Making an Investment in Recovery

My first year of recovery appeared to most people in the outside world as me sitting around a rehab, going to meetings and not making any “progress.” Looking from the outside in, through the eyes of a “normal” person, getting clean looks like sitting around, drinking coffee and not doing much else.   From the inside, it feels like a daily battle, literally “a battle with yourself.”  My thoughts and feelings were on a roller coaster for that first year.  The outside world did not understand the transformation or the characteristics of early recovery.   How do “normal” people judge success?  How much do you make?  Where do you live?  What clothes are you wearing? Where do you work?   Where did you go to school?

Here is how I would answer those questions while I was in rehab.

How much do you make?

I don’t make any money; I’m unemployed.  In fact, I can’t get a bank account.  The bank banned me.  Before I got to rehab, I made a deposit at the atm without placing a check or cash into the atm, and then I took the money out. Back in the 1980’s, this scam was very common.  Today, banks won’t let that happen.

Where do you live?

I live in a rehab in Pasadena, CA, with 150 others.   I share a pay phone and sleep in a bunk bed, I take a shower down the hall and sign the door.  Why do I sign the door, the rehab wants to know I take showers everyday.  🙂

What clothes are you wearing?    My clothes are from the donation pile at the rehab.   Residents that leave the rehab in a hurry don’t bother taking their clothes.  If the resident doesn’t claim them, they end up in the clothes pile for us to take.

Where do you work?  I work at odd jobs around the rehab.  Sometimes I wash dishes, cook, clean bathrooms or sweep leaves in the courtyard.  There is a joke that we learn to sweep imaginary leaves because you’re required to keep sweeping until the supervisor tells you to stop, even if the courtyard is perfectly clean.

Where did you go to school? I went to UCLA but never graduated.  I looked at UCLA as a way to get student loans.  I used the loans to buy drugs to sell.  The goal was to sell enough to use as much and as often as I wanted.   You’d think if I was an entrepreneur I’d be a good drug dealer, nope.  I couldn’t stop using long enough to sell.  The empire crumbled.  In the end, I had a habit and debt.

Cut to 54, I’m not Bill Gates, but I am a productive member of society.  I started three technology companies, two rehabs and a nonprofit.  The question is – how many addicts with the right kind of support could generate a positive return on investment for the people willing to invest in them?  People will say not every addict is an entrepreneur, I agree.

Yes, Bill Gates and I both dropped out of college.  Outside of that similarity, I don’t think Bill was sweeping imaginary leaves at 27.  I’d guess most VC’s I’d call would have their assistant take a message.  If I read this blog, and I was a traditional Angel Investor or VC, I’d laugh.  Then after the laugh, I’d ask myself why not?  As Albert Einstein says “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

How about this for a theory – the same way Silicon Valley became a Mecca for technology, income, jobs etc.  What could a great business like Facebook or Google do for a rehab?   Does opportunity breed hope” Can hope fuel recovery”

It sounds a little crazy to look at rehab as fertile ground for entrepreneurship, but I have been lucky enough to spend two quality years in rehab.  That gave me enough time to see the possibilities.  If you doubt this – take a look at the Salvation Army and Delancey Street.  They have been doing it for years.  What we need now is an entrepreneur, a business plan, a few great mentors, a couple of Angel investors and one VC.  You know where to reach me!


Addict, Entrepreneur or Both?

On May 3rd, 2004, I walked into a rehab at 42 years of age.  Being an addict/recovering addict is a wild ride that is difficult to understand for almost everyone, including me.  As a personal problem, it hijacked my life on many occasions.  As a societal problem, it demands more resources on a yearly basis than the Iraq War. I can’t tell whether I was an addict or an entrepreneur first.  Peter Drucker says, “The entrepreneur is willing to put his or her career and financial security on the line and take risks in the name of an idea.”  With just a small tweak Peter Drucker’s statement could describe an addict, here is a small rewrite, the addict is willing to put his financial security and life on the line and take risks in the name of a substance.

In my 20’s, the first time I got clean, I risked my Mommy’s $5,000 loan to begin my first technology business Computer Physicians.  Over a few years, Computer Physicians’ success turned me into a Yuppie.  By 1994, I was bored.  I felt I enslaved by my own business.  I needed out.  I took a sabbatical and went sailing for about six months.  This impulsive move was disruptive to the business, my partner Marc, my relationship with Berni and my recovery.

I tried to start a couple of other technology companies hoping that I’d be happy.  The next nine years I got further and further from happiness.  I kept thinking that money, success or building a company would do it for me.  Nope.  It didn’t fix me.  Eventually in 2001, I relapsed.  In another blog, I’ll talk more about that.  In May of 2004, I stumbled or crumbled into rehab.

My life took a monumental step forward 11 years ago the day I saw the parallel between being an entrepreneur and an addict.  It hit me like a tsunami.  Luckily I had an internet connection and a computer in rehab.  I imagined using entrepreneurship to help alleviate the damage addiction does to the individual and society.  That thought organized my life.  In my soul, I knew I was an entrepreneur and an addict.  Combining both gave me purpose.  Soon on I was studying the missions and approach of the Skoll Foundation, Pacific Community Ventures, Investors’ Circle and other sites that opened my imagination and inspiration to social entrepreneurship.

It has always been easy for me to borrow and deploy.  This time, I borrowed from Muhammad Yunus, Investors Circle, Pacific Community Ventures, mixed them all up and started the 12 Angels.  The 12 Angels’ mission is to provide the investment capital, consultation and mentorship to support sustainable businesses that help alleviate the individual and societal destruction caused by addiction and mental health disorders.  Businesses we support vary from healthcare service and biotech to companies that create jobs for recovering addicts, giving them a chance to enjoy productive and healthy lives.

We are going to be launching 12 Angels version 3 in June of 2016, from scratch.  If you are interested in helping build version 3, send me an email at  Stay Tuned!

Solutions to the Economic Damage Caused by Addiction



As of May of 2013, our unemployment rate is at 7.6% equating to 11.8 million people on unemployment.  

Everything being equal would an employer hire a recovering addict? If you were an addict just leaving rehab would you disclose this on a job interview?  How do you explain on an interview that you have spent the last 30, 60, 90 days or longer in rehab?  Can you imagine?  “Awkward!”  My assumption is that most people keep their stay in rehab their little secret.

In 1988, when I was coming out of my 6 month stay in rehab…as they say some are sicker than others 🙂  I chose to create an elaborate story about my whereabouts for the last 6 months.  I said to Gary, the very nice, very sophisticated, very well dressed property manager who was part of a conservative real estate company in Glendale, CA, that I had been traveling in Europe for 6 months.  If I was going to use the traveling through Europe alibi on my job interview I should have prepared better.  Gary loved Europe, of course! When the conversation turned to Paris I really got myself into trouble.  Gary knew about the different neighborhoods, little restaurants and some of the best places to stay.  Me, I had never been to Paris or Europe.  I was scrambling.  I knew one street in Paris, the Champs-Elysées.  So that became the center of my story.   Then I as quickly as possible changed the subject.

The next uncomfortable moment came when Gary called the rehab I was so embarrassed.  In 1988, before cell phones were common, our rehab had a pay phone.  My rehab was not one of those fancy places in Malibu, my rehab had a 150 residents who made the choice of going to rehab instead of prison.  Usually it was impossible to get through on the pay phone, Gary got lucky.  I heard my name being called down the hall “hey Alex come to the pay phone”.  When I picked up the phone I was caught by surprise, it was Gary.     I never expected he’d call.  Of course his first question was, where do you live?  I had to think fast, keeping with my fabricated persona of the traveling student, I said I was staying in a youth hostel.  Luckily years of drug use gave me the ability to think fast and convincingly lie.  At times I could not tell when I was telling the truth or when I was lying.  I got the job.  If I told you of my adventures with my first job out of rehab you’d laugh.  But I’ll save those stories for another blog.  The short story is I made it out of rehab.  It was tough.  Many of my friends and acquaintances at the rehab were not so lucky.  They really struggled.  I watched a parade of my friends and acquaintances relapse and die.  My theory is that the disappointment and stress of trying to find work seemed to escalate the frequency of relapse.  It looked to me when faced with returning to “life” or “using”, using looked like the better option. For the lucky ones they ended back in rehab, for the unluckier ones they ended up in jail or dead.

Whether the root of the problem for addicts is learned dependency or the very slow healing of the addict’s brain, I’m not sure it matters.  Our economy is being damaged by unemployed addicts.  I don’t mean to ignore the personal tragedy of people dying or going to jail but this is a business blog.  We business people try not to consider the human condition when we are talking about the economy. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, we have 22.5 million Americans aged 12 or older—or 8.7 percent of the population — had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer) in the past month.

So we have 11.8 million people on unemployment and we have 22.5 million using people in the United States.  What can we say is happening to the US economy by not addressing the problems of addiction and work?  How about this number…$366 BILLION caused by alcohol and Illicit drug use in health care, productivity loss, crime, incarceration and drug enforcement.  Ok so that is enough about the problem let’s talk about solutions…

One of the keys to our economic recovery is getting people clean and sober. Is that enough? We need to take it one step further and provide a bridge back to productivity. This is the focus of the 12 Angels. Here are some solutions to increasing productivity:

1. More agency owned businesses – these businesses can operate inside of long term government funded treatment centers. Some organizations like Delancey Street and the Salvation Army have been doing this for decades. One of our goals with the 12 Angels is to help other treatment centers that do not operate businesses start profitable and with sustainable companies. If you are reading this and are a cashed out entrepreneur, foundation or philanthropist – we need your help!

2. More micro-lending and micro-credit available to recovering addict entrepreneurs. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank for their success in creating economic opportunity to the poor. Why can’t we apply micro-lending and micro-credit to recovering addict entrepreneurs?

3. Why can’t we use models such as the ones developed by Pacific Community Ventures? Pacific Community Ventures uses tools of private equity to stimulate job creation, productivity and wealth in economically disadvantaged communities.

Practicing addicts and alcoholics cost our nation over $340 billion annually. Addiction is the largest health care problem in the nation. Using the 3 models described above coupled with the specific knowledge and experience of the 12 Angels’ organization is a winning combination.

We have an incredible opportunity to help everyone in our nation by reducing the damage addiction costs our society. Addiction is treatable. Economic recovery is possible. The return on investment is gigantic. Act now, help the 12 Angels implement our social entrepreneurship programs in the recovery community.

You can contribute via PayPal by using the button in the right most sidebar or donate your time and expertise by contacting us at 877-858-1212 or via email.

Award-winning play “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” Return to Off-Broadway


In 2011 – the 12 Angels Fund was thrilled to announce its support of the production company of the Off-Broadway play of BILL W. AND DR. BOB.(

Well-known actors Martin Sheen and Hank Azaria supported the play with performances of staged readings, including at a fundraiser in Los Angeles in November 2011 supported by 12 Angels – raising over ten thousand dollars.

12 Angels was not the only non-profit supporting and investing in the company – The Hazelden Foundation has now become the major sponsor and non-profit umbrella for the play. Now – Alcoholics Anonymous Play Bill W. and Dr. Bob to Return Off-Broadway ( this July!

An ecstatic Stephen Bergman wrote this update:  “Dear Alex, (Shohet) Hope you are well.  We’re in rehearsal now, for first preview July 8 and opening July 16.  Because of your Kickstarter donation, you have two free tix awaiting you!  I hope you can make it! Gratitude! Your old friend, Steve”

Friends come but rarely go in recovery.

Updated links:

12 Angels Evergreen Fund is funded and managed by a group of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who observed the transformative process recovery has on addicts and alcoholics.  Many recovering addicts and alcoholics have gone on to become top business leaders, hedge fund managers, social entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Many of these top business leaders have kept their recovery hidden from their colleagues for fear this information will add a level of uncertainty to their roles as fiduciaries.   Addiction costs the United States over a one-half a TRILLION dollars a year.  Our supporters, managers and partners believe we can reduce the damage addiction does to our economy and our society by using a combination of micro-finance, community development, executive mentorship, leadership training and venture capital.

The 12 Angels Evergreen Fund  is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that is entirely privately funded by executives, foundations, and other generous donors.

Goodbye to Luis Villalobos, Our Organizations’ Mentor!

Luis Villalobos receiving the Hans Severiens Award
Luis Villalobos receiving the Hans Severiens Award

Luis Villalobos was a great mentor to me, the 12 Angels and lots of other people!He was a pioneer in angel investing, an advocate for entrepreneurs and an architect of organizations.Here is my story about Luis Villalobos…

In 2004, I was in a long term drug and alcohol treatment program.At 42 it was difficult to imagine starting my professional career over. The last 3 years of drug abuse had destroyed my professional reputation.My financial life was chaotic.My personal life was a mess.I had a young 2 and a half year old daughter and a wife who was a well respected professional in the drug and alcohol treatment industry.

For the last 20 years, I was in technology.I was an entrepreneur having founded 3 tech companies.At 42, I was wondering while laying in my twin bed at the drug treatment center, what do can I do?Am I too old or too poor to start another company?Should I get a job in technology?Should I get a get well job at Starbucks and focus on meetings and my recovery?

Career decisions are daunting while living in converted retirement home with 150 other unemployed addicts.Being around so many unemployed people robs one of hope. What can I put on my resume, I have been serving meals to 150 addicts at lunch time for the last 6 months?  I guess they would call that job a resume killer!

Somewhere along my path in treatment, I took the Myers Briggs personality assessment which helps identify temperament and aids in career decisions. My results, ENTP, the classic personality type of the entrepreneur.I was fascinated by the Myers Briggs and its accurate appraisal of my temperament.


In early recovery from drug addiction a person is on an emotional roller coaster of fear, hope, despair and purpose. I was searching for my calling, what can I do?Who am I, I am a recovering heroin addict and an entrepreneur.Those two activities have dominated my life.Where can I find meaning in my career, do I want to go back into technology?


It hit me one day, maybe entrepreneurship can help people with addictions.Maybe I can take my passion for entrepreneurship and apply it to helping people with addictive disorders.I was aware of social entrepreneurs who apply their entrepreneurial talents to social problems.I thought I am going to do that!


The next question is how?I started to brainstorm:


1.Creating businesses in treatment centers. Is anyone doing that?What are the benefits of having a business inside a treatment center?

a.You can generate money to help the treatment center pay for the services they provide.

b.You can provide job experience and funds to the residents in the treatment center.

c.You can make the transition out of the treatment easier and reduce the chances of relapse.

2.Successful entrepreneurs Create jobs and opportunities.

a.Entrepreneurs in recovery are more likely to provide opportunities to other addicts, because they understand what it is like to be an addict in early recovery.

b.Entrepreneurs can create personal income when traditional employment may be unavailable.

I can go on and on with all the benefits entrepreneurship can have to the recovery process but I need to get back to my personal tribute to Luis Villalobos…


So after my little entrepreneurial brainstorm I thought of the 12 Angels, an angel investment group that would stimulate entrepreneurship in the recovery community.I then went on line and found the Angel Capital Association and signed up as one of their groups.They had a program where new angel groups were assigned a mentor, enter Luis Villalobos.


I had a meeting with Luis Villalobos a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School.He was the founder of the Tech Coast Angels, the largest angel group in the nation.I couldn’t believe it!Here I was a guy living in drug rehab, who thought of a crazy idea to start an investment group that provided funds to recovering drug addicts.Now I was going to meet one of the most influential angel investors in the country, I couldn’t believe it!


My meeting with Luis Villalobos was more than I could have ever dreamed.Luis immediately saw the value in the 12 Angels, the powerful opportunity to use angel investing to help one of the largest economic issues facing our country; addiction costs the US over $340 Billion dollars per year!


Within one meeting, Luis architected the 12 Angels organization.He gave me a blueprint from which I have been trying to follow for the last 5 years.And he gave me more.He attended our organizations first presentation and mentored me to create the legal structure for the group.He helped me understand how to be an investor and a group organizer.


How do we put the 12 Angels into practice?We needed to find an investment.Luis and I discussed starting a high end drug and alcohol treatment center and over the next year Wonderland Treatment Center was born.Luis suggested I utilize the local business schools for support.I then pitched UCLA’s Anderson School of Management for assistance and we created a business plan for career mentorship using Facebook technology.Luis was a guide, an advisor, a cheerleader and a visionary.


I cannot imagine where my life would be had Luis told me the 12 Angels was a horrible idea that would never work.I cannot imagine what my relationship with my wife, daughter, friends and family would be had Luis not given me his time and his experience.Luis encouraged me to follow my dreams.Luis believed in angel investing and entrepreneurship. Luis was a mentor to me and many other people and organizations.I am very sad Luis is gone.The world has lost a very important individual.I know Luis’ made over 60 angel investments in businesses but he made his greatest investment in me.Thank you Luis Villalobos, I will never forget you!

Question – Are there any studies on the hiring of Addicts in early Recovery?

I wish I knew of one!  If anyone has done one or knows where to find one it would be really helpful…Below are some of my opinions and experiences on the subject…

My opinion and experience is that employment performance follows the recovery process.  In the first year of recovery relapse is common, the brain is going through significant changes (healing) and lifestyle, family and work issues are difficult to address.

A common solution in the “nonprofit” treatment centers is called “Agency Jobs”.  Providing employment as part of the treatment center recovery program.  The longest running programs of this kind are the Salvation Army and Delancy Street.

Outside of the treatment center, the 12 Step community encourages the “Get Well” job.  A job that “supports” recovery.  Characteristics of a get well job is low stress, flexible hours and recovery friendly work environment.  We see some successful “entrepreneurs in recovery” providing get well jobs to people in early recovery.  The typical Sponsor direction is “get any job” it doesn’t matter just keep busy.

At the 12 Angels we have done research in looking for jobs that could provide revenue to the treatment center, job skills in growth industries and can be located at the treatment center.  We have a number of business models for “Agency Jobs”.

We have created small pilot programs using micro credit and micro loan programs to stimulate hiring of the newly clean and sober.  This is an area of great promise that needs some more work and development!

Wanna Know a Secret? You may be able to clean up your criminal record!

This information-packed workshop is designed for those facing obstacles to employment, such as criminal records, gaps in work history, and poor references. It is ideal for people completing substance abuse treatment or those on probation/parole. In her 28-page guidebook, Ms. Romano details the step-by-step legal process of dismissing criminal records, reducing charges, or obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation. Government programs that provide education and job training are also outlined.

Jamie also provides instruction on the entire hiring process, from job searching to one’s first day at work. Also covered are strategies for writing attention-getting cover letters and résumés, as well as excellent interview skills.

For information on other services and workshops provided by Ms. Romano, please visit To schedule Jamie for an event or training, please contact her via email at

Microcredit Program, Would it Work in the Recovery Community?

Microcredit (Micro Loans)  is a financial innovation that is generally considered to have originated with the Grameen Bank. The Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for helping 7 million people in poverty receive loans; since the founidng of the bank about US $6.0 billion has been loaned and the repayment rate is 99%.

Mosammat Taslima Begum (left), representing Grameen Bank, and Muhammad Yunus pose with their Nobel Peace Prize Medals and Diplomas.
Mosammat Taslima Begum (left), representing Grameen Bank, and Muhammad Yunus pose with their Nobel Peace Prize Medals and Diplomas.

What can microcredit do for the Recovery community?  How can it help?

Our idea is this:  We provide small loans to men and women who have accummulated a couple of years of sobriety; who are trying to start or grow a business; who would not be able to qualify for a conventional or SBA loan; who are willing to particpate in our entrepreneurship classes and programs.

What do we expect in return?  We expect our borrowers to pay back the loans with interest and participate in our entrepreneurship classes and program.

What do we hope?  We hope that our microcredit program will help recoverying individuals create or expand their businesses, create jobs for people in recovery and reduce the damage lost productivity in the recovery community does to our economy.

If you want to help us launch our microcredit program, please contact the 12 Angels!  Thank you…

Sponsor and Sponsee Survey Links — Thank You For Helping The Recovery Community!!

Are you or have you ever been in a 12 step program to help you overcome your alcoholism or addiction?  Would you be willing to help other recovering alcoholics and addicts overcome their alcoholism and addictions — so they can reintegrate into the working world as productive members of society — by spending just 3-5 minutes of your time?  If you answered “yes” to those questions, then now is your opportunity to make a difference by participating in a completely anonymous survey that will help on a statistical level to foster a revolutionary online application for the benefit of the recovery community.

12 Angels is a nonprofit organization that fosters social entrepreneurship in the recovery community. The organization’s goal is to create and implement programs that will counteract the economic damage caused by alcoholism and addiction.

Thank you for your willingness to participate anonymously in this development process.  Please complete either one or both of the two surveys presented below based on your background and experience.

By taking these surveys, you are being of service to our community, and we are grateful!