Sisterhood of angels: these outstanding black female investors are helping to fund women-owned businesses.

Author:Brown, Carolyn M.
Position:SMALL BUSINESS - Interview

SIMONE CASTILLO RECALLS AS A YOUTH serving hors d'oeuvres at her mother's investment club meetings held at her childhood Long Island, New York, home. "I knew I was going to invest in entrepreneurship from (that experience) of seeing a community collective of black people investing in equities, mutual funds, and businesses," says Castillo. "In black families there are always family members who are the go-to seed investors for anything and everything. And my mom was definitely that person as well."

The millennial professional has more than 13 years of experience providing fiscal management and operational advisory services to nonprofits and other charitable organizations, but it wasn't until Castillo attended the White House Women's Economic Summit in New York in 2012 that she formally gave thought to investing in startups. While there she learned of the Pipeline Angels (; formerly Pipeline Fellowship) network of new and seasoned investors who are creating capital for women social entrepreneurs.

Pipeline Angels equips its participants with an essential angel investor toolkit while also providing access to a network of engaging philanthropists, explains Castillo. "We had to spend four months together completing a curriculum on investing, social impact, and the startup ecosystem here in the U.S."

Since launching its first angel investing boot camp in April 2011, Pipeline has trained more than 180 women who have invested $1.7 million in more than 25 women-led companies. It has also expanded from New York City to Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago; Los Angeles, Philadelphia; San Francisco; Silicon Valley; Washington, D.C.; and more. Pipeline Angels form cohorts ranging between five and 10 women, with each member investing at least $5,000 in the same woman-led for-profit social venture at the end of the program. Entrepreneurs get to present their businesses at one of Pipeline Angels' pitch summits to secure funding in exchange for a negotiated equity stake and a board seat.

For most of the Pipeline Angels, like Castillo, this is their first equity investment. They are attracted to the program's three components: education, mentoring, and practice. Castillo has invested in three women-led businesses, including Happily Ever Borro WED, an e-boutique providing rentable bridal accessories. "HEB is part of the shared economy which has grown and expanded in recent years. It is something that is very important to my generation," she adds, noting that her goal over the next three years is to have deal flow--or an overall investment portfolio--of 10 scalable companies.

Pipeline Angels and similar networks are changing the face of angel investing. Other groups catering to women investors and entrepreneurs include 37 Angels (, Golden Seeds Angel Network (, and Topstone Angels (

What sets Pipeline Angels apart from other networks is the diversity of each cohort. The angels are intergenerational (from late 20s to 60+), multiracial/multiethnic, and come from a variety of industries and professional backgrounds. "Pipeline is committed to curating diverse cohorts for three reasons. First, as an LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning] Latina, I think about diversity a lot," explains Founder and CEO Natalia Oberti Noguera. "Second, an important piece of the Pipeline Angels experience is the group learning aspect. Having a diverse group of women provides our angels-in-training with greater opportunities to learn from each other. Third, I agree with those who term angel investing 'smart money,' meaning that an angel's value to an entrepreneur isn't just the financial capital she provides--it's also the social and human capital she can offer, and the more diverse the group of angels-in-training is, the broader the network (social capital)...

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