Interview and text from Refinery29's Self Made by Lindsey Stanberry
Photography by Kelly Marshall
Makeup by Yevgene Wright-Mason and hair by Adrienne Wallace from BeautyLynk, a Pipeline Angels portfolio company
Clothes by VOZ, a Pipeline Angels portfolio company
Lipstick & Nail Color by Mented, a Pipeline Angels portfolio company
Hair accessory by Happily Ever BorroWED, a Pipeline Angels portfolio company
Natalia Oberti Noguera, 35, is the founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels, an organization that is changing the face of angel investing by encouraging women and non-binary femmes to both invest and start their own businesses. Pipeline Angels launched in 2011 and has rapidly grown to a network of 300-plus members who have invested more than $5 million in 50-plus companies. VOZ is a proud portfolio company of the Pipeline Angels.
For those interested in applying, Pipeline Angels has a rolling application process. Priority will be given to candidates who fill out our short online application before Friday, January 25, 2019.
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Tell me a little bit about why you founded Pipeline Angels.
In 2008, I launched the New York Women Social Entrepreneurs in New York City, when I was in grad school. I grew it from about six social entrepreneurs to over 1,200 within two years. It was amazing, and it's what led me to one of my “aha moments.” This was around the time when there was a growing market for companies that were doing well and doing good. Ben & Jerry’s had been around a while, as well as Honest Tea, and TOMS had recently started. Of course, who was getting the funding and making the headlines? The white-guy-led companies...
At the same time, I was meeting women and femmes leading these kinds of social enterprises that were coming up with really disruptive business models, but struggling to get funding. A lot of these entrepreneurs were sharing their change-making ideas with their communities, and people in their network would get really excited, would offer to support, donate, send a check, etc. But as soon as the entrepreneurs would clarify that they were aiming to be for-profit social ventures, these same people would back away and say, “Let me know when you start your sister non-profit.”
I realized that society has a gendered perception of how we change the world. When a woman or femme says they're going to change the world, the expectation is that we're going to launch a non-profit. When a guy says he's going to change the world, people do not assume that he's going to launch a non-profit.
It’s been five years since Business Insider named you one of the 30 Most Important Women in Tech Under 30. How has the industry changed in the past five years? Do you think things are getting better?
I'm a huge believer in creating new systems. I also know that we need to change current systems, because guess what? A lot of money is still stuck in the status quo. In the past five years, new players have entered the investing arena, and this is fantastic because we're noticing a lot more players that are investing in, as Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital say, “underestimated founders."
The point is, if we check out the stats in terms of how much funding is going to women, non-binary people, or men of color, things have not changed much from even a decade ago. Yes, let's be excited about the angel investors and venture capitalists and other funding organizations and platforms that have come out that are focused on leveling the playing field, including Pipeline Angels. At the same time, let's remember that's not enough, and if we really want to make the pie bigger, we need to make sure that the current systems are changing.
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What's your Self-Made Mantra, no matter where you might be in the process?
A mantra I have — I prefer the word "motto" — is: Who do you want to make money for? So many times when someone asks, "Hey, do you have an accountant you like?” or “Is there a book you recommend?" I witness a lot of women and femmes recommend a white guy. The thing is: White guys don't need help! Is there a woman, a non-binary person, or man of color that you could be recommending? I got this #QueerAndLatinx shirt I’m wearing from Annie Segarra, a queer disabled Latinx activist, who also created #TheFutureIsAccessible and whose gender pronouns are they/them and she/her.
What are the biggest obstacles facing Latinx startup founders? And how can they overcome them?
There was a very well known white guy who was interviewed in 2012 and he was asked, “What do you look for when you invest?” He very nonchalantly said, “Someone like me.” This was before pattern recognition and pattern matching became super trendy.
Of course, there are a lot of amazing organizations making the obvious business case for diversity. But I wanted to turn this concept on its head and say, “Well, if we invest in what looks like us, if we invest in what's familiar, let's get more of us on the investing side, because we're going to be more open about investing in more of us on the startup side.”
A Wharton and Angel Capital Association study found that only 2.3% of U.S. angel investors are Latinx. Close to 90% of U.S. angel investors are white. In addition to that, close to 80% are men. Obviously, they're binary — they don't even include nonbinary people. Thinking about what that means for Latinas and Latinx femmes? These are super, super depressing numbers.
I’m proud to share that at Pipeline Angels, 300-plus members have gone through our angel investing bootcamp, and they have then invested over $5 million into over 50 portfolio companies. Of those 300-plus members, 7% are Latinx, and 12% of the Pipeline Angels portfolio companies that have secured funding from our members have a Latina or Latinx femme founder.
Being self-made means committing to self-care, too, to manage the process as well as all the unexpected pivots that come with it. How do you fuel and refresh yourself when things really starts to get hard?
I love TV! I will give shout-outs to Freeform and the CW. Some people might say that I might be slightly outside of their target demographics. You know what? The reason why I love so much of the programming on the CW and Freeform is that there's representation, and it's not token representation. A lot of the main characters are themselves coming from different backgrounds.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the women and femmes who go through Pipeline Angels bootcamp?
The importance of community, the importance of learning by doing. I'd say the lesson that I'm working to teach us together is making sure that we're having, as Micky ScottBey Jones says, brave conversations. Also, the power of changing the world through money.
I'd say the one lesson that society taught me early on, when I launched Pipeline Angels, is how different people think about men and money versus women/femmes and money. We would get a lot of applications from non-profits, etc., because people would read women and money and immediately assumed, “Oh this is charity, this is donations, this is grants.” Of course, when people think about men and money it's financiers, sharks, venture capitalists, businessmen. I’ve been trying to break those expectations, defy those stereotypes, and say, “In addition to being philanthropists, women and femmes can also be investors.”
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