March 28, 2023
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Julia Dilts guides angel network to new role with tech startups


Maverick Angels, the Westlake Village-based investor group co-founded by the late John Dilts, is disbanding but not disappearing completely.

Founded in 2006, Maverick was a different take on the idea of an angel network. Like other networks, it was an association of individual accredited investors — it didn’t pool money, and members made their own call as to whether to invest, but the group did provide some common infrastructure to make the process of finding companies and buying in easier.

But unlike some other groups, Maverick asked entrepreneurs to take its paid training course before they’d have the chance to pitch. It also worked intensively with its entrepreneurs with hands-on mentoring. Maverick members invested in Active Life Scientific and Clipper Windpower, among others in the Tri-Counties.

John Dilts was also one of the originating forces behind a push for startup infrastructure for biotech startups in the wake of Amgen’s first major layoffs in the Conejo Valley. When John Dilts died unexpectedly in 2010, his wife, Julia, took over as CEO at Maverick.

Julia Dilts said that the entrepreneur training side of the business has grown so much that it’s become a full-time venture of its own that will be called Wild Horse Labs. Maverick’s investors will join Tech Coast Angels, the well-known network with chapters up and down the California coast.

“I inherited from John an angel group and a training facility, and that facility over the past three and a half years has grown immensely. It got to the point where I could not manage the two separate companies anymore,” Julia said.

Julia said Wild Horse will broaden its offerings with the goal of becoming “the idea-to-exit training lab for startups.” The company will offer training for entrepreneurs at four different tiers: the idea stage, the seed stage, the angel and what it’s calling “the university stage.” Much of Wild Horse’s  activities will take place south of the Los Angeles County line, but the company does count California Lutheran University, where Julia serves as an advisory board member to the business school, among it university partners. “The young minds of the 20-somethings are very interesting to us. They cut their teeth on technology, and they’re learning how to bring on mentors and team members and move the business in a forward direction,” she said.

Meanwhile, the members at Maverick have all become Tech Coast Angels members, moving to the appropriate chapters based on their location. Mike Panesis, who in addition to his work with the UC Santa Barbara Technology Management Program is also the chairman of the Central Coast chapter of Tech Coast Angels, said the transition has been smooth so far. “Absorbing the Mavericks is something we’re happy to do. Their members were very much like ours and motivated for the same reasons to invest in startups,” Panesis said.

The Tech Coast Angels network is slightly different. Unlike Maverick, it does not charge the entrepreneurs fees, but that means members take on more un-reimbursed work.

“We expect more from our members when it comes to the mechanics of the deal. We don’t charge the entrepreneurs at all. It creates a little bit of a backlog at times, because for every one deal that gets funded there are many more that aren’t likely, but we talk to them all nonetheless,” Panesis said.

In the meantime, there’s the question of where angel investors sit in the emerging landscape of equity crowdfunding.
Panesis said the old-school notion of having a mentor nearby with a Rolodex remains important.

“There’s still a gap between the very early stages of starting a business and getting VCs, or even just getting on your feet,” he said. “What we offer that crowdfunding doesn’t is a local presence. I meet with my investments. If they need help or need a connection, they can call me.”

Almost fooled

In the early hours of April 1, I spent a few frantic minutes pounding out a breaking news post based on a release from San Luis Obispo-based iFixit. It said the company, which publishes open-source repair manuals and sells spare parts for fixing gadgets, had been acquired by Apple. “Everyone has a number,” Kyle Wiens, iFixit’s CEO, said in the statement. “I didn’t think there was a reasonable number that would make me say, ‘You know I was going to change the world with repair documentation, but here’s a number.’ ” It went on to say that iFixit would help Apple create the most “replaceable” products on the planet, the polar opposite of the firm’s push for “repairable” gadgets.

Luckily for me, I quickly became suspicious of a couple of misplaced commas in the release (Wiens is a notorious punctuation perfectionist) and spotted a fine-print reminder to check my calendar. Several very large publications, including Fortune magazine’s online edition, were not so lucky. They got fooled.

April Fools’ jokes have become something of a tradition among Internet technology companies. But while Google’s offerings have become stale and predictable, I would submit that iFixit’s was among the finer examples in the genre.

That is because it was believable. In Silicon Valley, where half a dozen companies have enough money to make Scrooge McDuck look like a pauper, it’s standard operating procedure to throw obscene amounts of cash at startup threats to make them go away.

Since its inception, iFixit has been tweaking the colossus of Cupertino by ripping apart its gadgets to show the world who’s supplying the bits and goading Apple to make phones more repairable. A minor annoyance, to be sure. But with a full tenth of the corporate cash in America on its balance sheet, Apple can afford to bury its minor annoyances under a pile of money.

Wiens and company pulled off a great joke. Let’s just hope Apple’s attorneys have a sense of humor.

• Contact technology reporter Stephen Nellis at