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Atkinson Graduate School of Management Professor Rob Wiltbank

The Angel Investors

Atkinson Graduate School of Management Professor Rob Wiltbank is a national authority on the practice of angel investing, where individuals with the financial means invest in young companies that show promise.

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“At the conceptual level, angel investing is like venture capital investing except that individuals are using their own money,” Wiltbank says. Often, successful business folks or semi-retired former owners research rising companies and then make investments in them. They give others a start — with the potential for a payoff, of course.”

“I decided it’d be great if we enabled students to learn from experience, too.”

Wiltbank’s professional passion is for figuring out how businesspeople work. “I research how people make decisions in really uncertain situations,” he says. Studying angel investing is a perfect way to do that.

He involves his students in the practice. “I decided it’d be great if we enabled students to learn from experience, too,” he says. So he organized a program through which pairs of business students filter out to each of Oregon’s major angel groups — loose alliances of potential investors doing their research and vetting together — to get involved in the work. The students, with the university’s help, have even invested in several companies along with their more experienced partners. They can do this because of the charitable gifts the program has received from interested alumni and other donors.

“The students are potentially co-investors, so they’re basically members of these groups,” Wiltbank says. “Each one of them last year saw 50 or 75 entrepreneurs pitch for money, and they also worked with the investors who were giving the money out — so they’ve been exposed to both sides. It provides incredible lessons.”

Atkinson Graduate School of Management Professor Rob Wiltbank

Those crazy clocks

The Hello Kitty clock in Atkinson room 101 says that it’s lunch time.

There are seven clocks, in fact, in the small seminar room Professor Wiltbank uses for his classes. None of them were there when he first walked in to teach.

“No clocks were installed in the room,” Wiltbank says. “When I came in, I figured we should solve that problem.” So he and his students started filling the walls with timepieces. And they’re not pretty. One, made from an old bear trap (“It hasn’t snapped shut yet.”), hangs alongside the white board. The pineapple clock hangs next to a bird clock whose hours are marked by painted sparrows and chirps every time the hour hand makes it around.

Someone keeps stealing the battery from the chirping mechanism.

But the crown jewel in the room is an exquisite grandfather clock purchased on eBay by the Atkinson class of 2010. It boasts a tasteful placard commemorating it as a gift to the university. “I think we might want to put it in the hallway,” Wiltbank says. “It’s too classy a piece to ignore.”

What started as a joke turned into an entertaining way for business students to relate to their professor. “We probably couldn’t get away with this if we were in Eaton Hall,” Wiltbank says. “But if I have my way, we’ll have these walls filled.”