A cursory glance at the world of venture capital can feel a bit like staring at one of those framed group portraits that hang on fraternity walls: all too often, you’re just looking at a bunch of white dudes.
But thanks to the efforts of folks like Natalia Oberti Noguera, the investment landscape is changing. Her Pipeline Fellowship is an angel investing bootcamp for women philanthropists, and it’s yielding real-world results.
Back in 2008, Ms. Oberti Noguera—who was recently named one of Business Insider's "30 Most Important Women in Tech Under 30"—started meeting with six women entrepreneurs in New York. Two years later, her network had grown to include 1,200, but they kept running up against the same hurdle.
"How hard it was to secure funding as a for-profit social venture," says Oberti Noguera, the daughter of a U.N. employee who traveled the world as a child and now lives in New York City. "As usual, entrepreneurs are ahead of the curve—they’re the ones coming up with hybrid business models—and I realized that we need to create more hybrid investors who get them."
So she established The Pipeline Fellowship to create capital for women social entrepreneurs. The fellowship is a six-month bootcamp that trains and empowers women to invest in women-led for-profit social ventures. Every cohort comprises roughly 10 fellows (the most recent one has 11), who work collectively to arrive at their own definition of "social venture," with each woman committing $5,000 toward a collective $50,000 investment (in exchange for equity in the venture).
Along the way, the experience is divided into three principles: education, mentoring, and best practices. Education comes in the form of expert-led workshops on topics like due diligence, portfolio strategies, and measuring impact. For the mentoring, incoming fellows are paired with seasoned angel investors, some of whom are white males. That’s intentional, explains Oberti Noguera: "We want to integrate Pipeline Fellows into the predominantly white male networks that currently exist." And best practices are learned during the program’s Pitch Summit.
Any woman can apply to be a fellow, provided she has a passion for philanthropy and social change, is interested in a group learning model, and—since we’re talking about investing—she makes either $200,000 annually (or $300,000 jointly with a spouse) or has a net worth of $1 million or more. The Fellowship is now accepting applications for the fall 2013 programs in Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. (Here’s a look at the most recent cohort of fellows.)
Since 2011, The Fellowship has graduated 50 women, and in the time since there’s been a noticeable uptick in the rate of women angel investors: 12.2% of the market was female in 2011; 21.8% of angel investors were female in 2012. Oberti Noguera says that’s exciting, but she’d love to move the needle closer to 50%. She also wants to increase the number of minority investors, which rose from 4% to 5% between 2011 and 2012.
"As a queer Latina, I’m committed to increasing diversity in the U.S. angel investing community and the Pipeline Fellowship will continue to work on engaging intergenerational multicultural women from diverse professional backgrounds to learn about angel investing. I like to say that the numbers are low, but they’re not zero."
Thanks to her continued effort, we can expect those numbers to rise. Anyone familiar with investment can appreciate the value of a diverse portfolio.
Photos by Erica Torres.