Irene is the executive director of HBS Alumni Angels of Brazil, one of the largest angel investor networks in Brazil.
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1. How did you come up there was a real need for an angel investment network?
There are a number of advantages to investing with a network, as investors pool together not only capital, but also skills, expertise and connections. This is true for any market, but it is especially relevant now in Brazil, as angel investing is still at an early stage here and investors are just beginning to emerge and “test the waters.” By working together, investors can access a greater pool of opportunities, as well as choose investments with greater care, by leveraging the collective knowledge and resources of the group.
An investor network is also better positioned than an individual investor to support entrepreneurs post-investment. Again this is very relevant now for a market like Brazil. Entrepreneurs here face a broad range of challenges, from bureaucratic regulations to complicated tax rules, in addition to volatile conditions in the economy overall. By partnering with an angel network, entrepreneurs gain access not only to capital, but also to a group of professionals who can provide critical support and guidance, and this can make all the difference.
2.Who had the initiative of launching HBS Alumni Angels of Brazil?
HBS Alumni Angels is a global organization. It began in 2007 as a “special interest” group of the HBS Alumni Association of Northern California. Since then, over 14 chapters have been established around the world, including Brazil. The chapter in Brazil was established in 2012 by two Harvard alums, Magnus Arantes and Sergio Kulikovsky. Both experienced entrepreneurs in Brazil, they understood firsthand the challenges of financing early stage ventures in Brazil and were eager to establish an organization focused on finding, investing in and supporting great entrepreneurs.
3.Do you believe there is a disadvantage as a woman to carry out your daily work?
I believe that our organization could definitely benefit from involving more women and increasing their engagement in our group. Early stage investing requires a lot of skill and expertise, so it is absolutely critical to build strong teams that bring together not only capable professionals but also diverse perspectives.
4.Which is your strategy to make HBS Alumni Angels of Brazil self sustaining?
There are no rules to follow in managing an angel network; every day brings different challenges, and every challenge can be approached in different ways. In such a highly dynamic environment, perhaps the most important “success factor” is being able to work with a diverse range of professionals and engage them in a meaningful way. Women by nature are team builders and therefore very well suited to thrive and excel in this way.
5. Have you ever felt that there were some extra difficulties as a woman?
I have been fortunate to work with a fantastic group of professionals, each of whom is fully committed to supporting the group in any way he/she can and making the group a success. Overall the “environment” is extremely positive, and I have never experienced any sort of discrimination as a woman. On the contrary, I feel that people support me just as much as I support them.
However, having said that, one disadvantage that I face is a “scarcity” of female mentors/role models. As a working mom with two young sons at home, I frequently struggle with how to manage my schedule and strike a balance between performing at work and spending time with my sons. It is always refreshing to speak with other women in a similar situation, but there are few cases like this in the group and sometimes it can feel overwhelming to face this challenge alone.
6. Which are the main achievements of HBS Alumni Angels of Brazil self sustaining?
Our group has accomplished a lot in its first three years. I am happy to provide more detail, but just to highlight our main achievements:
- Attracted and mobilized almost 100 members from a diverse range of backgrounds
- Received and evaluated over 300 business plans
- Invested in 4 high-potential companies, coordinating over R$4M in financing for them
- Provided mentoring services to over 50 entrepreneurs, especially focused on readiness for angel investments
- Organized our first conference, attended by over 200 people, helping to build awareness around angel investing and broaden its appeal in the market
- Developed a solid structure and robust processes to manage our day-to-day operations, define long-term strategy and set a solid foundation for growt
7. Which is the criteria that you use to select companies?
We are focused on investing in high-growth early-stage opportunities, being led by promising entrepreneurs. We typically invest between R$300-800K per deal (but we often facilitate greater investments by working with co-investors), and we only consider companies that already have revenue, no matter how small.
Our key screening criteria includes:
- Clear value proposition
- High scaleability potential
- Clear path to monetization
- Fantastic team
- Sustainable competitive advantage
- Long-term vision
8.What is your vision of a woman as an angel investor?
I strongly believe that it is important for angel investor networks to be as inclusive as possible, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds with diverse experiences and opinions. An important aspect of this is encouraging more women to get involved in angel investing and join angel networks. Not only have women been under-represented in networks historically; they increasingly play an important role in the global economy and have important perspective to contribute. More and more, women are increasing their influence in the global economy. They are entering the work force in record numbers, as well as handling more of the household finances. They are also starting their own businesses and becoming entrepreneurs, becoming an important force in the entrepreneurial eco-system. This trend will only continue, and this means that there is a tremendous opportunity now for angel networks to differentiate themselves by embracing and promoting diversity, both within their investor bases and inside their investment portfolios.