Pipeline Fellowship Grooms Female Angel Investors and Entrepreneurs
On March 30, Brittany Haas stepped before a firing line of 10 investors who were considering funding her New York-based startup, Happily Ever Borrowed, a website that rents veils, jewelry and other accessories to brides. Haas was part of a pitch event that couldn’t have been more different from a TechStars demo day—or any other arena where entrepreneurs set out to wow investors. For one thing, Haas was only given five minutes to describe her company, after which she endured 15 minutes of tough questions from the investors.
Perhaps most strikingly, all of the investors and entrepreneurs in the room were women. Sure, there were a couple of men there—co-founders of some of the nine companies presenting, for example—but they were under strict advisement not to speak unless specifically asked a question. That’s because this program, called the Pipeline Fellowship, is meant to provide a forum for female angel investors who want to support women-owned businesses.
The mission of Pipeline Fellowship, founded in 2010 by Natalia Oberti Noguera, is to train female philanthropists in the art of angel investing, and to give them tools for selecting women-owned business that they’d like to fund. The investors accepted into the program, which is held in New York and Boston, are given six months of training and mentorship in topics such as finance, due diligence, and portfolio strategies. (A condensed version is now offered to investors around the country, who travel to New York for weekend-long training sessions.)
At the end of what Oberti Noguera refers to as “angel investing boot camp,” each group of angels sorts through business plans submitted by female entrepreneurs, and then selects companies to invite to pitch events. After the pitches, the angel groups—each of which includes 10 investors—perform due diligence on the companies and then work together to select one in which to invest. Each angel contributes $5,000 towards the investment, for a total seed investment of $50,000. Pipeline Fellowship has held three pitch events in New York and one in Boston so far, Oberti Noguera says.
In addition to supporting female entrepreneurs, the Pipeline Fellowship is designed to foster “social” investing. So most of the of the companies the fellows invite to the pitch events have some sort of philanthropic mission, from helping cash-strapped brides save money (like Haas), to making maternity kits for impoverished moms in developing countries, to publishing books for military children. Most of the angel groups from the four events are still selecting their investment choices, Oberti Noguera says, though one company has already been chosen: PhilanTech, a Washington, DC-based startup that provides online tools to help non-profits manage their grants.
The unusual format of the Pipeline Fellowship pitch events—five minutes of presentation time followed by 15 minutes of Q&A—is designed to let the angels hone their new skills, Oberti Noguera says. “I’ve been to a lot of traditional tech events,” she says. Instead of positioning the entrepreneurs as the stars of the show, as those programs typically do, she says, she wanted … Next Page »