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Natalia Oberti Noguera on launching the Pipeline Fund Fellowship

   /   Apr 6th, 2011Interviews, New York City

Natalia Oberti Noguera is on a mission to increase funding to for-profit social ventures by empowering more women to become investors and approach giving in a different way.

Last year, Oberti Noguera founded Pipeline Fund, a social venture focused specifically on investing in women-led for-profit social enterprises. Through the Pipeline Fund Fellowship, which just kicked off with the announcement of its inaugural class of 10 female would-be investors, Oberti Noguera hopes to change the dynamic of a traditionally male-dominated investing field and provide women with the training and opportunity to use their capital for social impact.

How did the idea for Pipeline Fund come about?
In January 2008, I launched the New York chapter of Young Women Social Entrepreneurs with six women, a network of women who are connected to social entrepreneurship or are interested in sustainability, and I have since grown it to 1,200 women in New York City. While running that network, I started to learn a lot about the social entrepreneurship sector and see what the needs were for women in that space. One of the things I noticed was there wasn’t a lot of funding available to women-led for-profit social ventures. And the more time I was spending with women social entrepreneurs, the more I was realizing that the investment community doesn’t have that much gender diversity.

I launched Pipeline Fund in the summer of 2010 with the goal of activating additional capital for women social entrepreneurs, and to diversify the investor pool. There are two main groups in that pool: traditional investors hear the word social responsibility and don’t want to be involved with anything that would jeopardize their ROI. At the other extreme, you have traditional philanthropists who hear the word for-profit and they have negative reactions, because they see themselves as doing charity. I saw a sweet spot for engaging women to have a positive impact in this space by training them to become angel investors.

You started the Pipeline Fund Fellowship, which begins with the first cohort this month, to provide women with the training needed to become investors. How is the fellowship structured?
We chose 10 women (from a pool of 50 applicants) to be part of the first group of fellows, and we will kick off the six- month program at a conference in New York at the end of April. As part of their participation in the fellowship, we asked each woman to contribute $5,000 in order to have a collective $50,000, which will be used by the women at the end of the fellowship to invest in a for-profit female-led venture of their choice.

The fellowship has three main components. The first is education. We are collaborating with the Angel Capital Education Foundation and licensing their materials for our training. We are also inviting experts in the field to serve as guest speakers each month, and at the inaugural conference this month, the fellows will participate in investing workshops. The second component of the fellowship is mentoring. We are matching each fellow with an experienced angel investor to serve as role models and guides for our fellows. We have both female and male angel investors (see the list of mentors who have signed on to participate here). And third is the applied component of the fellowship, which is the commitment to invest $5,000 individually. The fellows will run a pitch summit in June where they will get to evaluate different women-led social ventures.

Can you talk about how this final collective investment of $50,000 will be allocated?
One of the first workshops in the fellowship will focus on portfolio strategy and the fellows will be learning what it means to build a portfolio. They will evaluate different criteria for their own portfolios that will also inform the future components of the training. We want to make sure that the fellows as a group own that applied part of the process and decide what parameters that are going to integrate for the investment. They could decide to focus on for-profit social ventures that are in the online or clean tech space, but whatever it is, they have to decide as a group what issues matter the most and what additional filters they want to include for their first investment.

Besides gaining the experience needed to make an investment, what do you hope the women take away from this fellowship?
The focus is to train women who have a tendency toward philanthropy to have a different relationship regarding money and business models. We’re seeing that women who have some amount of disposable income generally have a preference for philanthropy. They usually have more experience with the non-profit models of social ventures and we’re excited to provide them with a different experience where they can learn about hybrid models and for-profit models that are coming out of the social entrepreneurship sector.

With this fellowship, we really want to go beyond the philanthropic mentality — we don’t just want the women to give money, we want them to invest. The dynamic that we’re training them on will be about owning the potential loss and gain of that investment. During the pitch summit the women will also be able to interact with women social entrepreneurs and hear about their business models, which will give them the opportunity to really engage as investors. We also want women to walk away with the ability to see themselves as investors. Right now, there are not that many examples or role models for females in this space and it’s hard for many women to perceive themselves as investors. By creating this training, we’re providing that safe space and that opportunity to see it.

What is your experience and background with investing?
My experience comes more from community building and matching resources. I’m in the process of finishing a Masters in Organizational Psychology at Columbia’s Teachers College. I’m excited about facilitating relationships between the new generation of investors and established investors, and to connecting a new pool of resources from these fellows to some of the great ideas that are out there in the market created by women social entrepreneurs.

How do you see the Pipeline Fund Fellowship evolving in the years to come?
We want to get through the pilot first and learn as much as we can from the experience so we can apply it for future programs. We’d also like to offer the fellowship in Los Angeles and San Francisco next year.

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