Lisa Lake is an entrepreneur whose passion for entrepreneurship and economic growth led her to spearhead the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship-Caribbean. Her extensive expertise have contributed to her strategic vision for the Branson Centre’s support for aspiring Caribbean entrepreneurs.
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1. How did you come up there was a real need in Jamaica for an angel investment network?
When we launched the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – Caribbean (BCoEC) in 2011 we saw two big needs in the market. Firstly – banks and investors complained that they weren’t seeing viable businesses plans, and well prepared entrepreneurs, to invest in. Secondly — entrepreneurs of small business that had the capacity to grow were being shut out of commercial banks due to stringent collateral requirements and those that were looking for equity investors didn’t know where to turn.
BCoEC’s first focus was on providing training to entrepreneurs to help them think through their business models and create pitch decks for bankable businesses. This is now done through our free and open program – Branson Centre Caribbean Online. Once we had a community of bankable entrepreneurs, we then set to work to help develop places for those entrepreneurs to get the finance and advice necessary to support their growth.
Supporting the creation of an angel investment network was a real need in an environment where early-stage equity funding is very hard to access. In late 2014, BCoEC helped to incubate the Alpha Angels network of business angels, based in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We launched with 8 members thanks in large part to the generous support of Xcala and advice from Nelson Grey, of the World Bank’s Infodev program. We see the partnership between the BCoEC and AA as a critical link in growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Jamaica, complementing the work being done by First Angels Jamaica, based in Kingston.
2. Who had the initiative of launching BCoEC?
The idea for BCoEC was borne by Virgin Unite, the not-for-profit foundation of the Virgin group, and Virgin Holidays – the UK’s leading long-haul tour provider to the Caribbean. The Centre was officially launched in Montego Bay, Jamaica in September 2011 by our founder, Sir Richard Branson.
The idea of Alpha Angels was born through a conversation between the Branson Centre team, Nelson Gray, and established business persons, predominantly based in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
3. Do you believe there is a disadvantage as a woman to carry out your daily work?
I believe that perception becomes reality and I try prefer to operate believing that anything is possible if you are willing to work hard. In fact, a recent study from Harvard Business School indicates that there are important indirect benefits to being a working mother, specifically, that our daughters are likely to earn a higher income, and our sons are more likely to contribute in the household.
4. Which is your strategy to make BCoEC and AA self sustaining?
BCoEC is now broadening its partnership opportunities outside of the Virgin group. While we do generate some revenue from the activities of the entrepreneurs we support, we believe that there is a significant opportunity to partner with organizations that are interested in supporting entrepreneurship and tapping into a community of high potential entrepreneurs. Similarly, Alpha Angels is also actively growing its partnerships, and is also growing its membership base to not just sustain but expand its activities.
5. Have you ever felt that there were some extra difficulties as a woman?
I am fortunate to live in a country that has the highest proportion of female managers in the world (56%). We also have a culture of being very direct communicators – regardless of gender. Coming from this culture, there have been subtle challenges when communicating across borders with other countries where the role of women in the workplace is not as strong as it is in Jamaica. In those countries, women like Sheryl Sandberg are making great strides in helping their cultures embrace strong, direct women the way Jamaica does.
6. Are there any differences in a network managed by a man or a woman?
At the Branson Centre, 75% of our team, and 54% of the entrepreneurs we support are female. We have received feedback from team members and entrepreneurs coming from male-dominated environments that they enjoy working in our more relaxed, compassionate environment that is still very results-oriented. Bringing this experience across to Alpha Angels was very important to us, because our angels are very active entrepreneurs themselves, with very tight schedules. They have joined Alpha Angels for the sense of camaraderie, fun, and giving back by helping early-stage entrepreneurs to grow. From our experience, this spirit of fun backed by results is best accomplished by having more women involved. Lisandra Rickards Entrepreneur Programme Manager at the Branson Centre and Interim Network Manager for Alpha Angels, who is also female, definitely helped us accomplish that.
7. What is your vision of a woman as an angel investor?
As an angel investor, you are making decisions not only based on hard facts, but also by evaluating softer skills such as how personality dynamics affect performance. Women investors tend to weigh the personality and team aspects higher than their male counterparts, so it is important to add their voices to the network, which will help lead to better investment outcomes. Moreover, as the number of female owned businesses continues to rise, it is important to have the female perspective matched from the side investor as well as the entrepreneur.
8. Which are the main achievements of BCoEC and AA?
To date, the 80 entrepreneurs in the Branson Centre’s Official Entrepreneur Programme have created over 140 new jobs, supported an existing 200 jobs, and had an average revenue growth of 214%. Since 2015, Alpha Angels has seen 8 pitches – 4 from Branson Centre Official Entrepreneurs – and is actively pursuing deals with 4 of those entrepreneurs. . We’ve added new members to our network, growing it from 8 to 10, with even more members coming on board over the next few months. We have taken some time to streamline our operations before launching in a public way, but we are now ready for greater visibility in the Caribbean, and are launching our website http://alphaangels.co in the next few weeks.
9. Which is the criteria that you use to select companies?
We love to see applications from entrepreneurs who:
- Are in a cutting-edge industry, like technology or a cool consumer product
- Have the ability to gain traction overseas, especially in North America
- Can demonstrate that the company will generate a significant return for investors in 5 years
- Are ready to exchange equity and some control for funding and mentorship
- Have a clear path to exit, for e.g. through a strategic sale or IPO.