaS, but few who really understand more traditional hard tech.
As with everything else in her life, Haley employed her own due diligence when looking for potential investors. When the the company relocated to Indianapolis in 2019, she started putting feelers out in the Indiana venture community. One name kept coming up in her conversations: VisionTech.
“I had heard good things about VisionTech as being one of the more active groups Indiana. I was impressed that Indiana had such a connected and well-organized angel group. I was also impressed with the fact that VisionTech had invested in hard science before and they weren’t afraid of it. That made me eager to pitch to the group.”Haley Marie Keith, CEO + Co-founder MITO Materials
When she reached out to VisionTech Executive Director Ben Pidgeon, the two realized they’d already met at the Angel Capital Association meeting in 2017. After the re-introduction, Ben invited Haley Marie to present to VisionTech’s Screening Committee for a chance to present to the group’s 120-member strong angel investor network.
A highly competitive selection process
And so began MITO Material’s journey through VisionTech’s rigorous road to becoming a portfolio company with one of the Midwest’s most active, hands-on angel investing groups. Each year, the VisionTech leadership team receives some 400 inquiries from startups looking for funding. Of these, 80 are invited to meet virtually with the Screening Committee composed of experienced businesspeople-members, which does a preliminary but thorough assessment of a company’s investment potential. Only 12 to 16 startups a year make it to the final round and an invitation to pitch to VisionTech Angels during the group’s bi-monthly investor events.
Haley and MITO Materials made the cut; she was invited to pitch in April 2020. But instead of the group’s typical five-city, two-state barnstorm of live pitch events, Haley was one of the original “virtual” pitch presenters when VisionTech moved its investor events online when the global pandemic broke. That created a new level of pressure, but Haley received additional one-on-one coaching from Ben as a result.
VisionTech Managing Director Tony Petrucciani says the group has honed its screening process over the last decade to emphasize quality over quantity. “We balance a rigorous process to meet two objectives. First, provide the best opportunities for our investors and second, provide feedback to founders seeking capital so they can put their best foot forward with our group and others that may follow. It’s mutually beneficial.”
Fair, organized and thorough
Haley describes her experience with VisionTech’s screening process as “incredibly fair and organized.”
“It felt like a conversation with members of the group who A) had experience and interest in my technology and end markets and B) asked logical, thoughtful, and thought-provoking questions in a way that didn’t seem like they were seeking for their version of the ‘right’ answer,” Haley recalls. “This happened to me in other angel groups and it was exhausting. I also appreciated that VisionTech Angels were more apt to hop on a call if they had a question rather than ask me to make more materials to illustrate a point.”
With VisionTech Angels, each investor makes their own decision on which deals to participate in and how much to invest. For this reason, members are encouraged to question startup CEOs during the pitch events and take part in due diligence of the companies that advance in the process.
“The investment process is exciting because our investors really get to know founders after a level of investment interest has been determined. We have weekly meetings with the founders with the theme of ‘trust but verify’ which helps our investors identify the key risks—what needs to be believed—and the opportunities. It’s insightful for investors, but also for the entrepreneurs as they get to know our investors and their expertise.”Ben Pidgeon, Executive Director, VisionTech
A mutually beneficial process
Haley experienced this firsthand when the screening committee wanted a deeper dive into MITO Material’s customer pipeline. A VisionTech investor offered to speak with MITO Material’s head of business development. “They’re both from Brazil and had a great conversation in Portuguese about our pipeline, strategy, and how our team functioned under married founder leadership, which was an appropriate thing to investigate as an investor. I think in many ways that sealed the deal for me because it made my team feel like they were a part of the funding success and that our investors are invested in helping them succeed as well.”
MITO Materials came through due diligence and negotiation of investment terms with flying colors; VisionTech Angels joined other investment groups in an oversubscribed $1 million seed round.
It’s important to note that VisionTech’s process does not end with a check to the now portfolio company. The group and its collective experience across industries remains actively involved with its portfolio companies, providing as needed:
- Referrals to other investor groups
- Follow-on investments
- Technology and business plan evaluation
- Strategic planning
- Marketing support
- Financial controls and reporting
- Interim executive management
- Key management interviews
- Critical vendor selection
- Business continuity planning
Haley is grateful for the relationship and access it affords to people who can help advance MITO Materials. “If there is ever something I think Ben can help me with, I don’t hesitate to ask. Ben is very supportive and approachable. I also pulled on some other VisionTech investors when I need connections or help and they have always come through.”
She adds, “It was definitely worth the effort to become a VisionTech portfolio company.”
VisionTech invites startups in need of capital to visit our website for details on our screening and due diligence process. If you believe you are a good fit, we encourage you to submit your business plan for review. Also, take a look at our portfolio companies and our calendar of events for this year’s pitch events. We hope to hear from you.