MCALLEN, RGV – One of the founders of the RGV Angel Network says he finds investing in local start-ups more rewarding and exciting than taking a trip to Las Vegas.

John F. Martin wishes other wealthy people would think about using their “risk dollars” in the same way. 

However, the former broker is quick to point out that does not invest in local entrepreneurs out of the goodness of his heart. He is looking for a financial return.

John F. Martin

“I got involved (in RGV Angel Network) because I love entrepreneurs and I love the entrepreneurial spirit. That is what made this country great,” Martin said.

“The RGV Angel Network is set up specifically to help those new businesses to succeed. I tell the new people that come to see what we are doing on our pitch night, this money that you might invest is the money that you would normally take to Las Vegas.”

This is what he tells such potential investors: “Since mostly people lose in Las Vegas, what do you think they do with the money? They simply build bigger hotels and bigger casinos. I don’t particularly care to build hotel rooms with my risk dollars, I would rather help a new business start-up, even if I have the same risk of losing, which I don’t think I do.”

Martin said emphatically: “I would rather build jobs and wealth in my local community than hotel rooms in Las Vegas. (But), I don’t do it for humanitarian reasons. I am trying to pick businesses that I think, eventually, will make all of us some money, including me. It is doing good by doing good.”

RGV Angel Network is a group of investors that was formed three years ago. One local firm they have invested in is Composite Access Products, which is run by Chad Nunnery.

“It is probably our biggest investment at this point. A buzz word among all the gurus and entrepreneurs and technology experts is disruption. This company (Composite Access Products) is going to disrupt a 180-year-old industry,” Martin said.

Composite Access Products produces, of all things, manhole covers. 

“It has been running for three years. We just finished our first quarter of $250,000 in sales. We have not got our quarterly report yet but it is possibly our first profitable quarter. The Angel Network has a stake in it. I am the lead investor in that stake so I do my best to keep on top of it.”

Martin said he is pleased UT-Rio Grande Valley helped Composite Access Products in the early stages.

“Developing it, Chad Nunnery worked directly with the engineering school, as he was developing the manhole cover. He worked with the engineering school to make it a marketable product.”

UTRGV has a tie-up with RGV Angel Network. In fact, the two are co-hosting a “Pitch Academy” later this month. Six start-ups will receive expert advice on how to get to the next level. The event takes place at the university’s Center for Innovation & Commercialization in Weslaco.

Asked if the Valley has the budding entrepreneurs and start-ups RGV Angel Network is looking for, Martin said:

“Well, we need a lot more. I am on the finance advisory board at the university (UTRGV). I sit and listen… and they bring in the young scientists who are doing the research projects in all kinds of things. I am sitting there listening and saying to myself, hey, that business has a great commercial potential.”

However, Martin, said the research students often times do not realize the commercial potential of the research they have conducted.

“In reality, that researcher, that graduate student is not thinking business, he or she is thinking, I want to prove this research so that I can publish a scientific paper and get my name in the journals of science. And the same with his or her professor,” Martin said.

“Yes, they should do that but in that same room should be, oh, a handful of graduate business students in entrepreneurship. If it interests them, they should go over and say, I want you to be successful but I want to mentor you with my professor to see if we can’t put together a business plan for your research.”

Martin said he has encouraged UTRGV’s school of business and school of science to work more closely together. If they did, he said, more commercial opportunities would arise.

Asked if UTRGV’s schools of business and schools of science are, in fact, working together, Martin said: “I am pushing it. I sat a year and a half ago in one of those meetings. There were at least 20 presentations of research and at least half of those had commercial potential. I looked around the room and I was the only business person on the advisory board for the school of science. So, I called the school of business and said, we need to put together the dean of the school of science, the dean of the school of business, the head of the school of entrepreneurship and we need a plan. It has not happened yet but I think it will.”

One person understands the need for the colleges of science and business to work more closely together, Martin said, is the director of the Center for Innovation and Commercialization, Laurie Simmons.

Laurie Simmons

“Right now, I think Laurie Simmons is working to make that happen. She was in that meeting and she understands the need for a real cooperative effort. One way or another it will come together.”

The Rio Grande Guardian asked Martin how he came to make money. He said it all started in the summer of 1975 when he was teaching accounting at UT-Brownsville. One of his students, ironically, was Mark Kroll, who would go on to become dean of business at UT-Brownsville and a founder of the RGV Angel Network.

“Mark Kroll was one of my students. I left the classroom on Aug. 15, 1975, and went directly to the offices of A.G. Edwards Investment Brokerage firm. I started as an investment broker trainee and ended up with a 25 year career. A lot of people go into this business but you have to go in with the right frame of mind. My goal was to help business men and women plan their financial lives. Everything from buying their next new car to retiring well. As a result I feel like I had a great career. For me it was the greatest career in the world.”

Asked about the upcoming Pitch Academy, Martin said: “I am really excited. I cannot wait to see the entrepreneurs. I will try to help them get ready to do their presentations. It is kind of like watching shark tank. They are going to get some good questions. If they do not have good answers they are going to be in trouble. I am really looking forward to hearing about some great businesses.”