Rodney D’Souza and Andrew Hicks saw a problem for investors in Fort Worth: There’s little funding for early-stage startups, but there’s also a lack of good deal flow. 

That’s why D’Souza, the managing director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Texas Christian University and Hicks, a principal RevTech Labs Capital and adjunct professor at TCU, started a network to connect deals to investors.  

“There is money. We all know that,” D’Souza said. “It’s just, how do the investors know that these are good deals, and how do they know that these deals have been vetted or not?” 

Since quietly starting in March, the Horned Frog Investment Network has evaluated 276 opportunities, invited eight companies to pitch, made two investments and has two investments in consideration. The group has grown to about 40 members across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and the country, D’Souza said. 

The group is designed to function as a hybrid between an angel investment network and venture capital firm, D’Souza said. Instead of entrepreneurs approaching and pitching the group, the network finds the deals by going to accelerators, venture capitalists or other angel investors to source the deals.

Students in TCU’s Master of Business Administration taught under TCU adjunct, network cofounder and program manager Joe Dickerson work together with members of the network to do due diligence on deals – making sure it would be a good investment for the group. Students have to take a class and apply to become an associate of the network through an interview process before participating, D’Souza said.

Previous Fort Worth Report reporting found Fort Worth lags behind major Texas such as Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin in the amount of early stage capital investment, which many consider a barrier to growing innovative businesses that want to grow and expand quickly. 

Universities can have a significant role in building the entrepreneurship ecosystem by educating students, members of the network and the community, Daniel Pullin, the dean for TCU’s Neeley School of Business, said in a statement. The network is also becoming another means to engage local entrepreneurs and provide resources outside of capital, he said. 

“From pitch practice to hands-on business model coaching, we try to be a resource that can help founders in our community reach new heights,” Pullin said in an email to the Fort Worth Report. 

Hicks, the program manager of the network, said there’s barriers for investing. People need capital, and have to understand and find opportunities. 

The goal, Hicks said, is to meet all three requirements to create more investment activity in Fort Worth. People tend to invest in what they know. In Fort Worth, people traditionally gravitate toward oil and gas and real estate, he said. With a mix of people, backgrounds and education it opens up the opportunities.

“If we can educate them and put the opportunities in front of them and show them how the guy that does this professionally underwrites these, it’s really powerful because they can then feel empowered to say, ‘I do want to invest in this,’” Hicks said. “And it starts growing, snowballing from there.”

How to join the Horned Frog Investment Network 

Anybody who is an accredited investor can join the Horned Frog Investment Network. Members don’t need to be affiliated with TCU. An individual membership costs $1,500. Investors may email hfin@tcu.edu to find pricing for a professional membership. To apply for membership, click here. 

About 5 to 10% of the companies evaluated were from the DFW area. Of the eight companies that were actually brought in to pitch, about half were from the DFW area, Hicks said. 

The group has made two investments in technology companies so far. One is Silicon Valley-based Rizzle, a company that took advantage of the market when ByteDance, the company that created TikTok was banned in India. 

The company made an alternative to TikTok that millions use. The network contributed to the company’s series B funding stage that was raising $25 million, valuing the company at $250 million, Hicks said. 

Bailey McGuire, cofounder of Trinity West Ventures and a member of the network, agrees with Hicks and said it can be difficult to get started in investing. Making connections within the network is helpful, he said because everyone brings something different to the table.

“So where we may be lacking when looking at a deal, there’s another member who knows the area or, or knows the industry better than us and it’s been nice to be able to pick their brains,” McGuire said. 

Investors meet at a Horned Frog Investment Network meeting. The group is designed to find curate deals to a network of investors — a mix of angel and venture capital. (Courtesy photo: Rodney D’Souza)

Investments often involve sourcing other people to meet the minimum investment, McGuire said, and many investors build their own networks to do so.

McGuire describes their firm as “opportunistic investors,” meaning that they are open to all industries and locations for investing. In the end, they are looking for a good deal. But McGuire said he thinks the Horned Frog Investment network will also help them find local deals that they love.

“I think there’s a lot of great new businesses and new technologies and new companies that are coming out of North Texas and so I think  that is fantastic and something that we definitely would like to have more investment in,” McGuire said.

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

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Seth Bodine

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....