Involvement in entrepreneurship and angel investing remains largely male-dominated endeavors. This is not for a lack of trying. The Angel Capital Association has made recruiting women to angel investing a priority largely because of the unique perspective women bring to the table. They see and measure investing opportunities differently, which in turn means diversity in startup investing increases. In other words, we need women for a healthy startup community.
A couple of weeks ago, I was presented with a unique opportunity to speak to a group of women entrepreneurs. Fostering more women-owned startups and sharing with them how to access business capital would be a win-win in securing more diversity in Indy’s innovation economy. Intrigued, I accepted the invitation.
The pressure was on.
The group was Indianapolis-based The Startup Ladies founded in 2014 by Kristin Cooper, a vice president with SticksnLeaves, which helps people build high-growth software businesses. A born networker, Kristin realized over the course of her travels that there are many talented women who want to start companies, but have no idea how to go about it. So she created The Startup Ladies as a networking/talent connecting/idea sharing group for female entrepreneurs. Each month, The Startup Ladies hosts a Startup Study Hall that includes a businessperson who can provide insight into company formation. In March, I was their guest.
The event sold out, which according to Kristin, is not unusual as these women want to learn. Still, I was flattered. I decided to focus on two storylines: my experience as a startup entrepreneur with BioStorage Technologies and as an investor in startups in my role as managing director of VisionTech Partners/VisionTech Angels.
First, BioStorage. When I founded the company in 2002, all I had was an idea. Over the next 13 years, we assembled a strong team and built BioStorage into the premier, global provider of comprehensive sample management solutions for the bioscience industry. Late in 2015, we had one of the most successful exits in Indianapolis’ history. For many in the audience, the story was eye opening. Not so much because of what the company does, but the fact that it took more than a decade from inception to exit. Popular culture tends to romanticize entrepreneurship and there’s a perception that success comes quickly. My experience with BioStorage was a dose of reality with a happy ending: hard work pays off, but it often takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. It’s definitely a TEAM effort!
From there we moved into Angel Investing 101 and we explored what VisionTech Angels looks for in investable startup companies. Among other things, we look for companies with solid growth potential, a true market need, a clear strategy, and strong leadership. Again, it was an eye-opening discussion. For many, SharkTank is as close to investors as many in the audience had been. Knowing this is an ambitious group, Kristin and I challenged them to create their own pitch decks just as if they were presenting to the VisionTech Angels and we’d critique them.
The time with The Startup Ladies flew by. The evening was fun, interactive and there were many great questions. I forgot to be nervous. However, now I’m wondering how many of these entrepreneurs will be knocking on VisionTech’s door with their pitch decks. Given their enthusiasm, it’s likely to be quite a few.