Angels of the Adirondacks

Point Positive, Inc. of Saranac Lake is a group of 20 investors who lend entrepreneurs seed money to start or expand a business and in exchange get in ownership stake in that business. Family and friends of entrepreneurs are often the first people to be asked for money, but there’s usually a limit and if major dollars are needed, it’s time to look elsewhere. Besides banks, you might seek out a group like the angel investors at Point Positive and not only for funding, but also advice, referrals to specialists, and contacts.

The phrase “point positive” is a metaphor for an upbeat attitude and comes from whitewater rafting. It refers to guiding boaters using hand signals to point in the direction they should take. Going down a roaring set of rapids, there’s no other way to quickly communicate. When pointing positive, you never point at the dangerous rock in the river, but at the way around the rock. Entrepreneur, a direct borrowing from the French language, means someone who plans, organizes, and operates a business venture. In French, it simply means one who undertakes an activity and is closely related to the word enterprise. Entrepreneurs find new or innovative products or processes and create a business; they want to see their businesses scale up, to expand and grow, which distinguishes them from operators who are content to keep their businesses small and have no interest in growth. You may have a very successful coffee shop, but you have no aspirations to become the next Starbucks.

The term angel investor seems to have its origins in the theatrical world, referring to someone who provides money to get a show into production. It has generally come to mean a person, like the individual members of Point Positive, who invest in new businesses, with funds and to varying degrees advice and oversight. Angel investors are wealthy, retired and can afford to take a gamble on entrepreneurs, recognizing the risks are steep but the rewards can be jackpots. Angel investors may also be motivated by an interest in keeping abreast of trends in a particular type of business or industry, and like using their knowledge and experience to mentor new business owners. Angel investing is often done on a part-time basis, another plus for retired folks.

Point Positive came about with help from the Adirondack Foundation, a philanthropic group which funded research into investment opportunities in the region. They found five areas particularly well suited: renewable energy, tourism, food distribution, light manufacturing, and beverages.

Today Point Positive is led by Melinda Little, a long time Saranac Lake resident and founder, among other things, of the Saranac Lake Community Store. Little meets with prospective borrowers and if they seem to be a good fit, helps them put together a sales pitch for the investors.

A good fit happens when the project makes business sense, has the ability to scale up beyond the Adirondacks, and is located within a two hour drive of Saranac Lake.

Little also does a lot of the background checks, or due diligence, before presenting the proposal to the members. She said, “I put together a package with all of the materials gathered and a summary of what we learned through the site visits and information gathering process and circulate it to all of the members. Each member then decides, on an individual basis, if they want to invest in the opportunity presented.” It’s not just money that can be invested in a new business. Point Positive also works with entrepreneurs to find them help with market research, prototype development, patents, and business plans. As Little said, “One of the key things angel investors have to offer besides cash is their experience and their contacts which are often invaluable for a start-up.”

If the entrepreneur’s idea is not a good fit with Point Positive, they refer them to other resources. Little said, “We are drawn to businesses that are offering product and service solutions that are environmentally sound and who want to grow businesses in the region that enhance our collective quality of life.” So far, over $3.3 million has been invested in ten ventures, and three more companies are poised for funding consideration. Most of their loans range from $50,000 to $500,000.

When asked about the factors that enhance or limit entrepreneurship in the Adirondacks, Little explained, “ The good news is the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region has grown significantly over the last five to ten years. Whereas the approach of economic development organizations had been focused on attracting big existing businesses into the region, it’s now focused on nurturing a knowledge based economy that gives entrepreneurs the resources they need to succeed. We do this through networking, relationships, investment, and a collaborative approach to create jobs, retain graduates, and build sustainable businesses. I think that one of the biggest challenges, though, continues to be how spotty broadband coverage still is across the region. Anecdotally, we signed up three new members at The Carry, our co-working space in Saranac Lake last week, who all joined because the spectrum coverage in their homes was inadequate for their business needs.”

Point Positive has funded a wide variety of businesses, including a Potsdam company that innovated a new way of cooling electric motors and generators which are smaller and lighter than conventionally cooled motors. They also put money into a hydroponic greenhouse operation that plans to grow produce year round, and a company that makes insulated tents for cold weather camping. Another venture, known as the Birch Boys and based in Tupper Lake, sells teas and tinctures from native fungi. Fungal teas are used in folk medicine. One type of fungus, called the chaga and found hereabouts growing on birch trees, is an excellent source of melanin. A naturally occurring pigment which has applications in skin care as well as biotechnology.

As an organization, Point Positive is looking to add new member investors and help even more entrepreneurs work toward their goals. In every sense of the word, there are truly angels in the Adirondacks.

Point Positive, Inc.
Melinda L. Little, Coordinator
PO Box 1281
Saranac Lake, NY 12983