Pipeline Fellowship Grooms Female Angel Investors and Entrepreneurs

4/18/12Follow @arleneweintraub

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her events to reflect more collaboration. So each female founder gets a brief chance to shine, but then engages in a conversation with the investors, so the angels can get to know her better and can get vital questions answered about her business plan. “Our perspective is that it’s all about group dynamics,” Oberti Noguera says.

Happily Ever Borrowed founder Haas says the format of the pitch event was jarring at first, but valuable in the end. She had originally prepared a longer presentation, with a Power Point, but then quickly reformatted it so she could get her main points across in five minutes. It was the first public pitch for Haas, who is still raising her seed round and working at her day job as a retail planner for Hermes of Paris. “It taught me how to get my message out fast,” Haas says. She says she’s now so confident in her newly slimmed-down message that she’s planning to attend a similar pitch event at the Hatchery, a New York-based organization for tech entrepreneurs.

Pipeline founder Oberti Noguera became fascinated with the idea of supporting female entrepreneurs shortly after getting her master’s degree in organizational psychology from Columbia University. In 2008, she started a group called the New York Women Social Entrepreneurs (NYWSE) and grew its membership from six to 1,200 in two years. The group provided mentorship and education for female entrepreneurs, as well as an incubator. Through the program, Oberti Noguera met hundreds of women who all faced the same problem. “I kept having these conversations with members who were telling me how hard it was to secure funding,” she says. Many of them were starting businesses with philanthropic missions, she says, “but there were just not enough financiers.” In the summer of 2010, she started Pipeline Fellowship.

Anna Curran, an angel selected for the most recent New York Pipeline Fellowship, says she had always been interested in investing, but needed training in the financial complexities of startups. “It’s an experiential learning process,” she says of the fellowship. “The program gives us the opportunity to learn by doing and to learn from our peers.” Curran, who is the founder of CookbookCreate.com, adds that her group of angels has bonded to the point that they’ve discussed working together on other investments beyond the one they choose to fund in this round of the Pipeline Fellowship.

Although $50,000 may not sound like very much to get a company started, many of the entrepreneurs who have pitched to the Pipeline fellows say funding from the program could give them credibility they need to bring in more money down the line. “Pipeline could be the investment that makes other investors say ‘Let’s go,’” says Susie Hadas, founder and president of Coldfront, an Oceanside, NY-based company that invented a device to help women suffering from menopausal hot flashes. Coldfront closed a $500,000 round in November, but needs to raise more money to ramp up production, Hadas says. It will be a month or so before Hadas finds out whether her company has been selected for a Pipeline investment, but she says the experience has been valuable nonetheless. “Every woman in this group who we talk to brings her own perspective to Coldfront’s plate.”

Oberti Noguera says Pipeline Fellowship will announce its most recent investment choices in May and June. The organization plans to launch a San Francisco program in the fall.

Judging from the number of women clamoring to pitch their companies to Pipeline’s fellows, Oberti Noguera seems to have tapped into an unmet need in the entrepreneurship market. She says that the program is receiving between 60 and 80 applications from female entrepreneurs for each pitch session. “We’ve seen an incredible rise in the caliber of the applications, too,” she says. Oberti Noguera hopes the experience proves as valuable for the entrepreneurs as it has been for the angels. “We hope these women become more comfortable in this setting,” she says. “That way, they’ll shine in their future pitches.”

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