Angels in Training: How One Boot Camp Is Increasing the Ranks of Female Investors
March 17, 2015 | Focus on Women
By Lisa Wirthman
Changing the world is a gendered pursuit, says Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline Fellowship, an angel investing boot camp for women.
As director of New York Women Social Entrepreneurs, a network she grew to more than 1,200 women within three years, Oberti Noguera discovered how difficult it is for women leading for-profit social ventures compared to men to obtain funding.
“Whenever people would hear that a woman was looking to change the world, the assumption was that she was going to start a nonprofit,” says Oberti Noguera. “As soon as women clarified that they were building for-profit social ventures, people would back away.”
“That was my ‘aha’ moment,” she continues. In 2011, Oberti Noguera launched Pipeline Fellowship to teach women how to become angel investors with the goal of creating more capital for women social entrepreneurs.
Many female entrepreneurs lack access to early-stage financing from friends and family, Oberti Noguera says. “We’re really positioning Pipeline Fellowship to serve that role of being friends and family for women entrepreneurs and providing a critical capital injection at a very early stage,” she says.
Earning Their Wings
To teach would-be angels how to earn their “wings,” Pipeline Fellowship offers a six-month boot camp with three components: education, mentoring and practical experience.
To apply, women must meet the income criteria of accredited investors of $200,000 in individual income, $300,000 in joint income with a spouse, or $1 million in net worth. From its start in New York City, the boot camp has expanded to Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
Pipeline Fellowship’s education component includes expert-led workshops on topics from due diligence to valuation to measuring impact. The mentoring component matches participants with experienced investors to learn best practices and seek advice.
Practical experience comes from Pipeline Fellowship Pitch Summits, where angels in training evaluate funding requests from invited women social entrepreneurs.
Each class of about 10 women works together to evaluate, select, and invest in a startup, says Pipeline alumna Heather Cabot, an adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Although Cabot brought extensive media skills to her 2013 boot camp, finance was not her forte. “I love the fact that it was collaborative,” she says. “We all brought different kinds of skills to the discussion.”
After graduating in 2013, Cabot now serves as managing director of Golden Seeds, an early-stage investment firm focusing on women leaders.
Building a Bridge
Many high-net-worth women already have experience in making a positive impact through volunteer work that they do to support philanthropies, says Oberti Noguera.
“I was interested in creating this bridge from philanthropy to angel investing,” she says, “and sharing that you can also make a positive impact by investing in women entrepreneurs in exchange for equity.”
That bridge is not hard to cross, says Oberti Noguera, because angel investing is not just about financial capital. It’s also about social capital, like connections and relationships, and human capital, such as knowledge and experience, that many women already have experience providing through volunteer work.
“What I encourage them to do is step up to the angel investing plate and add the financial capital,” she says.
Through Pipeline Fellowship, Oberti Noguera is actively helping to change the face of angel investing: In 2011, just 12 percent of angel investors were women. By 2013, women accounted for more than 19 percent of angel investors, reports the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire.
Oberti Noguera measures Pipeline Fellowship’s success by how many graduates continue to invest. To date the boot camp has trained about 100 women to become angels who have committed more than $400,000 in investments.
Road to Success
Pipeline’s mission to increase diversity in angel investing resonated with alumna Lorine Pendleton, a U.S. director of business development for a global law firm who graduated in 2013.
Pendleton, who is African American, became interested in angel investing when she learned that less than 1 percent of founders of venture-backed companies are black. “My whole focus is on leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs, whether they are women or people of color,” she says.
Diversity is important for venture capitalists because they may not see the value of products or services that aren’t targeted toward their own demographics, she says. Pendleton now individually invests in three women-led startups, mentors a number of other entrepreneurs, and speaks at college events.
Other alumnae, like Lisa Johnson-Pratt, decide to lead their own startups after graduating. Johnson-Pratt became interested in angel investing after living and working in China and Vietnam over two years, where entrepreneurship was rampant—especially among women.
“What I liked about Pipeline was the idea of women helping women,” says Johnson-Pratt.
After graduating in 2014, Johnson-Pratt is now in the early stages of planning an education startup of her own based on what she learned. She also continues to invest in the company she funded through Pipeline and gives seed money to small companies through the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform.
Cabot said that for any women interested in angel investing, it’s important to understand the risks. “The flip side is that it’s incredibly rewarding,” she says. “You’re helping to not only create a company, but jobs. That’s powerful.”
Being an angel investor is also about more than just writing a check, adds Pendleton. “Obviously, I want to have a return on my investment,” she says. “But I also want to effect change.”
Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.