Angel Investing for Startups Built on Faith

Lion's Den DFW recently brought together students, founders, and investors at Dallas Baptist University for a pitch competition that highlights the growing influence of faith-driven businesses, where purpose and profit align for a higher plane of success.

The Lion's Den

On a rainy April day, students, founders, and investors gathered in the chapel at Dallas Baptist University for the eighth annual Lion’s Den DFW.

The pitch competition is a chance for entrepreneurs to describe opportunities and their solutions, in hopes of attracting funding to go from ideation to commercialization. New this year—an additional source of potential funding from DBU’s own Patriot Angel Network, which was launched with the help of Beyond Angels—a network of investors who support Christian-driven founders.

[Photo: Beyond Angels, Southwest Baptist university]

Now based in Dallas, but started at Cedarville University in Southeast Ohio, Beyond Angels reflects the desire to unite faith and business endeavors.

“Beyond Angels works with universities across the country, and since starting in 2020, has invested more than six-and-a-half million dollars directly into 18 startups,” said Sarah Jennings, co-founder of Beyond Capital Funds, and previous director at Beyond Angels. “Both founders and investors who are looking for a faith-driven match recognize the importance of events like Lion’s Den DFW.”

[Photo: The Lion’s Den DFW, Dallas Baptist University]

Its roots are in Movement Day — a New York City event started by a well-known pastor, and a Birmingham pitch competition called The Lion’s Den — a sort of Shark Tank for Jesus. The DFW version isn’t part of DBU but aligns with the university’s values and is hosted there. Co-founder Ed Pearce says Lion’s Den DFW is a subset of the evangelical wave of companies that want to do good, in addition to being profitable.

“We don’t view ourselves as a religious organization — we have a very broad tent for any sort of faith-based initiative,” said Pearce. “We just want to support companies that are trying to put some good in the world, as part of their business plan.”

Clearly the idea resonates. According to Vip Vipperman, vice president of Eagle Venture Fund, and the other co-founder of Lion’s Den DFW, the event has deployed $35 million dollars since starting in 2016.

“What we continue to find is that investors who have been successful in business say, ‘how can I put that money to work to have an impact on the world’,” said Vipperman.

[Photo: Dallas Baptist University]

Dr. Ross O’Brien, director of DBU’s Center for Business as Mission, is part of the Lion’s Den DFW planning team, which narrows down an average of 60 applications to ten that are selected for the live pitch. He says it’s common for people to compartmentalize their faith as something they do on the weekends, or on special occasions. Part of his role at the university is to show how faith is infused into all parts of life — including business.

On and around DBU’s campus, there are a growing number of examples for students to model themselves after. People like Dr. Brian Morin, co-founder and CEO of Soteria, who was brought to Lion’s Den DFW in 2022, after Beyond Angels had invested. His pitch was a great example of the kind of startup the Patriot Angel Network will be looking for. The company improves safety and wellbeing with patented technology that prevents the cause of thermal runaway in batteries. That’s a fancy way of saying a reaction that causes the temperature to increase, potentially sparking fires.

You may imagine the frenetic atmosphere of SxSW, or TechCrunch Disrupt when you think of pitch competitions, and that is not what you see looking around the DBU chapel. The combination of DBU’s academic instruction, the Lion’s Den DFW, and now the Patriot Angel Network demonstrate the growing influence of Kingdom business—where capitalism and faith intersect.  

Get involved

On June 2, DBU is hosting Beyond Angels’ education day for investors, students, and others who want to learn the basics about types of offerings, evaluating deals, and term sheets.

In November, The Patriot Angel Network will host a hybrid pitch event where CEOs and investors will have the option of flying in or connecting on Zoom.

To learn more about The Lion’s Den DFW, go here.

Voices contributor Nicole Ward is a data journalist at the Dallas Regional Chamber.

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