"Angel"

Luis Villalobos, left, started Tech Coast Angels in 1997 and was its first president. Next to him is board member Lawrence Goelman. Also shown are officials from Wazzu Corp., which the investment group aided. (Los Angeles Times / May 18, 1999)

Luis Villalobos, who founded Tech Coast Angels, an Orange County angel investment group that expanded throughout Southern California to become one of the biggest in the nation, has died. He was 70.

Villalobos died Thursday at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange because of a lung condition, said his wife, Ora-Zoe Villalobos.

The idea behind Tech Coast Angels was to "make early-stage investments that will make money for us as individual investors," said John Kensey, a consultant who attended Harvard Business School with Villalobos and was one of TCA's founding members.

"Early on he was the driving force; he got it up to the point where it was self-sustaining," Kensey said. "He got a bunch of us together, through associations that he had. . . . He was our spiritual leader . . . very intelligent, with a sharp, penetrating mind."

Villalobos started Tech Coast Angels in 1997 and was its first president. There are now five chapters from Santa Barbara to San Diego with more than 250 members, so-called angel investors whose money is directed toward start-up firms and other entrepreneurial enterprises.

Villalobos remained active in TCA and was on the boards of some of the companies in which he had invested. He modeled the TCA after a Silicon Valley group called Band of Angels that invested in start-ups, Kensey said.

"They said I was nuts. They said Orange County had no entrepreneurs or investors," Villalobos told the Orange County Register in 2007.

Tech Coast Angels says its members have invested $100 million since 1997. Villalobos invested in 57 early ventures.

"We really want someone who is passionate about the product or service they want to deliver to the customer," he told Hispanic Trends in 2006. "We really don't want to hear about how much money you're going to make us."

Villalobos, who lived in Newport Beach, was born Nov. 5, 1938, in Texas and grew up in El Paso.

He received a degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in 1963 graduated from Harvard Business School.

"Luis was interested in almost everything," his wife said. "He was always pushing the envelope."

Villalobos founded and was chief executive officer of two high-tech companies, Harvil, which was sold to Hughes Aircraft Co., and Conographic, a desktop publishing technology sold to Gradco Systems. He also held several patents.

Along with his wife, Villalobos is survived by a sister, Olga Badia, of Juarez, Mexico.

A celebration of Villalobos' life is being planned.

keith.thursby@latimes.com