The recent FundingPost event at New York’s La Marina restaurant in northern Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River, presented a panel of six active female angel investors to a crowd of some 200 attendees, many of whom were new entrepreneurs seeking funding.
“I view this as a really great event," said Alicia Syrett, founder and CEO of Pantegrion Capital, angel investor and moderator for the women investor’s panel. "It’s representative of both gender bases (a second panel would feature with male investors) ...and it’s very representative of New York.”
Meghan Cross, managing director at Red Bear Angels, the Cornell Alumni network comprised of some 700 people who advise and invest in early stage funding, also noted her enthusiasm for being part of such a panel. “The purpose of panels like this is to spotlight prominent people and highlight role models," she said. "It’s so important to have people to look up to, as I have had, in the venture capital community who are successful women."
First, some numbers.
“In the past year, one in five U.S. startups that received funding, or 20 percent, were led by a woman,” said Loretta McCarthy, founding member and managing director of Golden Seeds, an investing group that focuses on women-owned and/or run companies. The four chapters of Golden Seeds have been part of the escalation of women-owned or run companies by investing more than $100 million into 40 companies over the past 12 years. McCarthy, pleased to see a lot of women at the event, also pointed out that “of the 320,000 angel investors in the United States, 26 percent (over 80,000) are women.”
Syrett addressed questions to various panelists first in long form, then in a more rapid fire approach.
Q: How much funding should entrepreneurs expect from investor groups?
All of the panelists were clear, with their answers ranging from $25k on the low end to $250k when it came to check sizes. They also added that they look for businesses valued in the $2 to $3 million range.
Q: How can angel investors value early stage companies since it cannot be based on cash flow of comparables?
MCarthy: “You want to see what progress has already been made. Is there anything protectable, like a patent? Do you have some rare set of talents working there that would justify a higher valuation? Does the business have traction?”
Lockie Andrews of HBS Alumni Investors and founder of Catalyst Consulting, added: “We want to know if there is some customer base. We want to see something that is working and has a definable market. Do they have a pipeline to go forward and get through to the next stage with us?”
Q: How do entrepreneur’s best prepare to apply to an angel group?
Andrews: “Do research on a group before you apply for funding. All of us are part of member groups. Do your homework, prepare in advance, build relationships, understand who is in the room and what kind of style is most effective. By having established relationships before you come in and present, you’ll obviously have warm and friendly faces in the room.” Andrews and other panelists also recommended that entrepreneurs familiarize themselves with what a term sheet looks like.
Q: Should funding cover paying salaries?
While a couple panelists topped out at $100k, a concise “no,” was the answer from angel investor Kathleen Murray, who, six years ago started her own sub group of Executive Forum, called EF Angels. She also owns and operates McMorran Strategists LLC. “They also shouldn’t be seeking fundraising to pay back their aunt who lent them seed money," Murray added. Panelists all agreed that paying back debt should not be part of the equation.
Q: What do investors want to hear?
Cross: "Investors want to learn. They want to be educated, so you need to be ready to educate. They want to see that you are passionate about your field, that you’re the expert. They also want to hear that you have a voice and can engage people in conversations.” Andrews added that they do not want to hear you say something like “we have no competition.”
Q: What resources are recommended?
Suggestions from the panel included business books, business accelerators, meeting and talking with other founders, researching angel groups and attending other investor funding events. Sapna Shah, angel investor and retail expert from Red Giraffe Advisors, recommended learning as much as possible about the process. Shah is in the process of launching a boot camp for early stage retail-related founders who have not yet raised the seed round. “They can learn how to build a financial model, how to build some traction before funding, what angels look for and so forth. Plus there’s a VC track as well."
McCarthy: “We have open office hours once a month where people can come in and talk with us. They have to register in advance, and we encourage our members at Golden Seeds to come in and meet with these new entrepreneurs.”
Q: When are you ready, you pitch to angels?
Murray: "Pitch when you’re ready. Make it memorable. From my experience, some people can go on for 20 minutes, and you have no idea what the business is. I focus on people, product and what is the pain point? If you answer that and repeat that several times, it’s a memorable message. Pictures also help. But the bottom line is being well-prepared.”
Finally, the takeaway.
When all was said and done, Syrett said, “I was thrilled with the success of the panel. We had five incredibly smart and experienced women representing some of the most active angel groups in New York City, covering myriad topics. They didn't miss a beat in my rapid fire question mode, and I know the audience received a lot of helpful information in a short amount of time."
Organizer Joe Rubin, founder of FundingPost, added that “panelists showed an incredible amount of incite. I think everyone, especially the women in the audience, walked away inspired.”
FundingPost has upcoming events in September in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Francisco.