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Investing In Women Entrepreneurs


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're going to start the program today by returning to our series of conversations about and with women in tech. All this month, which happens to be Women's History Month, we're hearing from innovators from around the world as they tweet a day in their lives using the hashtag #NPRWIT. We're also speaking with trailblazers about new ideas they're bringing to tech, and how they're encouraging more women and girls to enter the field.

Today, though, we want to focus on investing in women - giving them the capital and resources they need to start a business or grow it. It turns out that male-owned companies bring in more outside money than women-owned companies; that, according to Kauffman Foundation. We wanted to know why that might be, why that's important, and what could change it. So we're joined now by Natalia Oberti Noguera. She is head of Pipeline Fellowship, which helps train women angel investors. Also with us is Danae Ringelmann. She is cofounder of Indiegogo. That's an international crowdfunding site where people can raise money for small businesses, films, music and more. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.


DANAE RINGELMANN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So Natalia, will you start by just telling people who may not know that term, what an angel investor is?

OBERTI NOGUERA: An angel investor - one of my favorite definitions is it's termed as smart money. And what it means by that is that it's not just about the financial capital that someone can put into a startup. It's also about the human capital and the social capital, meaning someone's expertise, what's - you know, different sorts of skill sets that they can bring to the table and offer the entrepreneur. And also the social capital, meaning the connections and the contacts and important relationships that they can leverage for the entrepreneur.

MARTIN: Traditionally, I think that people from the East Coast probably know that term as the - kind of the traditional wealthy individual who invests in a Broadway play, for example. It's kind of, you know, it's a business thing. But it's also a passion project as well. And you kind of invest in an enterprise in exchange for an ownership stake. And I think you're also expanding the idea to mean also your ideas, your know-how, which kind of helps support the business. And now you have a saying that entrepreneurs are everywhere, but capital isn't. Talk more about that.

OBERTI NOGUERA: Traditionally, as you were saying in terms of angel investors, people also think that they're white guys. And so what we're looking to do is engage more women and people of color on the investing side because the studies are out there that showcase that there's pattern recognition, meaning that we're probably going to be investing and supporting those who look like us - who are familiar. And so my take was let's get more women and people of color on the investing side because we're probably going to be supporting more women and people of color entrepreneurs.

MARTIN: Danae, you helped launch Indiegogo in 2007. Tell us a little bit about it, especially - I mean, people will have heard of - I think a lot of people will have heard of the site Kickstarter. So tell us a little bit about how Indiegogo is different from that.

RINGELMANN: So Indiegogo is now the oldest and the largest global crowdfunding platform in the world. And what that means is anybody, anywhere in the world, can go onto the site and actually create a campaign and raise money for whatever they're passionate about. Or you can go onto the site and fund whatever you're passionate about. The biggest difference is that we have removed the gatekeeper from the process of finance, and we've put the power back into the hands of the people to decide. We wanted to create a system where ideas rise to the top based on their meritocracy and their merit versus based on one person's idea that this is an idea that should thrive or not.

MARTIN: Why do you think that's important?

RINGELMANN: It's very important because not one person has the worldview. What Indiegogo does is it creates this open and level playing field, an equal opportunity playing field - like we like to call it - where anybody can create a campaign. And then the people that do well rise to the top, and the people that are doing well are people that are ideas that are actually being funded by the community, by the customers. And in the process, what happens is they prove their idea and then venture investors or banks can then take a look and put more money in.

MARTIN: You know, it's interesting 'cause what I'm hearing from both of you it's kind of a vicious cycle. You know, if the gatekeepers all have a certain worldview or a certain background or a certain relationship network, then they're only going to see the things that appeal to them and their existing circle, right? And so it's like the same resources get poured into the same pool. And so the idea is to expand the pool of ideas and also expand the set of eyes, right, that's listening to and is aware of and learning about these ideas. But if the capital isn't there to begin with and the same people have the capital, how do you expand the reach of the people who have access to that money can then distribute it to people with different ideas?

OBERTI NOGUERA: So there are at least two critical points that are surfacing. And the first one is particularly regarding Danae's conversation around leveling the playing field. She reminded me of one of Pipeline Fellowship's mentors. So we match our angels-in-training - that's how I call them - with seasoned angel investors so they can share the lessons learned and best practices. And one of our mentors is Freada Kapor Klein, and she has a saying which is, we need to stop rewarding people who start at third base as if they're hitting a home run. And that's such a great visual in terms of what we're doing and what we need to stop doing.

The other side of the coin is that women and people of color, entrepreneurs aren't pitching. In 2012, the Center for Venture Research came out with a study, and it showcased that out of all the entrepreneurs that were pitching to U.S. Angels, only 16 percent were women-led. And from that 16 percent, 25 percent secured funding. And out of all the entrepreneurs that were pitching to U.S. Angels in 2012, only 6 percent were minority-led. And from that 6 percent, 18 percent secured funding. So of course, there are many reasons why that's happening. There are at least three. The first one is, we're not getting invited into the room. The second one is, many of us don't realize that we have a business that is scalable that could benefit from Angel and VC financing because at the end of the day, there are certain business models that work well with Angel and VC financing. There are others that they're not meant to be funded in that sort of way. And then the third, the one that I'm more passionate about - and this is where I make my confession that I am pro-Lean In, pro-Sheryl Sandberg's movement - is that we have a crisis of perfectionism. I end up presenting and speaking and judging a lot of pitches at conferences, whether they be women in business conferences or entrepreneurship conferences.

And there's such a distinct difference between how - particularly the white guys. There are sometimes some - a few of them who are volunteering. They approach me because they have read my bio, so they know that somehow I'm connected to angel investing. And they will somehow share how they just came up with this concept yesterday, and they're going to be graduating and, you know, committing to it full-time. And then I'll be meeting some women and people of color who share with me that they have been working on a project for, you know, 10 months or 18 months, but they feel like they need a couple of years work experience before they can actually go out there and become entrepreneurs. And the other thing that I share with them is that pitching...

MARTIN: That's interesting. That's very interesting.


MARTIN: I mean, I've heard this before, but I've never heard it put quite that way, so...

OBERTI NOGUERA: It's my half-Colombian, half-Italian heritage coming out.


OBERTI NOGUERA: And so I share with them - and this is one of my other sayings, which is, pitching isn't a zero-sum game because what I'm seeing is that they feel like they're putting all their eggs in one basket. If they don't win, you know, when they pitch to these judges at this competition, then it's over. And so I share with them that even if they don't secure funding, that they probably are going to get some feedback that's going to get them closer to meeting - you know, creating a business model that meets market needs. And maybe the investors in the room are not interested. They're probably connected to an investor who might be. And if we don't, you know, step up to the plate, share ideas, we're not going to be able to connect with those other potential investors who are not in the room that day.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are continuing our month-long series of conversations with and about women in tech. Today, we're talking about investing. Our guests are Natalia Oberti Noguera - that's who was speaking just now - of the Pipeline Fellowship. Also with us, Danae Ringelmann of Indiegogo. What I'm hearing from each of you is that, while you're still regretful that the - women still seem to face obstacles in getting the attention and the capital that they need to support their businesses and their ideas - and you're still not shying away from the reality of that, I think - what I think I'm hearing both of you say is that - is what? I mean, give me a word of wisdom. Maybe, say, Natalia, do you want to start?

OBERTI NOGUERA: Pipeline Fellowship's angel investing bootcamp is launching this fall into Atlanta, Austin, LA, Miami and Seattle. And one of my favorite quotations is from Midy Aponte, and she says, if you don't have a seat at the table, bring your own chair. And that's what we're doing.

MARTIN: All right. Danae, how about you?

RINGELMANN: One of the things that's interesting is if you actually do inspire people to take action and you do remove the barriers and make access to capital more efficient, people of all kinds do just as well. And a great example of that is, you know, if you look at venture, I think Natalia was mentioning the poor numbers of women-represented leadership teams that get actual venture financing. I think the number's only 13 percent of actual companies that receive venture backing are run or have a woman on their leadership team. But on Indiegogo, the percentage of campaigns that are run by women that reach their funding target is actually 47 percent. So I want to highlight that number because it really speaks to the fact that if you provide an equal opportunity and a level playing field for all people to succeed, then all people do succeed equally.

So my words of wisdom are words that my father shared with me before he passed. I had just started Indiegogo. And what he shared with me is he said, the world has incredible inertia. It loves to say no. It almost doesn't know any better. And as an entrepreneur who's trying to solve a real problem in the world or fix something, it's your job to keep saying yes. And don't expect any pats on the back because the world won't even know it.

But if you keep saying yes, then you actually will do something meaningful. And it will be thankful later. And I've just kept those words because it has gotten me through the dark periods, and it has gotten me to a place where I am completely myself. I'm authentic when I come to work every day. We have an incredible workplace where we have, you know, 50 percent of our employees are women. Fifty percent of our customers are women. We're truly changing the world both in how we act and who we serve. It's my job to keep it moving forward and keep saying yes.

MARTIN: Danae Ringelmann is cofounder of the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. She joined us from her home office in San Francisco. Natalia Oberti Noguera is head of the organization Pipeline Fellowship. She joined us from our bureau in New York. And I do want to add that they've both been tweeting using the hash tag #NPRWIT. And you can join the conversation there as well. Ladies, thank you both so much for speaking with us.


RINGELMANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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