Looking for angel investors? New San Diego conference awards big money to startups

Only in its second year, San Diego Angel Conference makes call for local entrepreneurs to compete for a big pool of cash


San Diego has a new startup event that’s making a splash in the local tech scene, generating notable cash for entrepreneurs after only one year in business.

The San Diego Angel Conference debuted last year as a way to connect entrepreneurs with individuals who could help fund their business ideas. The conference culminates in a pitch event during which top applicants compete on stage for a cash prize.

Startup pitch events are nothing special — the popularity of the SharkTank-style events has made them commonplace in business communities — but this new angel conference is awarding its winners an unusually large sum of cash.

For context, San Diego’s most well-known annual pitch event for startups is the John G. Watson Quick Pitch (which coincidentally takes place tonight at Qualcomm Hall). That event awards a total of $75,000 to its winners. But the new San Diego Angel Conference is pledging to invest at least six-figures in their winning startup, promising a minimum of $200,000 and a cap of $1 million. That makes it the biggest pitch competition (by dollar amount) in the city.

“Our first San Diego Angel Conference was an unqualified success,” said Mysty Rusk, the founder of the conference. “We hoped to raise $200,000 and fund one company. In the end, we raised $535,000 and funded three companies.”

Rusk is perhaps better known as the head of University of San Diego’s Innovation Center, where she leads startup accelerator The Brink. Rusk added that 93 startups participated in last year’s event, collectively raised more than $18 million in the past six months. Last year’s winner, Aquacycle, went on to raise a $4 million seed round in July.

“We’ve effectively demonstrated that there is good deal flow in San Diego, and accredited angels actively investing in good deals,” Rusk said.

The conference may be feeding San Diego’s greater angel investor scene. Eight of the 34 investors who contributed funds to last year’s pool went on to join other angel networks or local funds, including Tech Coast Angels, the group that organizes Quick Pitch every year.

This year’s event is now accepting applications for startups hoping to participate. Startups must pay an application fee of $149, which includes a ticket to the conference. The deadline to apply is Dec. 18, and interested parties can learn more at Starting now, entrepreneurs can prep for the event by participating in a series of free workshops covering more than a dozen topics, including creating effective pitch decks, preparing for due diligence, understanding valuations, cap tables, and term sheets. Entrepreneurs also get the chance to practice their pitch and get feedback from mentors.