On the Silver-Tipped Wings of Angels

As I stood on stage at the Angel Capital Association’s Silvertip awards ceremony yesterday, I realized I was surrounded by some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs in the world.  But more than bright, these were the kind of overachievers that at the end of their journey – the sleepless nights, missed payroll and mortgage payments – they turned around and decided to help other entrepreneurs.

In Buddhism, there is the concept of the Bodhisattva.  A bodhisattva is an enlightened being that forsakes nirvana until all other sentient beings reach enlightenment.

The concept of a guardian being is a reoccurring theme in religion for a reason.  It is one of the highest expressions of self and selflessness.  Instead of parking their butts on a beach in Bali (permanently), these brave beings reenter the startup arena to help create the next Google, Facebook, HarQen — dedicating their time and hard-earned resources to fuel great ideas and entrepreneurs across that perilous chasm between start-up and scalable business.

As the recipient of the PwC Entrepreneurship award, I was humbled to be recognized by this amazing group.  Even more profound, I was surrounded by women on stage.  Our ACA member sponsor was Phenomenelle Angels Fund, led by Lauren Flanagan, who is our board chair and most ardent evangelist.  Next to Lauren, was PwC’s Managing Director of Emerging Business, Claire Hayes.  Not only were we three women, but three Irish lasses nonetheless – one (Claire) complete with the brogue!

A hundred years ago, it would have been inconceivable to have someone of Irish decent recognized in this way.  Sixty years ago, great aunts changed the family bible to say we were Scottish (and they were 10 years younger) – to improve their marriage prospects.

Twenty years ago, I wonder how many women were Managing Directors in the then Big Eight…

And today, only 5% of venture back startups are women-led.

And yet, there we stood.  And not just us, but two other ACA winners, InRange Systems and Canary Systems, both had women founders and executive leadership.  (Even more fun, InRange was founded in Wisconsin too – Go Pack!)

Thanks to the support of my individual angels and the groups – Silicon Pastures, Women Angels, Wisconsin Investment Partners, Golden Seeds, and Phenomenelle Angels Fund – we were able to stay in the arena during some of the toughest play that the economy could throw at us.  It was their faith, guidance and enduring enthusiasm that saw us through.

Now, it’s my turn to give back.  Last week, I became a charter LP in BELLE Capital, Lauren Flanagen’s new fund for women-led businesses in the Midwest that just formally closed its round last week.  I know what Lauren is like during due diligence up close and personal.  If she thinks something is a good deal, I tend to agree.

So now it comes full circle. If you are a Midwest-based women entrepreneur (or in senior leadership) and are looking for early stage investment, I invite you to text VCPITCH to 90206 and give BELLE your best elevator pitch.  We’d love to hear your story!