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September 25, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Dobson does “180,” now helping entrepreneurs raise capital

Local entrepreneur Eric Dobson has experienced the challenges of trying to raise capital He’s now doing a “180” and joining an effort to help make it easier for local start-ups to raise much needed early stage funding.

Dobson, founder of Knoxville-based TrakLok, has joined Angel Capital Group to lead its East Tennessee operations – from Chattanooga to Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City. Ironically, one of Angel Capital’s first four deals was an investment in TrakLok when the Knoxville Chapter was formed in 2008. Other groups are located in Nashville, where the idea was started by Rachel Qualls in 2008s; Jackson, MS; Kansas City, MO; and Naples, FL.

In a recent lunch-time interview with, Dobson said that Angel Capital typically does deals in the range of $250,000 to $500,000, an investment level that he knows first-hand is important to start-ups.

“I’m committed to getting local companies the face time they deserve,” he said.

Dobson described the unique approach that the Angel Capital Group employs to connect entrepreneurs with investors.

“We identify and research companies that can present (at our meetings), the angels decide what they want to do individually and we (Angel Capital Group) both match the individual investments and aggregate them into one investment,” Dobson said.

For the former Chief Executive Officer of TrakLok who remains on its board and is a “huge supporter” of the company, the Angel Capital Group opportunity is one where Dobson says he “will get paid to do what I love to do” and that is “early stage investment on both sides of the table.”

“I want to bring attention to local deals . . . that have languished due to lack of capital,” he explains, adding that “continuity of capital” is what has been lacking in the Knoxville region.

The niche that Angel Capital will fill is funding a start-up as it approaches its initial revenue, an important place in the local ecosystem.

Dobson sees Tech 20/20 playing the seed stage role and complements John Morris, the organization’s Chief Executive Officer, for leading an effort in that regard. Angel Capital fills the next stage followed by an effort that Geoff Robson, formerly of Tech 20/20, is leading for growth stage funding. In Dobson’s view, the final piece is addressed by traditional venture firms and the state’s TNInvestcos.

While Dobson says that Angel Capital will consider a range of opportunities, he says that the firm is particularly interested in technology, software as a service, biotechnology and life sciences, and media and web companies.

We also discussed role models for Knoxville to consider emulating in terms of an entrepreneurial efforts.

“My hat is off to two cities – Greenville (SC) and Chattanooga,” he said.

Dobson founded Navigational Sciences and helped found InterLink before he started TrakLok. So, it was only natural to ask, “Is there a start-up in your future?”

“Once you get bit by the bug, you’re infected for life,” Dobson said unabashedly although, for now, he’s excited about sitting on the sidelines and helping others get critical early stage funding.

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