Astia Forms New Angel Group to Invest in Women-Led Tech Companies

1/22/13Follow @wroush

Startups led by women have found a new source of cash. It’s Astia Angel, a network of individual investors affiliated with Astia, the San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes women-led enterprises in infotech, cleantech, and the life sciences.

Astia announced the formation of the network today. Alongside the creation of a separate Astia Fund to provide women-led companies with follow-on venture investments, it’s part of an effort to “play with the big boys and get some capital into the mix,” according to Astia CEO Sharon Vosmek.

Companies admitted to Astia—which must have at least one woman in a major ownership position—already benefit from entrepreneurship coaching sessions, advice from a network of current and former CEOs, and access to outside investors. Now they’ll also have the option of being considered for an investment from the angel group, which includes founding members from the software, hardware, Internet, media, life sciences, and venture industries.

Vosmek says Astia Angel’s founding group is “phenomenal” and includes “great examples of the Astia community—men and women, life sciences and tech, a great range that represents extremely well the deal flow we see.”

According to Vosmek, the group was formed after individual investors “came to us and said, ‘You need to do this—we are already investing in companies and we need a convening point.’”

It’s not the first angel group focused on investing in women-led companies. New York-based Golden Seeds manages two funds valued at almost $30 million, and Phenomenelle focuses on women- and minority-owned companies in the Midwest, for example.

But Astia Angel will be different in at least two respects, Vosmek says. “One is our 4,000 members around the globe,” she says. “The companies that qualify will get immediate access to a rich network of over 450 C-level entrepreneurs and 400 VCs.”

The other is Astia’s membership, which—atypically for a group focused on women entrepreneurs—is half made up of men. “Golden Seeds is about 10 percent men and 90 percent women,” Vosmek says. “We have found that half-and-half is most effective.”

Astia Angel will hold its first bimonthly meeting this Thursday at the offices of DLA Piper, and hasn’t yet okayed any investments. But members of the group have already met with tech, cleantech, and life sciences companies being considered for investments of $10,000 to $500,000 or more. Members aren’t pooling their money, and will make investment decisions individually.

The founding managing partner of Astia Angel is Amy Gips, a former advisor at New York-based private equity fund PennantPark who has spent much of the last year as an “investor in residence” at Astia. She says most of the initial members of the group were already advising Astia companies, but lacked a formalized way to invest in them.

“I was working with companies on a volunteer basis that I really liked, and I would have loved to invest,” Gips says. “I felt that my small investment wouldn’t be enough, and I’d have to go into a round with other investors, but there was no real process in place for me to do that. After spending time talking other advisors, I got a similar response, so the idea came up that there should be a more formal structure in place.”

In some cases, Astia Angel investments will take place at the seed stage and will be handled as convertible notes, Gips says. In other cases, they’ll take place as part of a formal Series A funding round, alongside the Astia Fund—a traditional venture fund with LPs—or other institutional investors.

The first four groups of entrepreneurs will present to Astia Angel at this week’s meeting. “We’re hoping that we’ll soon be able to announce our first investment,” Gips says.

Other founding members of Astia Angel include:

Roger Bamford, lead database architect at Oracle.

Tiffany Bass Bukow, serial entrepreneur and founder of personal finance site MsMoney.com.

Karen Drexler, co-founder of CellScape and former president and CEO of glucose monitoring company Amira Medical.

Wayne Goodrich, former executive producer reporting to Steve Jobs in the office of the CEO at Apple, Pixar, and NeXT Computer.

Anula Jayasuriya, co-founder of Evolvence India Life Science Fund and a former partner at Skyline Ventures in Palo Alto.

Sharon Knight, founder of Avik Ventures and former president of One Medical Group.

Tim McClarren, former chief technology officer at Idle Games and former engineer at Netscape Communications, BEA, Nominum, and Doppelganger. (McClarren is also Vosmek’s husband.)

Adam Quinton, former managing director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and adjunct associate professor at Columbia University.

 

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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