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Susan Preston. (Courtesy of Susan Preston)

Susan Preston has been an angel investor since 1999. In the time since she has held senior positions at private and public companies; been a partner in three law firms; served on the founding boards for Angel Capital Association and Angel Resource Institute; written two books on angel investing; and taught and consulted around the world on angel investing and early-stage investment structures.

Today she is the managing member of the Seattle Angel Fund, co-manager of the Element 8 Fund, general partner for the California Clean Energy Fund and chair of the Angel Resource Institute.

Oh, and the Washington native is also GeekWire’s new Geek of the Week.

While most tend to wonder what makes a great angel investment, we asked Preston what makes a great angel investor these days.

“Being engaged in the angel investment process and contributing one’s knowledge and time to making intelligent, thoughtful investments always makes a great investor,” Preston said. “But, I think, the post-investment engagement and support of one’s portfolio companies is an absolute imperative. Even if this is just introducing the company to a customer is a value-add. Also, we have a number of passive investors in the Seattle Angel Fund and I appreciate their willingness to trust our process to select great investments on their behalf. Selecting the asset class of angel investing as part of your overall personal portfolio, I believe, is very smart.”

Having invested in clean technology for nearly 10 years, Preston has come to learn what makes that a wise move beyond “it’s the right thing to do.”

“The fact is that we do need to aggressively address climate change and investing in new, promising clean tech companies is a way to help,” Preston said. “It takes more than a good cause for companies to get traction. The product needs to make economic sense — have a positive impact on the bottom line. We are there with solar and wind and we now need ways to enable project construction. My favorite is energy efficiency, which provides a company an instant positive impact and a negawatt is just as good as a clean watt in my view.”

“The requirement to provide a positive economic impact for companies has driven innovation,” she added. “We are still in the trough of disillusionment for clean tech because we did go through a boom and bust, but I am optimistic about the future.”

Preston said clean tech could benefit from further development and innovation in new and safer battery technology for more efficient storage of the energy that is created. She also said financing structures for clean energy projects and energy efficient technology is important and there is room for lots of innovation and growth.

As to what the future of technology research and deployment under President Trump’s administration will look like, Preston said cited regional and state efforts as some of the key drivers in regulatory requirements.

“I believe they will need to continue, along with greater engagement by the private sector in boldly investing in our global future,” Preston said. “It’s really gratifying to be part of this process if even in a very small way.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Susan Preston:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “Everything I do evolves around angel investing; from teaching to managing to learning. I love helping others learn about and be an effective angel investor, as well as helping entrepreneurs better understand what makes an investable company. I still find the process of diligencing a company very interesting and then working with great investors and entrepreneurs after the investment is really rewarding (and a few times, less rewarding). Unbelievable life experiences.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Angel investing is typically the first professional money invested in a young company, usually after the friends/family round. In 2015, ‘angels’ invested nearly $25B in 71,000 deals, according to the Center for Venture Research. The recent Angel Resource Institute Tracking Angel Returns study shows an overall return multiple of approximately 2.5X, compared to 2.1X for early stage venture capital. While there are no guarantees of this level of return for all angels, these statistics reflect logic — when experienced, intelligent people make collective, collaborative decisions through objective analysis, the results are positive. … All stakeholders, from professional services to local talent to government benefit from supporting and building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “The people around me — their commitment, excitement and interests.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My laptop — it goes everywhere with me, sadly even on vacation.”

Susan Preston view
The view from Susan Preston’s home office. (Courtesy of Susan Preston)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “Totally awesome of course. I have turned one of the bedrooms into an office and I look out over the greenbelt behind the house with a creek, flora, fauna — including hummingbirds regularly visiting the feeder. Tip: in really cold weather, wrap the feeder with hand warmers and it will keep it from freezing!”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I’m not the best person to answer this question. Rumor has it that regular exercise, yoga, and downtime are all helpful. I just make scads of lists.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac!!”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “I always thought Picard was totally cool — ‘Make it so #1.'”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Can I have all 3? Not to be greedy or anything.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Invest in an amazing entrepreneur with a brilliant idea.”

I once waited in line for … “Just about everything these days. Really good eats is always worth it.”

Your role models: “Emma Peel from ‘The Avengers’ — not from the recent movie, but the original ’60s British TV show (played by Diana Rigg). Completely awesome woman — independent, self-reliant, brilliant, cool clothes!”

Greatest game in history: “Poker.”

Best gadget ever: “The thingy that pokes a tiny hole in an egg so it doesn’t crack when you boil it.”

First computer: “I can’t remember that far back.”

Current phone: “iPhone 7.”

Favorite app: “WAZE. I live in Seattle traffic zone, remember!”

Favorite cause: “Anything to do with animals and children.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Everything being developed by our portfolio of companies; perhaps the self-driving car (so I can work in the car!); the development of immune therapy technology.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Everything we will invest in in 2018, which will include augmented or mixed reality technology, and commercially available jet packs.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Seriously? — this questionnaire has taken it all out of me. Keep geeking — the world needs us more than ever. … Never give up on your dream.”

Website: Seattle Angel Fund

Twitter: @sueangelpreston

LinkedIn: Susan Preston

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