5 Ways to Win Over a Social Angel

Don't assume a socially conscious angel will be a soft touch. To win their money, you've got to get a lot of things right.

Angel investors bridge the gap between the money you have and the money you need to grow your business. Angels provided $8.9 billion for 26,300 entrepreneurs in the first half of 2011, according to the Center for Venture Research. That’s a nice pot of money, and by all indications, it’s even larger now.

Still, getting your share of it into your social enterprise is no small feat. Most pitches to angels fail.

To figure out how a social entrepreneur might beat the odds, I spoke with Dahna Goldstein, and two of the 10 women angels who in October last year invested $105,000 into her social venture, PhilanTech, an online system that increases the efficiency of managing nonprofit grants. Here is their advice:

1. Find the right angel for your start-up.

Goldstein struck her deal with graduates of the angel investing boot camp, Pipeline Fellowship, a for-profit venture started by 27-year-old entrepreneur Natalia Oberti Noguera to channel women philanthropists into angel investing.  To enter the program, women have to be what's known as accredited investors (generally speaking, that means a net worth of at least $1 million or income of at least $200,000) and have a strong commitment to doing good in the world.

After intensive training in how to evaluate start-ups and pairing with a seasoned angel mentor, 10 partners pool their money to back a women-led, for-profit, social venture of their own choosing. Goldstein was a perfect match.

2. Present with clarity

“If you want my money, you better tell me how you are going to spend it wisely,” says Kelly Hoey, a Pipeline Fellow who is a lawyer and former law-firm manager. Going through the Pipeline training gave Hoey the confidence to co-found  Women Innovate Mobile (WIM) Accelerator and sit on three start-up advisory boards.

Some applicants may think that women  will be “less rigorous than other angels,” said Hoey, and they therefore can skimp on the financial portion of their presentation. That's a good way to get rejected, Hoey promises.

That's true even of socially focused angels like Pipeline Fellows. Yes, they want to see a balance between financial return and social or environmental good, but that doesn’t mean they are easy marks. “You still have to clearly explain what your product does and how you will make money,” says Elizabeth Crowell, co-owner of the Brooklyn gift shop and ecommerce site Sterling Place.

Your graphics, presentation, and demeanor must all be professional and businesslike. Make sure critical financial information is easy to find and read; provides all the information needed (cash flow, revenue and expenses, etc.); and is based on realistic projections. When it’s time for the actual pitch, Goldstein urges:

  • rehearse
  • make all your points within the time allotted
  • hit all the criteria your angel cares about; for social enterprises that means addressing all three bottom lines: people, planet, and profit

3. Show the fire in your belly

No one wants to invest in a project that doesn’t  excite even the presenter.

You’ve got to believe, you’ve got to care, and you’ve got to project that passion. A good pitch will make hearts race—yours and those of the angels.

4. Be persistent

A “no” is not a loss; it’s a lesson. “You may get a lot of no's, but you’ll get valuable feedback and practice,” said Crowell. Since every angel has unique criteria for selecting an investment, a “no” from one doesn’t mean you can’t get a “yes” from someone else. Ask why you got turned down, tweak what needs fixing or look for an angel that wants your kind of venture. Make sure you’re pitching the right angels. Ask and ask again.

5. Once your angels have invested, talk to them a lot

Chances are, people who have enough money to be accredited investors know a lot about how to build a successful business. So once they've invested in you, get to know them. Your business will benefit and you will build a relationship.

“It’s not just about the money,” said Goldstein. “[At Pipeline Fellows] 10 women also provide their expertise and access to their Rolodexes.” When Goldstein was working on her sales strategy, she reached out to a Pipeline investor with sales experience for help structuring the sales compensation plan. It wasn't cash, but it was extremely valuable all the same.

Bottom line: Angels are people. They like to be respected and appreciated for more than their money. But first, you need their money.

Geri Stengel, Ventureneer.com, created Guiding Women Entrepreneurs to help women power-up their businesses. It pulls together – in one place – information that will inspire and enlighten. Content is drawn from top-notch sources, from Inc. to Forbes, from Women 2.0 to the Kauffman Foundation.

As a women business owner, Kauffman FastTrac GrowthVenture facilitator, former adjunct professor of entrepreneurship, and past board member of the New York City Chapter of the National Association of Business Women Owners, she understands the unique challenges women entrepreneurs face when growing their beyond $1 million. 

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