LEADING QUESTIONS: Webber gives tech firms their wings

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Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about the latest developments in their industries and the habits that lead to success.

Much to his chagrin, Scott Webber, 57, is now considered one of the local tech community’s long-in-the-tooth wise men. With a still-wiry body charged with a caffeinated spirit, Webber remains a key player in the development of early-stage technology firms in the state.

His prominence in the relatively short history of the Indianapolis technology community is undeniable. He’s best known as the former president and CEO of Software Artistry Inc., which in 1995 became the first Indiana software firm to go public. Tivoli Systems, an IBM company, bought Software Artistry for $200 million in 1998, significantly enriching Webber and a host of other stakeholders.

Webber and some of those compatriots have plowed some of that money back into the local tech marketplace as angel investors, which typically help young companies bridge the critical gap between start-up funding from friends and family, and capital from more risk-adverse venture capital firms. Angel infusions typically range between $50,000 and $1 million.

Webber has two primary avenues for angel investing opportunities, beyond acting as an independent player. As chairman and CEO of Volatus Advisors, Webber and partners Raul Zavaleta and Thomas Vanneman provide both capital and executive expertise for young firms with growing pains.

“We look for good opportunities, but we're only looking for good opportunities that are going to have the right acumen and understanding of business to drive them forward,” Webber said. “We’re primarily looking for organizations that have the interest in allowing us to provide influence on the direction of the company, because we have been where they want to go.”

Webber also is member of HALO Capital Group, a locally based affiliation of angels organized in 2007 and dedicated to investing in Indiana-based companies.

“It’s 20 to 25 guys who have been there and done that, have grown companies, had significant impact on them, created some significant wealth for themselves and others out of them, who invest meaningful dollars into organizations,” Webber said. “And every company has a sponsor from HALO who is responsible for moving that company along and making sure it’s going in the right direction.”

Not content to simply write a check, Webber enjoys getting his hands dirty with helping manage the firms in which he invests. For example, he serves as CEO of Indianapolis-based BidPal Network, which has developed wireless remote bidding technology for silent auctions. His leadership post was a condition of his investment in the firm.

“It’s helping companies be successful that’s the fun part," he said. “It’s watching them get on that right trajectory that’s exciting.”

In the video at top, Webber discusses what angel investors look for when considering investing in a company, as well as common mistakes made by early-stage entrepreneurs. In the video below, he takes a wide-angle view of the state’s entrepreneurial community and draws some stark contrasts to better-known hotbeds for startups.

Webber remains mum on the amount of money that he has invested over the years as an angel. However, he did say that he now has more faith in his returns as an angel than as a typical stockholder.

“I’ve reduced my stock portfolio and moved a large percentage of that over into angel investing, because I find better impact in terms of results for me as well as impact on the economy,” he said.

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