Naperville’s got its very own “Shark Tank” – though the angel investors of the West Suburban Angels might be a little friendlier to local entrepreneurs.
Two Naperville native business owners recently pitched their businesses to the Naperville native investment group, which is now in its fifth year of helping to launch local entrepreneurs to success.
“The idea started in my basement,” said WSA Co-Founder Tianyi Joe Zhou. “I used to have a group of entrepreneurs and investors come over to my house once a month for scotch and cigars.”
“We were watching some pretty special things that were happening in Chicago and I knew there was a place for us to carve something out in Naperville,” said WSA Co-Founder Mike Healy.
So they reached out to Kenn Miller, who had experience leading an investment group in California.
They made connections with other angel investment groups, like the Hyde Park Angels, to learn about what works and what doesn’t. And they pulled other local entrepreneurs and investors to join the group.
“The way we set it up, it’s a not-for-profit. The three co-founders don’t take anything out of the company and we put it back in the organization,” said Miller.
Their latest pitch night featured David Simnick, co-founder of Soapbox, which donates a bar of soap to communities in need for each product they sell.
“For us, back in 2010, we saw this amazing model for capitalism not just creating goods and services that people want, but for doing real good and making the world a little bit more just,” said Simnick.
And Ashley Rossi, founder of Tiny Human Food, a company that sells cold pressed baby food that’s healthier and tastier than traditional products.
“I started feeding my youngest son and knew I wasn’t feeding him any of the garbage that was on the shelf,” said Rossi. “And it really frustrated me that there wasn’t a better option available in stores.”
While the angels may or may not invest in every pitch that comes their way, they have a specific mission in mind when they work.
“West Suburban Angels is really for the community. We want to help provide that ecosystem of entrepreneurs and having investment available is a part of that ecosystem,” said Miller.
A West Suburban Angels success story is that of Home Chef – who recently sold their business to Kroger for $200 million.
Naperville News 17’s Blane Erwin reports.