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Dev Varma

Dev Varma manages investment strategy for the Varma family investment office. He earned his CFA charter in 2019, and is a graduate of Rhodes College and the University of Notre Dame, where he studied literature and creative writing.

Angel investing: a metaphorical flight

By Published: April 24, 2019 5:02 PM CT

I want to start with a flashback to 1984. Call this point A. An Indian couple and their child board a plane for the United States. They have a little money in their pockets and some clothes packed up in suitcases. They have a sister’s small apartment floor they’re going to call a bedroom. They are sweaty, and their throats are the nervous kind of dry. But look at their eyes, and what do you see?

Hope.

<strong>Dev Varma</strong>

Dev Varma

They’re thinking of the American dream – the promise that America is the land of opportunity. The promise that anyone can live the life of their dreams if they work hard enough. They do what they can to calm the weightless feeling in their guts. That feeling before take-off. That feeling before a large leap of faith.

And now to point C. The three are now four, and they find themselves on the other side of a phone call. They’re sitting in their living room, bodies sunk deep into the furniture. They are sweaty, and their throats are the nervous kind of dry. What are they doing now?

They’re finalizing negotiations to sell a business they call theirs, the International Sourcing Co., also known as Cordova Safety Products. A business that employs 100 people. A business that grew consistently year upon year. A business that won national awards for its fast growth. They are saying goodbye to something that has meant the world to them. It’s no easy feat. But look at their eyes, and what do you see?

Pride.

You’re probably wondering about point B. Point B is this city. That company, and the family, my family, are Memphis through-and-through. For us, Memphis is a place of hope and a source of pride. When my mother, father and sister got off the plane in Memphis, they had no idea what to expect. But what they found was a city with growth opportunities. The Memphis they arrived in was an affordable and collaborative city, a place where competition wasn’t cutthroat and hardworking people could reap the rewards of their diligence and risk tolerance. We dared to dream hard and work hard. Yes, we are proud of the wealth we generated, but we are all the more proud to live in a city that values cooperation over competition and rewards grit and grind.

When we started connecting into the angel investing ecosystem in Memphis, we weren’t quite sure what it really looked like. Popular media gave us some ideas of “venture capital,” but that vision made our throats the nervous kind of dry. Yes, there were big opportunities, but there were big losses, too, not to mention lots of competition and men in designer suits writing big checks after hearing nothing more than a three-minute pitch. We saw "Shark Tank," and it scared us.

But an opportunity took hold of us. And, lo and behold, after our first investment, in Somavac Medical Solutions, we found a thriving community of accelerators, founders and investors that make angel investing feel much less like a shark tank and more like, well, Memphis. In my time as an angel investor, I have seen Memphis’ core values and beliefs come out again and again – optimism, cooperation over competition, and the power of grit and grind. There are resources and people all over this city willing to mentor, train and advise angel investors who may have never sat on the metaphorical plane before.

And since that first investment, we’ve made a handful more, and each investment has reaffirmed our zeal for this city. The idea of Memphis as a place of opportunities and a source of pride has taken on a new, future-focused meaning for us. The industries where Memphis currently excels – medical devices, home services, logistics and agriculture – are the very ones we have opportunities to transform. Angel investing is a way to capture these opportunities for innovation. And that innovation will beget economic development and growth, the most fundamental tailwinds for a city’s long-term well-being.

I recognize how good Memphis has been to my family. Without Memphis, we might not have prospered. Angel investing is our way of helping Memphis (and ourselves) continue to prosper. It is incredibly risky, yes, but it is incredibly rewarding in ways that don’t show up on a monthly statement. To me, angel investing is a flight path from hope to pride, the crucial point B between points A and C.

If you’re wondering how to find, assess and participate in investments here in Memphis, go to Epicenter’s free Angel Investing Overview Seminar on April 26 or 27.

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Epicenter Memphis angel investing

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