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The Making of an Angel Investor

A conversation with Mysty Rusk, head of accelerator program The Brink SDBC
Donald Carlton

By Jessica Yingling

On a cattle ranch in Southern Arizona, Mysty Rusk started her first business at five years old. Miles from town, the ranch hands were a captive market, especially when they headed to lunch in her mom’s kitchen. Mysty captured critters, including a horny toad, a tarantula, and a jack rabbit, and set up a zoo in the direct path from ranch to kitchen, charging the ranch hands a quarter for viewing. When her dad found out, he made Mysty return the money, but the seeds of entrepreneurship were already sown.

Nearly four decades later, Mysty has helped more than 3,000 companies start their businesses and today leads The Brink SDBC, the largest accelerator program in San Diego and one of only a handful in the country. Housed at University of San Diego, The Brink provides consulting and training to entrepreneurs who have an innovative product or service with a larger than local addressable market and a scalable business model. The goal is to bring economic growth and prosperity to the San Diego region while attaining the 5Ps: profit, people, planet, peace, prosperity.

The Brink SDBC opened in January 2018, and eight months later, they were named the number one accelerator in San Diego by the San Diego Business Journal. The Brink now has more than 700 businesses in the group, which has raised $47.7 million in capital and impacted 4,000 jobs.

Mysty explained, “I have never worked any place like the University of San Diego. Quietly, for two decades I’ve behaved as if innovation could change the world. USD’s philosophy made me brave enough to say it out loud. USD not only appreciated the notion, they fully supported and rallied behind the scenes to let us spend every day delivering on our mission. Everyday we are supporting people who are doing good work, and there’s no better place to do it than in San Diego.”

Mysty also has another ambitious goal: create the largest angle conference in the nation. In its second year, the San Diego Angel Conference is already the largest pitch competition in California, last year awarding more than half a million dollars to three companies. The 2020 conference taking place at the end of March, has already raised $275,000 which is well ahead of last year’s pace and can raise up to a million dollars. But the sources of funds from the San Diego Angel Conference may not be who you normally think of as an investor.

Jason Scharf, a new angel investor said, “What Mysty has done is change the narrative and make people understand that investors can be the people next door. From school teachers to families, we have angel investors who have come together for this conference to invest in San Diego’s industries, from biotech and software to fintech and agtech and push our innovation ecosystem forward. Along the way, they are supported by this great group of mentors to learn about the investing process and start to create their own small investment portfolio.” 

An angel investor often provides initial funding for small startups or entrepreneurs, typically in exchange for ownership equity in the company. The financial support that angel investors provide fosters innovation which can translate into economic growth. Angel investors typically use their own money or pool money into a fund. The San Diego Angel Conference fund is open to accredited investors using the process to either learn more about angel investing or grow their portfolio. The first investment unit in their fund costs $6,000, and each unit after is $5,500. 

In December, 105 entrepreneurs applied for the San Diego Angel Conference. Over the past couple months, the angel investors have narrowed the field to 12 semifinalists and plan to further cut the list to six finalists that will present on March 28th at the conference for a chance to obtain funding. The semifinalist companies represent the diversity of innovation in San Diego from beauty and biomedical to software and AI to water and agriculture.

Mysty said, “San Diego has not disappointed in the range of innovative technologies, visionary entrepreneurs, and supportive investors. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in other regions. We have companies tackling big problems, using innovation to not just change the world, but possibly save the world. On top of that, we have this great group of investors that are working together in fun and creative ways, and it has all come together in such a short amount of time.”

When she’s not expanding her angel team and helping entrepreneurs, Mysty is seeking out San Diego’s growing list of speakeasies, such as Hillcrest’s Caché in the back of Taco Libertad, or watching the daredevils at the Torrey Pines Gliderport.  

When asked if she’s thought about paragliding herself, Mysty said, “I’m getting my nerve up, I’m at the brink and ready to step off the edge to see if I can fly.”

Either way, this angel is definitely earning her wings.


Disclosure:  Little Dog Communications is a sponsor of the San Diego Angel Conference.


Mysty Rusk, Director, The Brink SBDC at University of San Diego

Donald Carlton

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