Thursday, September 12, 2013
How More Women Are Becoming Angel Investors, with Eva Yazhari
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Venture and angel investing has long been considered a man's world--with domination of the industry, executives, financiers, and others by men, with only a few exceptions. In a bid to change that, there are a few groups working on helping women entrepreneurs, investors, and others, including the Pipeline Fellowship (www.pipelinefellowship.com), which recently launched itself into the Los Angeles market. The Pipeline Fellowship--founded by Natalia Oberti Noguera--says it has been running angel investing bootcamps for women, looking to active more female angel investors. To learn more about how women are looking to change the investment climate--and get involved in investing themselves--we caught up with one of the Pipeline Fellowship's local mentors, the CEO of Beyond Capital Fund (www.beyondcapitalfund.org), Eva Helene Yazhari, who is here in Los Angeles.
What is the Pipeline Fellowship?
Eva Helene Yazhari: It's a program for budding angel investors, and female angel investors. The program helps them learn the tools to become angel investors in female led enterprises. It's really a fantastic way to get mobilized. There are many women out there working in philanthropy and extracurricular in charities, who have capital to contribute, and who can get more involved in the sustainable development side of things. Natalie has pulled together a program, including training, hearing from traditional venture capitalists and GPs who speak about their experience and how they work through deal flow, all the way through impact investing. The actual investments made as part of the program are in a social enterprise, rather than just a traditional, female-led enterprise.
My participation has been on the impact investing and education side, where I've been involved as a mentor. In the education, my experience as an angel investor in impact investing allows me to demystify the language, help explain where impact investments fall within the spectrum of investments, and give women in the program the lay of the land, so they can then go out and make use of the tools and make their own investments on their own. Each of the Pipeline participants is paired up with a mentor, and the goal is to help guide them through the process of choosing an enterprise. It's not only an education program, but it's also a source of funding. Each member of the cohort, roughly 10 people, contributes $5000 to provide $50,000 in angel investments. That cohort decides to make the investment together, and in doing so, they receive hundreds of applications for investments, particularly since there's not much money for impact investing
How does that investment process work?.
Eva Helene Yazhari: The cohort goes through a process and the education of selecting, screening, and analyzing those companies, and selecting a company in which they want to place their collective capital. As a mentor, it's my job to guide them through that process. It's not easy, and especially since impact investors are so young, there's often an element of emotion which gets into the decision process. We try to take that out of the process, and they have not only myself but other mentors who help bring some experts and help these budding angels in the decisions they're making.
What's Beyond Capital, and how did you connect with the Pipeline Fellowship?
Eva Helene Yazhari: Beyond Capital is a venture capital foundation. We make impact investments through a 501(c)3 structure. We do the same kind of analysis, and provide the same rigor in our investing process as a traditional venture capitalist would. We make early stage investments in healthcare, water, sanitation, energy, India, and East Africa--regions where there are large concentrations of people under the poverty line. We span both the charity and venture capital space. We have a few innovations we provide, such as being able to do high quality, due diligence for virtually no cost. We're pioneer capital into some really great startups, but one perhaps who wouldn't receive capital from other investors. In particular, with institutional investors, the cost is so high for an institutional round for such a small round.
How did you get involved with Pipeline?
Eva Helene Yazhari: I connected with Natalia through the ecosystem of impact investors, because I really believe in what she is doing. She's had very high returns from the social side, in converting philanthropists to female impact investing angels. I feel strongly that we need more sustainable capital in the space. She's had a really high rate of conversion, which provides the tools for folks in the program to go forward with their own investing, or partner with others. Beyond Capital is one of those providers, and there are many others. Now that she's launching in LA, there's a huge opportunity here. I haven't been here terribly long, but my understanding of the charitable sector here is that it's very traditional. There's not many folks out there aware of this space and interested in it, and I think Natalie can break the mold. It's a fact that women are not the investment decision makers in the household. I've seen that many times, not just in Los Angeles. It's a struggle for them to come to the table, say they want to invest in a company, and say why. It's just not their background. However, women have traditionally made the philanthropic decisions, and going from that to impact investing is a much more natural transition. What you don't want to do, is find an investment opportunity, and try to convince the other half of the family or your wealth advisor that's something you should be doing, because that conversation usually doesn't work out very well.
For those not familiar with impacting investing, can you explain how that's different from a traditional investment?
Eva Helene Yazhari: If you define impact investing quite broadly, it's any investment which either has a social or environmental bottom line, as well as a financial bottom line. An example might be a company that has a great technology for alternative energy, which just happens to be a fabulous money making strategy, good growth prospects, and a good impact on the environment, such as reducing CO2 emissions. Under that umbrella, there's a host of strategies that employ a social and environmental bottom line. You can do that through more traditional, environmental, social, and performance screening--such as not investing in a company with less than two women on the board, or which has no women on the board. Or, you might not want to invest in a company that leaks its industrial output to the environment. Or, screening out those companies involved in tobacco or alcohol. In between there, there are things like private equity funds which acquire cleantech companies, and emerging markets and microfinance. It's a very broad category of investments, which have more than just financial performance as the main objective.
What's the biggest barriers, and biggest challenges for female angel investors?
Eva Helene Yazhari: I don't see any barriers. The biggest challenge comes down to the question and issue which we've seen among other female angels. They tend to lead with their heart, and try to convince other decision makers in their family, or in a couple, that the investment is the right thing to do. I don't have that challenge, but the issue is that female angel investors are often overly emotional in their decision making, particularly if a company is female led or is an impact investment. There are other criteria that help us at Beyond Capital on making those decisions, which are the strength of the team, the resiliance of the team. We also spend a lot of time getting to know the companies we'd invest in, and even those we wouldn't invest in, in order to develop that filter. But, many angels aren't doing this full time, have other things going on, or have a full time job. That's where I see more of a female characteristic, and something that happens with anyone investing, where emotions come into play. They have nothing to base their decision upon, so they go with their emotions. They say they love a company because of what they're doing. But, the reality of that company is that they don't have a growth trajectory, they're not in the right market, and they're not rolling out the right product. That's a pretty big risk, unless you have a strong team and business fundamentals in place.