Natalia Oberti, Pipeline Fund: Building Community for Female Entrepreneurs

Transcript follows & video below.  This is Part I of the interview. You can view Part II here

Could you briefly tell me about Pipeline Fund & what your aims are for that project?

Sure so, Pipeline Fund is a social venture fund & we are committed to women led triple bottom line for profit startups. What we mean when we say triple bottom line is that the business models have to have a focus on financial performance, social impact & environmental responsbility. Along with that we are also launching Pipeline Fund Fellowship & what we’re doing with Pipeline Fund Fellowship is that we’re training women to become angel investors. We have 3 main components. The first one is Education, so obviously we’re going to be having workshops on due diligence, valuation & term sheets. We’re also going to be doing mentoring. So we’re matching the women to experienced angel investors to serve as role models. Because I’m the first one to know that sometimes a story you hear from someone for example Esther Dyson’s top 3 things that she does when she does due diligence or Brad Feld’s best mistake that he ever committed. Those are the stories that really resonate when we are about to do something so I believe in mentoring. The third component is practice. It’s not enough to just learn it’s also important to do. So we’re going to be having the angel investor trainees applying all that they’ve learnt to select a woman led social venture to invest in at the end of the program. So anyone who is applying to the Pipeline Fund Fellowship has to commit $5,000 for a collective of $50,000 that will be invested in a social venture startup that is woman led at the end of the training.

Natalia Oberti Noguera

Really impressive, Natalia. Could you just briefly tell me what was the inspiration for you to set this up?

Sure there were 2 main inspirations, Pemo. And there were 2 opportunities & market needs that I saw. The first one is in January 2008 I had the opportunity to launch New York Women’s Social Entrepreneurs, which is a network of women of social entrepreneurs & intrapreneurs. Through that experience I witnessed how there was a lack of community that was connecting women entrepreneurs with the larger vc investment community. So that was the first point. Then the second point was through this experience of seeing particularly the social entrepreneur sector, I realized that there was funding opportunity the sweet spot for for profit social ventures. The reason that I’m specifying for profit social ventures was that there are a lot of funding opportunities for non profit social ventures in the form of grants, fellowships etc. Putting those two together I realized first of all it would be great to have more women becoming investors. I have my background, Pemo, I have my Masters in Organizational Psychology so several of the courses that have really resonated with me are courses on group dynamics for example. So that is one of the reasons that for me seeing that yes in order to change the culture of the investment community we need to get more involved in coed activities. Not just let’s get more women on board, it’s also let’s get people to collaborate.

Natalia Oberti Noguera

Fantastic, brilliant, very inspiring.

Have you ever had to source angel investment yourself?

So we are in the process of funding the Pipeline Fund and we are planning to seed the fund through vc individuals & possibly foundations as well.

Natalia Oberti Noguera

What personal lessons being a woman have you taken out of your successes &/or failures in that regard?

So the experience that I’ve had has also been in terms of coaching of other women entrepreneurs. Now I’m going about it first person. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn through observing being Chapter Leader of New York Women Social Entrepreneurs (NYWSE). And the 2 main things that I’ll share are that first of all as women we need to get more comfortable with risk taking. And the other one is that we need to become comfortable being experts, owning our expertise, our thought leadership. When we feel more comfortable with risk taking & when we feel more comfortable being thought leaders & knowing that we have an expertise then the 2 main things that we hear so much especially in the blogosphere, then self promoting becomes easier & pitching becomes easier.

Natalia Oberti Noguera

Very good, fantastic that’s so clear! What attitudes towards you being female have you noted from the angel investment community?

So in terms of launching Pipeline Fund & the Pipeline Fund Fellowship, I’ve had extreme support. It’s been very, very supportive which has actually been a delight how it is this inflexion point that all things are coming together. Interesting Pemo we’re also coming at it from a different angle which is social venture. There’s something else that I’m repositioning in the investment community in general is really repositioning for profit social ventures as an investment opportunity and as an investment vehicle. Not just as a philanthropic way of doing business so that’s also another attitude that we’re working with.

Natalia Oberti Noguera

Brilliant, brilliant. What qualities do you think women entrepreneurs need specifically for sourcing angel investment? You’ve mentioned risk taking & self promotion.

I think that the other one is just practice & this goes back to how important it is to just do it. Allyson Kapin, she’s  @WomenWhoTech on Twitter , she put an article on Fast Company about why are there so few women who are getting invested in & also why are there so few women who are pitching. When I read that article, what really struck me was that not only I think her statistic was 9.4% of startups that were funded by angel investors in 2009 were women. It was also I believe around 21% of entrepreneurs who were pitching were women. So its not just that not many women entrepreneurs are being invested in, its also we need to get more women entrepreneurs to pitch in the first place. Just even if its becoming comfortable with it & then thinking whatever comes out of it is a lesson learned, viewing it as positive & really feeling much more comfortable with just practicing & doing it.

Natalia Oberti Noguera

Do you think there’s any reasons that you’ve perceived what has stopped the numbers of women pitching? So this is a bone of contention?

It’s a funny story, but it’s the typical story of perfectionism. It’s a typical story that a woman entrepreneur gets called to go in for a pitch. She’s 80% ready, she calls she says ‘Wait actually can I please reschedule I still need to dot all the i’s I need to cross all the t’s?’ And then the typical story of the guy entrepreneur getting called, he’s 40% ready, he doesn’t even have a business plan, doesn’t even know what his business model is, he says ‘Yes I’ll be right over!’ But what I think what we really need to share with particularly to women entrepreneurs is that there is just as much value coming from the feedback that one will get, just the process of iteration. That getting that feedback even if they’re only 80% ready that will really help them hone in. Whether they get it or not the first time, it will help them to do the second one in a way that even if they were 100% ready they wouldn’t have that jump of learning from even having had that first try.

Natalia Oberti Noguera

That’s a great image that you’ve just spoken about & I guess it brings together both the lack of risk taking & also the confidence piece that women have struggled with. Thank you very much for that, it’s really good. In your opinion what percentage of women would qualify then as regards having these qualities? Could they be developed? If so what are your ideas about how this could happen? And I guess the Pipeline Fund is part of your solution?

Yes, yes! I think that there’s not a percentage, not enough women. If we can get more women out, that would be part of the answer. The other 2 initiatives that I would love to share with you. One of them I actually created called #womaninnovator which is a media campaign to increase the visibility of women change makers & mainstream their stories. This came out of my frustration from seeing all the lists from all the top media being top 40 top 25. And the issue is no longer that there are no examples, the examples are there. It’s just they’re not connecting the sources to people who are doing the stories. They’re probably going to their traditional sources & those sources are saying ‘Well Mike Jeff is doing something really great!’ Its very much about helping get these stories oute. What’s interesting about that is what we do is create a video series. We ask women, first of all they tell us what they’re up to & to define what woman innovator means to them. Then the 3rd question has actually become very transformative individually is ‘How are you a woman innovator?’ That is a moment, a space in time where we are providing in a way the opportunity for women to own their expertise, to own their definition of being the term woman innovator. So that’s something that has been really exciting. The other initiative, if you haven’t heard of it is actually the OpEd Project . The OpEd Project was started by Katie Orenstein & her whole take was that 80% of OpEd’s were written by white, old men & what do we need to do to fix that problem? We need to teach women how to pitch. She usually has workshops & she realized there would be women with JDs, PHds, MBAs, MPAs & it was so much to going back to owning one’s expertise. Then realizing just becoming comfortable saying ‘I’m Natalia & I’m an expert in community building.’ for example. Getting more women comfortable with saying what are you an expert in? Then when you are actually in a position at a cocktail party or at a business meeting that you can stand up & you can say this is what I’m good at & this is where I can add value.

Natalia Oberti Noguera

Very good & that’s part of the reason why I’ve been doing these interviews really is to raise awareness. You said that the people are there & it is true. It is so interesting to get more awareness & get people, particularly men, aware of the problems or the challenges that we have faced. That’s great!

Comments are closed.