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Changing the Face of Angel Investing with Natalia Oberti Noguera
Episode 55: Changing the Face of Angel Investing, with Natalia Oberti Noguera
Natalia Oberti Noguera is a true believer of “you can’t be what you can’t see.” She founded Pipeline Angels to help level the playing field in funding for women and nonbinary femme social entrepreneurs. In this episode, Natalia shares her journey, how you can influence the world around you through a culture of change, the importance of women investing in women, and more.
00:13 Maricella Herrera: Hey everyone, welcome to the Ellevate Podcast! I'm Maricella Herrera and I'm here with Kristy Wallace. How are you Kristy?
00:20 Kristy Wallace: What's up? I'm great! I'm doing awesome!
00:23 MH: And you also... You look very smiley today.
00:25 KW: That's 'cause I'm on my 15th cup of coffee. I'm just...
00:29 MH: Wired.
00:30 KW: On fumes right now.
00:32 MH: Good for you. I can't drink too much coffee today. I've been suffering from some insomnia lately, so not very cool.
00:38 KW: Yeah. No, you don't want that.
00:40 MH: Nope. But on a brighter note, your guest today is someone who I actually think is awesome. She and I have become, I would say friendly, friends-ish. And I just had coffee with her about two or three days ago, too. And I'm talking about Natalia Oberti Noguera, the founder of Pipeline Angels.
01:04 KW: Yey!
01:04 MH: And as she would say, #wiselatina.
01:07 KW: Hashtag #changingthefaceofangelinvesting, #weseeyou. She's into hashtags.
01:14 MH: She's into social media.
01:15 KW: And I'm adding in those other hashtags because I am a fellow in her Pipeline Angels Program right now.
01:25 MH: I know. We saw on LinkedIn that you changed jobs.
01:28 KW: I know, that was the... LinkedIn's actually... [chuckle] You add something in your profile and suddenly, it's like, "Kristy has a new job." I got lots of frightened emails and phone calls most notably from my team. But yeah, for me personally, I'm really inspired and I hope those listening today are inspired by this podcast of my interview with Natalia because she has a specific moment, and she'll talk about it, that really was a trigger for her to see an opportunity to have an impact and have an impact on female entrepreneurs, women in non-binary femme. And how we can get more capital to these founders, and not just solve that gap, but also solve the investing gap. We know that investors are typically men, and the fact that they're typically men and white men, they typically then invest in white men. And in order to really change the ratio, there's a lot of things that we can do, and this is one very important one, which is to get more women investing in women.
02:42 MH: Absolutely. I will have to say this: Natalia, what she's doing is great. I honestly have met few people who are as passionate as she is and have such a clear mission on what they're doing. And she's one of those people who is not afraid to just speak out and speak up. She's called me on stuff before where we might have had a panel that looked a little bit beige and not very diverse, and she would call me on it. And it's good to have those voices who will always be there to check on what is happening and raise their voice when they see that something's not right.
03:26 KW: Absolutely. Absolutely.
03:29 MH: So Kristy, why did you join the Pipeline Angels?
03:33 KW: Well, I did it for a few reasons actually. One is that I've been on the other side of the table before. I've worked at two startups that have raised money. One had a successful exit, so really excited about the whole entrepreneur and funding arena. Two, I'm very fortunate that in my day job through Ellevate, I'm heavily involved in a social mission of closing the gender achievement gap in business and working with women through my community and my other involvements with the Girl Scouts, through the conversations I have with my own kids. It's a big part of my life. But I wanted to do more. And really thought long and hard about what are the ways that I can use my privilege and the opportunities that I've had to help other women. And this program is something that I was really excited about. And third and most importantly, I wanna make money. And I believe that investing in women is a good bet. And we know, the data shows, that it's a good ROI that women founders are just doing an amazing job and outperform male founders.
04:51 KW: So yeah, I believe in this, and I'm really excited to be part of the Pipeline Angels Program. We're also going to be doing some events with Natalia and Pipeline Angels throughout the US. So it will be later this year, keep an eye out for that. But a great way to showcase, not just women that are starting businesses, but women that are investing in businesses. And I think to normalize this in a way that it doesn't seem like it's so frightening or scary or so risky. It's important to hear the voices of all of the women in the community.
05:30 MH: That's great, I love that. I love that you're part of that. I love that we're working with them, with Natalia and Pipeline Angels. And I love what they're doing. So I'm not gonna share any data today, but I will remind you out there, we are taking questions from you. If you have any questions you would like us to answer, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at us @EllevateNtwk using #ellevatepod. And we'll read some of your comments. We'll read your questions and we'll share some insights with you.
06:07 KW: Great! Thanks so much.
06:22 KW: So I'm here today with Natalia Oberti Noguera, the founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels, and long-time Ellevate former 85 Broads member. Hello, thanks for joining us.
06:34 Natalia Oberti Noguera: Kristy, so glad to be here! Yes, I've been an early supporter of Ellevate, and I'm excited to see the many chapters and directions that it has become.
06:45 KW: Yeah, we are excited too, and we have a lot happening in 2017, as do you with Pipeline Angels. And you're just doing some amazing things, which I cannot wait to talk about. But I wanna hear about what led you to this point today.
07:01 NN: Yeah, I'm cheeky, and so, I like to say I doubled in Comparative Literature and Economics at Yale. I really actually majored in extracurriculars. I had the opportunity to build a network of students who were interested in photography; so we launched a photography journal. So I also published... Was founding publisher of PH, the Public Health Journal at Yale that was also student-run. I accidentally ended up producing a TV show for the college TV station. And you know what? I didn't know that what I was doing was being entrepreneurial. I didn't know that, that I was... Guess what? Coming up with an idea, with a concept. I was assembling a team. I was executing, I was producing, and there was a tangible outcome deliverable at the end of it. And obviously now, hindsight is 20/20. Those are the essential components of being an entrepreneur, of having a "startup," of running a startup. And that's why one of my favorite, favorite quotations is from Marian Wright Edelman who says, "You can't be what you can't see." Because looking back growing up, I don't remember having ever met someone who was called... Introduced to me as, "So-and-so is a founder. So-and-so owns a company, is the boss." And so, I didn't have those sorts of role models. And so, I didn't have the language.
08:27 NN: One of my favorite hashtags on Twitter that I've created is #languagematters. I didn't have the language to know that that was the path that I was interested in. So my one point of reference was having interned... I have this internship, college internship at Planned Parenthood. So I knew about grassroots organizing campus stuff and public health. So I was like, "Okay, so the way to change the world... " I had this one motto when I graduated from college, it was, "Don't sell out, don't settle." And for me, that meant nonprofit. Not realizing that first of all, the non-profit world is huge. And then secondly, just because I liked my internship at Planned Parenthood doing externally-facing stuff, didn't necessarily mean that, "Oh, at another nonprofit, it would be the same job," right?
09:25 KW: Sure.
09:26 NN: So I'd say that was just looking back when you're able to connect the dots. It's easier to connect the dots when you look backward. That's really where, in some ways, I knew more when I didn't know. [chuckle] Then, when I got my first job out of college, and then, I ended up getting a Master's in International Healthcare Management in Italy. I'm half Italian; I'm half Columbian, half Italian. My sister was living there doing her college experience. I hadn't ever lived there; we had visited family relatives. Super different to live there. There were some pros, of course, food.
10:10 KW: Of course.
10:10 NN: I was coming out to myself, I didn't realize that I was queer. And I like to joke, it was a little bit too close to the Vatican for comfort. [chuckle] So I ended up doing my summer internship in the Bay Area, which let me tell you, is one of the places to figure things out in terms of being LGBTQ. And I got a summer internship at Net Impact, which I'm not sure if you're familiar with them.
10:37 KW: All right, sure.
10:40 NN: I loved the concept that this was pre-Change.org, pre-Upworthy, pre all of these online ways to change the world. And their concept was very simple, which was there are all of these activists, which are not... And actually, now that we're talking about it, super relevant and timely for 2017. All of these activists knocking on doors of these corporations trying to get them to be let in, to change the way that things work. And the Net Impact theory of change was, "Well, what if we influence the change-makers that are going to be leading these organizations from within." And so, they focus on business schools and BA programs, getting chapters there, student-led once again to influence the curricula. "Let's add a green accounting class. Let's add ethics. Let's add CSR." And I loved that idea of almost bringing change before "it's needed," and influencing, and that's what Ellevate does. It's creating this culture. And that's what Pipeline Angels does, is creating a culture of change and getting people together to really think about how we can influence the world to make it a better place.
12:03 KW: And it's so interesting when you talk about this because I think many of us, and myself included, grow up wanting to do good. I went to Catholic school my entire life, and a big part of that was about service. And so, volunteering a lot, there's something I loved, and getting involved in organizations. And as in school, I did a lot with Special Olympics, and other more mentoring-based organizations. And when I graduated, I felt that there was either you work for a nonprofit where you do good, or you work for business and you volunteer on the side. It felt like there was not this hybrid option of you can continue to do good and believe in what you're doing and feel like you have a mission and an impact, but work in many different industries or in many different functions.
13:01 NN: One of my favorite quotations is from my friend Vanessa Hurst. She founded Girl Develop It, and it's a pseudo-rhetorical question, which is, "Shouldn't doing good be the only way to make a profit?" And the first time I heard her say that, "Shouldn't doing good be the only way to make a profit?" is such an obvious, obvious answer, "Of course!" And yet, so many... And this is actually why I launched Pipeline Angels 'cause it's so hard for women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs to find funding for their companies that are looking to do good and do well. It's almost like they have a higher threshold of expectations that they need to meet. "Okay, so how are you gonna make money? And how are you going to change the world?" And so, for me, that really encompasses why I'm so passionate about these hybrid social venture models that I like to call it like it has the heart of the nonprofit and the efficiencies of the for-profit. And my father used to work for the UN so we moved around quite a bit while I was growing up from primarily in Latin-America, although the first place I ever lived was New Jersey. And so, I'm... [chuckle]
14:11 KW: Of course, we all start in New Jersey.
14:15 NN: I learned first-hand that, "Hopefully, there are more efficient, better ways to help the world than bureaucracy." That was a very early lesson for me. And the first time that I learned about this concept of doing well and doing good together, this for-profit social venture was this "Aha!" moment for me. And in the public sector, there're these things called PPPs, public-private partnerships. And so, the idea that this was a model unto itself, a PPP unto itself, was really attractive to me. And actually, this brings me a little bit to like, "So what happened after I finished my summer internship at Net Impact? And how did I move back?" I moved back to New York City, and I have very... There's a very special moment that is actually completely tied to Ellevate when it used to be 85 Broads. And this specific moment that I'm about to share with you... And I'm prolonging the story so people can hear and wonder what happened at Ellevate.
15:25 KW: Drum-roll.
15:26 NN: Exactly. I moved back after finishing that internship, that was about summer of 2007, to New York City. And in the winter, I think was maybe November, there was a networking event in 85 Broads back then, networking event with three keynote speakers. Just imagine this: It was just a simple event with Amanda Rautenberg from Endeavor, Wendy Kopp from Teach for America, and Jacqueline Novogratz from Acumen Fund; and now, I believe they rebranded to Acumen. And that's just in terms of when I think of what Ellevate is, where else would you have this intimate event with these three powerhouses? Where it's not a huge, huge auditorium with thousands of people? That's access. That access to awesome people is just... That was such an early memory that I have. And also, it's very connected and linked to Pipeline Angels because at that event, I met some Acumen employees that were looking to build a network for women social entrepreneurs, and at the time, it was called NYWSE, New York Women Social Entrepreneurs.
16:48 NN: And one of them had just started a family, so she had her plate full, someone had just come back from travels, et cetera. So they had that idea; however, they didn't have bandwidth. And so, I remember I was like, "Yes, I'll do it." And what was interesting was that through college, I had a New York Network, New York City Network from college from having lived in New York City for a little bit. However, these were from either nonprofit community or college community. And so, that idea that I could actually, in some ways, have this formalized way to build a network of women social entrepreneurs, which was what I was fascinated at the time, was so cool, because it gave me the opportunity to almost create this platform and structure for something that was already gonna happen organically. Like, "Just my own curiosity, let's meet who's out there. Let's learn more about social enterprise, for-profit social ventures."
17:55 NN: And so, that's really... I call it the reverse market research having launched that network of women social entrepreneurs. I grew it from about six women from that, I'll call it that day, and in terms of those first four, and then, a few more, to over 1,200 within two years. And it was having those conversations with the members that I realized how hard it was to secure funding as a for-profit social venture that was led by a woman. And the reason I underscore that is this was around the time of TOMS Shoes, Honest Tea, Warby Parker, companies that were making the headlines that were getting the funding and just so happened to be led by guys. And so, that's when I had my "Aha!" moment, which was realizing that how society perceives how we change the world is gendered. If a woman says that she's gonna change the world, the assumption is, "Oh, she's gonna launch a nonprofit." If a guy says he's gonna change the world, people generally are not thinking that he's gonna launch a nonprofit. And so, for me, I was very committed to creating hybrid investors for these hybrid entrepreneurs that I was meeting because for me, that was the answer. They are coming up with these amazing diverse business models, and they themselves are more voices that are not getting funded.
19:23 KW: So tell me a little bit more about Pipeline Angels? You've talked about your portfolio companies, but why did you found the company, and what are the details?
19:33 NN: Yeah. So around the same time that I had the "Aha!" moment of how there's this gender perception on how we change the world, I also heard a very well-known white guy VC/angel/investor based in Silicon Valley who was being interviewed at a tech conference. And he was asked, "What do you look for when you invest?" And he answered very nonchalantly, and this was around 2012, 2011, he answered, "Someone like me." And I was really glad he said that aloud because a lot of people are thinking it, a lot of people, that's how they're viewing their investment thesis, whether consciously or unconsciously or subconsciously.
20:22 NN: And at the end of the day, that is the epitome of when people talk about pattern matching, or pattern recognition, that concept that people invest in what looks like them, people invest in what's familiar. And I was interested in turning that pattern recognition concept on its head and say, "Well, if that's how people invest, well, let's get more of us on the investing side because we're probably going to be more open to investing in more of us on the entrepreneurship side." And so, for those who are familiar with Shark Tank, I love to... Just in terms of explaining what Pipeline Angels is, I like to say there are enough white guy sharks out there in the world. We're in the business of creating more women and that non-binary femme sharks. And with the concept being that the more of us on the investing side, that more of us will be invested in, in the startup side. And I love stats, I have a couple for you. [chuckle]
21:16 KW: Oh, please share, we do too.
21:18 NN: One of them is from... And I think Gayle Jennings from digitalundivided, et cetera. I think she spoke at one of the Ellevate events. So once again, powerhouse women being profiled and spotlighted at Ellevate. So she and her colleague, Kathryn Finney, came out with this project, Diane report. And in it, it has a very depressing stat, which is not even 2%. It's 0.2% of venture capital funding in the past few years has gone to black women founders. And the reason I'm sharing that with you is because since we launched Pipeline Angels in April 2011, we have graduated over 200 members who have gone through our angel investing bootcamp. Most of them, this is the first time that they've made their first angel investment, so we've sparked their angel investing journey. And they in turn have invested in over close to 40 portfolio companies, and that has meant over $3 million in funding that they have made into these companies. And of those, around... Now, it's close to 40 or more portfolio companies, over 20% have a black woman founder. So that's something that I'm very proud of. I obviously know that...
22:32 KW: You should be very proud.
22:33 NN: Thank you. We can do more. And I'm committed to bringing more voices to the table. And on that note, so talking about that year of change that I had of more of us on the investing side of the table, investing in more of us on the startup side of the table. According to Center for Venture Research, in 2015, out of all US angel investors, 25% were women and 5% were minorities. These are their terms, which means that when it comes to women of color, non-binary femmes of color, that means less than 5% of us. So think about that, keep that in mind when I share with you our latest numbers for Pipeline Angles in our members. So 25% of our members from last year were black women, 17% were Latinas, 25% were Asian women, and 33% were white women. And these are also numbers that I'm proud of.
23:35 NN: And so, the reason I'm sharing them is because we have more voices on the investing side, and they're investing in more voices on the entrepreneurship side. So that's one of the things about data, it's so exciting to see that this concept, this idea, this vision, this hope that I had is translating into action. And I'd say that it goes back to Marian Wright Edelman's, "You can't be where you can't see." And these entrepreneurs are seeing themselves on the investor's side of the equation. And so, they know that they're being seen. And I actually brought you... I'm actually gonna make a little bit of crinkling noise just because I think it's cool. I brought you... We've created these pocket mirrors. So just check them out. And we've been handing them out at our pitch summits.
24:25 KW: Oh, I love this!
24:26 NN: So that... Oh, please!
24:29 KW: Yes. It is a...
24:29 NN: Please tell the...
24:30 KW: A beautiful pocket mirror that says, "We see you. And when you look at yourself, you know you're being seen. And there are others just like you that are supporting you, and chirping on you, and fighting for you."
24:44 NN: Yeah.
24:44 KW: Right? Did I... Is that...
24:45 NN: I love it! So you see, it's very clear, the message. And the message is that those women...
24:51 KW: They'll not go unnoticed.
24:52 NN: Yeah. They're in the room, these women and non-binary femmes are in the room pitching their businesses to our members. And at least one of them is gonna secure funding, some of them might not. At the same time, they're in the room. And one of my favorite definitions of angel investing is smart money. That concept that it's not just the financial capital, it's also the human capital and the social capital. And so, some of the entrepreneurs who haven't secured funding through the Pipeline Angels pitch summit, they still share that they got super great feedback from our members, or they were connected to someone really helpful through our network to get them, pun intended, through the pipeline. Because at the end of the day, that's really what we're looking to do is get more women and non-binary femme entrepreneurs through the pipeline.
25:40 KW: So I just... And listening to you talking today, I think that we, as a society, and we particularly as women, want to do good. We want to see a better world. And oftentimes, we're faced with decisions. "I wanna do good, so I'll start a nonprofit." But you can start a for-profit with the social mission that has a social impact. "I want to help a cause I believe in so I'll donate money to a nonprofit." But there's also other organizations that you can invest your money in as an angel investor, that you can spend your money with as a consumer and spend responsibly. I think we're not aware of all the touchpoints and all the opportunities for us, not just as business leaders, as entrepreneurs, as investors. And everyone listening can be an investor. Maybe not at this moment do you have that capital, but we all have the opportunity to invest money, and to think about how we're planning for our future, but also, how that impacts things that we care about, people we care about, causes we care about. So there's so many ways for us to, I think, redefine the supporting causes conversation in a way that's empowering to us but also higher impact.
27:09 NN: That's such an important point. And it even goes to like, "What was the last book that you recommended?" Or when someone asked you to... I'm in a lot of women inside Google Groups, and sometimes, someone will ask for a referral to an accountant or to a dentist, et cetera. And it's still... I'm trying to think of a diplomatic word. I have... No, I'll just say it frustrates me. It frustrates me how often a woman will reply with a guy's name, whether it's a book or the dentist or the bookkeeper or... I'm trying to think of another one, the accountant or anything else. And so, this is where #sisterhood is so important because the guys are already referring business to each other. This is such a great opportunity for us to refer business or offer opportunities to each other. And of course, because it's me, and I believe in intersectionality... And one of my favorite new teachers that I have is actually from a website that is a black woman magazine called For Harriet. And so, I got a shirt from their store, which says, "The revolution will be intersectional," which I love. And so, that concept that is just not like "It's not just about gender; it's gender, race, age, all these other sections."
28:41 NN: So I'd say if it's... If someone's listening and you're a white woman, and you're thinking about like, "Yes! Refer a book written by a woman." Even more, credit or gold stars if it's a woman of color, or if you're a straight woman, think about a podcast that has an LGBTQ person there. So there are many different ways that we can support each other and support more voices. And the reason I'm bringing this up is because you said, "If we can invest in so many different ways... " I personally, obviously, I just use investing specifically when it comes about angel investing because I do think that sometimes, people overuse the word "investing" to mean things that are not actually investing. So it's like there's a very figurative sense of the word. And especially when we want more women and non-binary femmes to rule it early, invest. It's important to check someone's usage of the word "invest." Are you really investing or actually donating? Because it's important to just clarify that. And at the same time, you can make a difference by going to a restaurant that has a woman executive chef, or that is co-owned by a woman.
29:57 NN: And I'd say the other thing is that you reminded me of when you were saying, "There's so many ways that we can change the world," is the answer, at least for me, isn't that we all become entrepreneurs? Actually, there are tons of people out there who might even be listening to this, who love their jobs, or still haven't come up with a startup. However, they're curious, they're intrigued about startups, the entrepreneurial ecosystem. And so, what I share with them is, "Guess what? There's a way that you can keep your finger on the pulse. There's a way that you can be engaged without actually having to launch a startup. You can invest in a startup. You can invest in founders. You can be part of someone else's startup and company, and add value through your skills, through human capital. Or add value through your connections, through your social capital, and add value through writing a check, through financial capital." And I will say this: "The guys are doing it, the guys are investing in each other like in their guy buddies, and we need to have more women and non-binary femmes, and invest in each other." And of course, I welcome anyone to check out pipelineangels.com. And we have angel investing bootcamps in various cities. I think we have been in 30 plus cities now, and one of the reasons is that I am super passionate about activating local capital for local entrepreneurs because as some...
31:38 KW: Very important.
31:39 NN: Right? Some entrepreneurs will tell you not everyone is wanting, willing, or able to go to Silicon Valley or to go to New York city. And especially when there's untapped local capital, why should they? So we go to... We've been to Denver, we're heading to Houston, Miami, New Orleans, et cetera, because there are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are everywhere; capital isn't. And so, we're heading there so that we can activate more local angels, and they can invest in local entrepreneurs and beyond.
32:16 KW: Great! Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I loved talking to you.
32:20 NN: Oh, thank you, Kristy.