Here's a statistic that Angela Lee would like people to know: In 2012, only 13 percent of angel investors were women.
Lee, an assistant dean at Columbia Business School, had been involved in angel investing for about five years when she decided to do something about that. So, that same year, she launched 37Angels, a company designed to help women get more involved in funding startups and other entrepreneurs.
"I was interested in investing alongside women, but I wanted to invest in both female- and male-led companies," said Lee. “What we’re doing is building a network and providing education for women who want to get more involved.”
Her goal? To close the gap so women account for 50 percent of angel investors. By bringing more women into the field, Lee's hope is that more of the money flowing to startups will go to female entrepreneurs.
Lee started 37Angels by herself, which meant she had to do everything from build the website to create the marketing strategy to make photocopies and order the food for events.
“It was a pretty typical startup beginning," Lee said. “But, it was fun. When you’re physically building the company from the ground up, it can be really exciting.”
Four months later, she hired her first employee — an investment associate who could help Lee research between 2,000 to 2,500 companies to see which might turn out to be high-potential investment opportunities. Today, 37Angels has 10 employees and dozens of mentors in a network that’s diverse both in terms of geography and industries represented.
To help women jump into angel investing, 37Angels offers a small-group, intensive bootcamp that offers training in how to select and value early-stage startups. And, the company holds pitch forums five times a year to connect these investors with fledgling entrepreneurs who show promise.
Going forward, Lee hopes to expand 37Angels from a company focused on business-to-business transactions into one that also has a business-to-consumer component. To that end, she’s working with large firms to develop a program that will help them retain their senior female executives.
“There has been tremendous interest from corporations to train their female leaders,” Lee said, though exactly what that course would look like is still up in the air. “We hope to create a program that helps them do just that.”
As Lee points out, there are several ways to define success for her company. Today, roughly 18 percent of angel investors are women, though Lee is quick to share the credit for that increase with other organizations. But perhaps, more important than the numbers, is the sense of community that 37Angels has fostered.
“We're one of the brands you think of when you think of women investors,” she said. “People are talking about this issue now and doing something about it. We're part of a bigger movement.”