Local entrepreneurs start community-driven angel investment group Interlock Capital
Long-time North County San Diego entrepreneurs Neal Bloom and Al Bsharah have launched Interlock Capital, an angel investing syndicate that hopes to change the game in startup investing, to support and inspire founders and have a little fun.
Interlock Capital started quietly last summer and has grown steadily by word of mouth. Right now they have six fully closed deals with startup companies and deployed over $1.25 million in capital with 120 angel investors on board. They expect to have four more deals closed by the end of the month.
“We’ve been entrepreneurs for so many years,” said Bsharah. “I’ve been mentored so much and taught so much, it just feels really good to give a little bit back. It’s a fun way to give back to the community and grow the San Diego ecosystem.”
Both software entrepreneurs, Bloom and Bsharah have been linked for several years.
Bsharah, originally from Detroit, started Email Copilot in 1999. Bloom had founded an educational technology company Portfolium in 2012 in Los Angeles and brought it to San Diego in 2013.
Bloom met Bsharah when he was in the downtown San Diego technology startup incubator EvoNexus and Bsharah was his mentor. Bsharah was Bloom’s company’s first customer and when Bsharah sold his company four years ago, Bloom was the one who introduced him to the group that purchased it.
As they were growing their own companies (Bloom eventually sold Portfolium two years ago), they both got involved in building the local startup ecosystem, serving on the board of StartUp San Diego, a nonprofit that helps connect and educate founders.
As both have been involved in the entrepreneurial process from start to finish, the pair decided they didn’t want to wait any longer to help others.
“We know how hard it is every step of the way and we both had fundraising from angel investors and venture capitalists. We want to help people find their way,” Bloom said.
Bsharah said he had wanted to be an angel investor for a long time but was never able to write $50,000 or $25,000 checks, let alone enough of them to get reasonable diversification.
With Interlock, they are able to provide access to great deals at a budget each investor can afford. Investors, called Venture Partners, can get involved for as little as $1,000 to up to $100,000. The angel syndicate is unlike a venture fund where investors write one check but don’t have a say in what the fund managers invest in—investors get to choose the deals they want to invest in. Their belief is that everyone should be able to get into great companies with whatever capital they have.
Interlock’s community of investors are aspiring angels—“(Someone) who’s always wanted to invest but were too timid to do it on their own”, seasoned investors, subject matter experts, service providers and fellow founders “from all walks of life”.
“It’s an opportunity to learn about yourself as an investor,” Bloom said.
Interlock’s goal is to find, evaluate and fund the best companies. They create thorough and transparent deal memos that are shared through their investor platform. The due diligence memos include useful metrics about the company, product, risks and who has reviewed the deal and invested. Venture Partners are able to ask questions before they make a commitment to fund a specific investment.
In his experience as an entrepreneur, Bloom said early-stage domain expertise capital—capital from people “who have done this before”— is one of the major things that is lacking, particularly in the tech industry.
Once Interlock meets with a company and does their due diligence, they then look to their investors and ask: “Who has experience in this?”
When investors are all in they are able to help serve as mentors and start-up accelerators. With one of their portfolio companies, EVmatch, (“the Airbnb of electric vehicle charging”), after the deal closed several Venture Partners came on board as advisors.
At Interlock, Bloom said they are stage agnostic, investing in companies that are pre-revenue and those that are doing millions in revenue. Bsharah said an exciting part about the start-ups they have invested in so far is that 67% are women-owned or have female leadership.
Interlock supported startups in San Diego include Mercato, which connects people to local speciality food shops for delivery, and Crafter, an online alternative to traditional arts and crafts hobby stores, focused on digital offerings. While tech is where most angel investing happens, Bsharah said they are getting creative and trying new and unique investments—recently Interlock invested in the soccer team The San Diego Loyal.
By investing as a group, Interlock is able to make a more meaningful impact and by having a diverse group of investors, they are able to find more diverse founders, more diverse investors and greater access to great and bigger deals they might not have normally seen.
“While cultivating relationships with fellow founders over the years, I realized a lot of us aspired to back other great founders,” Bloom said. “Joining together and having skin in the game in our community allows for a rising tide to lift all boats.”
Learn more or apply to become a Venture Partner at interlock.capital.
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