Author: Mark Houghton-Berry

While today’s global economic outlook is at best uncertain, at worst downright bleak, we are nevertheless seeing unparalleled amounts of innovation and start-up activity amongst small companies. Media attention continues to focus on angel investment, crowdfunding and social entrepreneurship, and as mentioned by Sandaire in earlier blog articles, impact investing is growing in popularity amongst millennials and entrepreneurial investors. In this blog series, Sandaire continues to shed light on some of the individuals, companies and networks that it comes into contact with.

I myself, have personally taken a great interest in learning more about angel investor networks, as a tool for identifying direct investments. Through my own experience, I find that Astia, and specifically its programme Astia Angels, is a well-established example of a peer-to-peer investment community which is focused on channelling capital wisely to exciting growth opportunities.

Astia was founded in Silicon Valley in 1999 as a non-profit organisation dedicated to identifying and promoting best-in-class, high-growth, female entrepreneurs. Over the years while it developed leading programmes, it also built a global network of more than 5,000 individuals who volunteer as Astia Advisors to these entrepreneurs. Astia estimates that together they have worked with more than 10,000 high-growth, high-potential companies founded and led by women.

Astia Angels was launched in 2013 as a network of men and women investors who invest in select companies that apply to Astia. Since then, the members have invested more than $12.5M of their own capital, more than $124M in syndication, into 56 investments across 40 companies.

I caught up with Sharon Vosmek, Astia’s CEO and member of Astia Angels during her recent visit to London and discussed key aspects of Astia and the Angels network.

Mark: What makes the Astia Angels environment different to other angel networks?

Sharon: First and foremost, the fact that Astia’s network is inclusive and understanding of both genders. This matters because in the US and Europe (where most of our angels currently reside), social scientists have found that men and women often have a very different engagement with their money. We tend to see women participating more actively in philanthropy and men more so in investments.

Ruth Owades, Entrepreneur, CEO and Corporate Director; Jonathan Moules, Enterprise Correspondent, Financial Times

Ruth Owades, Entrepreneur, CEO and Corporate Director; Jonathan Moules, Enterprise Correspondent, Financial Times

At Astia, to help bridge the differences, and more importantly, to address the similarities between the two, we focus on the intersection of philanthropy and investment as it relates to innovation. As investors we see our capital as a means to contribute to and invest in solutions for our greatest challenges: hunger, education, healthcare, climate, not to mention the disparity between men and women when accessing funding. We hope that our investments can have a positive impact on some of these issues.

Mark: I think we all agree that a more balanced society with equal opportunities should contribute to a greater parity of wealth over time. While we are all living longer, women continue to outlive men. For every 100 men aged 90 and over in 2015 there were 240 women. Due to changing demographics, we more frequently see families not only transitioning wealth across generations but also from one gender to another.

Sharon: From your perspective do you see a desire to have women more involved in family businesses or wealth management?

Mark: One of the most interesting aspects of a multi-family office is that although some clients may have many different sources of and attitudes to wealth, they all face the same challenges with how to manage that wealth holistically. These days, one of the more common challenges that families experience is how to involve all members of the family more equally, regardless of gender.

Sharon, what do you believe are the most rewarding aspects of Astia?

Sharon: The direct investments that we are making into entrepreneurs and companies feel more impactful than going through a fund manager or an indirect approach to investing in private equity. I feel that it is important to get to know some of the entrepreneurs and contribute to the business beyond funding. Mark, would you say that this is a similar motivation for you as an angel investor?

Mark: Very much so. I think there is tremendous intellectual satisfaction to be gained both from engagement with the entrepreneurs themselves, and I hope, also from the journey and ultimate success of the businesses.

Furthermore, we currently live in a world of very low returns and high volatility. Just look at how macro hedge funds (a sector which I know well) are doing. It’s not a pretty picture! Conventional portfolios are becoming extremely difficult to manage. Direct investment is an option that interests me personally, but it is important to stress that risk must be controlled through quality due diligence and the intelligence of a trusted network.

Sharon: I think direct investment can complement a portfolio nicely and it is an approachable investment opportunity. If you join the right network, you can pool your capital into a collective vehicle. Your participation can be fairly modest at first; starting where you’re comfortable and then you can increase your participation as your confidence grows in choosing entrepreneurs and companies to invest in.

Mark: That is what I find fascinating and rewarding about being involved with angel investing networks, and Astia in particular. Being around the energy level that is represented by the entrepreneurs, and the enthusiasm that is represented by the other angels, makes it fun. At the end of the day, what is having wealth meant to be about, if it is not something that you can enjoy and use as a tool to educate and hopefully improve the world at the same time?

If you would like to know more about Astia, please don’t hesitate to contact sharon@astia.org.

About the Author

Mark Houghton-Berry is a Non-Executive Director of Sandaire, a Member and Chair of the Astia Board of Trustees. This article was prepared by Mark in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily not reflect the view of Sandaire Investment Office. All financial investments, whether direct or indirect, carry risk. We recommend that potential investors should therefore consult their financial advisor before making any investment.