A Conversation with Natalia Oberti Noguera of Pipeline Fund
Interview by Alexis Schroeder
Natalia Oberti Noguera is Founder and CEO of Pipeline Fund, a social venture fund that invests in women-led for-profit social ventures and trains women to become angel investors. I caught Natalia by phone to learn more about Pipeline Fund and its fellowship program. In this interview, I speak with Natalia about what she has learned through her own entrepreneurial endeavors and through the process of supporting other women entrepreneurs.
NPi: Tell me more about Pipeline Fund and how it began.
Natalia Oberti Noguera: Pipeline Fund is a social venture fund that invests in women-led for-profit ventures and trains women philanthropists to become angel investors. Through my experience launching and leading New York Women Social Entrepreneurs (NYWSE)—a group of 1200+ social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs—I became aware of the lack of funding opportunities for for-profit social ventures in comparison to nonprofit social ventures that could access certain fellowships and grants.
At the same time, the more I got involved in social entrepreneurship, the more I learned about the investment community, such as the gender gap in the VC (venture capital) world. That’s when the light-bulb went off. I thought, what a great theory of change—provide women philanthropists with another way to make a positive impact through money: by becoming angel investors in women-led for-profit social ventures.
NPi: Can you speak more about what you consider to be the big opportunity the Pipeline Fund Fellowship is seizing?
NON: There are two big opportunities. The Pipeline Fund Fellowship increases the diversity of the investor pool by training women philanthropists to become angel investors in women-led for-profit social ventures. Also, by having participants serve as advisers to startups, the Pipeline Fund Fellowship helps women own their expertise.
NPi: Why is diversity in the venture capital community important?
NON: At Sara Holoubek’s Field Guide launch party, Joanne Wilson, a dealmaker and featured speaker underscored the importance of finding the right investor. According to Joanne, “You want investors that get you.”
As an entrepreneur, having an investor that gets you may mean having an investor that matches your target demographic. When I met Mike Yavonditte, Founder and CEO of Hashable, he shared with me how much more valuable an investor who engages with the product/service she/he invests in is than one who has no interest in being a user.
In order to find the right investor, I believe we need to increase the diversity of the investor pool. This is where the Pipeline Fund Fellowship comes in. We train women into angel investors and focus on investing in women-led for-profit social ventures. Women social entrepreneurs are identifying and filling market needs. Our goal is to produce more angel investors who get them.
Full disclosure: Joanne Wilson is a confirmed speaker and Mike Yavonditte is a confirmed mentor for the Pipeline Fund Fellowship.
NPi: About women and money, what are some of the most common issues or challenges that you’ve observed?
NON: Earlier this year, Fast Company Expert Blogger Allyson Kapin (@womenwhotech) asked, “Why aren’t enough women seeking angel and VC money? And why aren’t more women-led startups getting funded?” Read the full article here. She went on to list several statistics, including two from the 2009 angel investor report Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire. According to the report, of US$17.6 billion invested in startups in 2009, only 9.4% went to women-led ventures. More striking to me, that same year “Women-owned ventures accounted for 21% of the entrepreneurs that sought angel capital.” We need to get more women entrepreneurs pitching in the first place and provide more funding opportunities to women-led ventures. Pipeline Fund and the Pipeline Fund Fellowship address both points.
NPi: Can you tell me more about the fellowship program?
NON: The Pipeline Fund Fellowship has three main components: education, mentoring, and practice.
The education component includes workshops on relevant topics, such as due diligence, term sheets, valuation, and board governance. We’re acquiring licensed materials and resources developed by the Angel Capital Education Foundation, as well as collaborating with one of their certified lead instructors.
In terms of the mentoring component, we’re matching each participant with an experienced angel investor who serves as a role model. Mentors will share best practices, best mistakes, and other helpful stories from their investor career pipeline. Learning from others’ experiences is a compelling part of the fellowship.
With respect to the practice component, each Pipeline Fund Fellowship participant commits US$5,000 to be pooled collectively for a US$50,000 group investment into a woman-led for-profit social venture. At the end of the training, participants apply lessons learned from workshops, mentors, and guest speakers to select the investment.
NPi: What partnerships has Pipeline Fund made thus far or do you hope to make?
NON: We’re in the process of securing deal-sourcing partners, in order to access the latest business models that address the triple bottom line: financial performance, environmental responsibility, and social impact.
NPi: What are Pipeline Fund’s short-term goals? Longer-term goals?
NON: We’re recruiting right now for the first class of the Pipeline Fund Fellowship, which will be based in NYC. Our application (deadline is December 1, 2010!) is available on the Pipeline Fund website: http://pipelinefund.com.
On the longer-term goals front, we’re planning to hold the Pipeline Fund Fellowship in LA and San Francisco next year. We have already been receiving applications from women outside of NYC, a clear sign of how strongly the program has resonated with people and the market demand for it. In terms of Pipeline Fund, we’re currently seeding the social venture fund with the goal of closing the US$2.5 million first round in mid-2011 and the second round, an additional US$2.5 million, in early 2012.
NPi: What advice would you give to women philanthropists? And women social entrepreneurs?
NON: I invite philanthropists to make a positive impact in the world by investing in women-led for-profit social ventures.
I encourage social entrepreneurs to get out there and pitch. Even if the idea isn’t 100% developed and all the T’s and all the i’s haven’t been crossed or dotted, the feedback they’re going to get from pitching is as valuable, if not more valuable, than waiting to get everything perfect in their head. It’s about the constant iteration, getting and integrating feedback. The faster they’re able to loop the feedback back into their business model, the closer they’ll get to meeting a real market need.
NPi: What are you most excited about in this space?
NON: I’m very excited about the space in-between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. There’s so much potential in what I’m hoping is becoming the business model of today and the future: one that addresses the triple bottom line—financial performance, environmental responsibility, and social impact.