(A. Lauren Abele, COO of Pipeline Fellowship, and on the right is Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline.)
Although women constitute a slight majority of the population, they are vastly underrepresented in the business world. The Pipeline Fellowship intends to change all of that.
With Natalia Oberti Noguera at the helm, the Pipeline Fellowship is expanding the business model and changing its dynamic. The hands-on organization focuses on for-profit business ventures with social impact led by women who pitch their startup ideas to a panel of female investors trained by mentors and business experts.
As clearly stated on its homepage, the organization’s mission is to train “women philanthropists to become angel investors through education, mentoring and practice. Fellows commit to invest in a woman-led, for-profit social venture in exchange for equity and a board seat at the end of the training. The Pipeline Fellowship aims to diversify the investor pool and connect women social entrepreneurs with investors who get them.”
Based in New York City, the Pipeline Fellowship has recently expanded into Boston, announcing its 10 fellows in November 2011. The group consists of professional women with varying backgrounds, ranging from education and journalism to law and real estate development. Likely to donate to nonprofit organizations, the fellows have the opportunity through the organization to maintain a focus on social change while investing in for-profit companies, primarily led by women.
“Women-led doesn’t mean women only,” Natalia, founder and CEO of the Pipeline Fellowship, says with a smile. “But I am a big fan of women only.” The 10 fellows each invest $5,000, which is combined and invested in one woman-based for-profit business with a social conscience. The winner is chosen among several applicants and is awarded $50,000 to use for developing her startup. During the six-month process, the fellows are guided by mentors — comprised of successful entrepreneurs and angel investors, both men and women — and taught the basics of choosing and investing in women-based businesses with potential.
Siiri Morley, founding partner of Prosperity Candle, which creates at-home candle-making business opportunities for women in war torn and post-disaster countries, says that her company is “creating tchotchkes with a cause.” Morley opened her pitch with a quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Investing in women isn’t only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.”
But providing a platform for women entrepreneurs fulfills only one part of the Pipeline Fellowship’s objective. Natalia primarily focuses on the investing side of business with her organization. Noting that there is no dearth of hybrid entrepreneurs, she underscores the need for more hybrid investors. Claiming that only 12 percent of venture capitalists are women, and a mere 5 percent are racial minorities, Natalia says, “we need to increase diversity in the angel investor sector,” which is what the Pipeline Fellowship is attempting to achieve with its program.
Her intent is to combine the business models — merging of the public and private sectors — and make women-based hybrids a more common alternative. Having heard how difficult the for-profit model is, she notes the binary nature of the traditional business world. “The options are either nonprofit or for-profit,” Natalia says. “But it can be both!”
Without seeking donations or grants, the Pipeline Fellowship aims to create and expand upon a self-sustaining system with a social mission. “We’re combining the business savvy of the corporate world with the heart of the nonprofit world,” says Natalia. “The world really needs more hybrids.”
Deeming herself a hybrid, as well, Natalia explains that she “is very comfortable with ambiguities.” Half-Italian and half-Colombian, the Yale graduate grew up speaking English, Spanish and Italian and later studied French and Russian in school. Her father worked for the United Nations, and the family moved around frequently, which helped Natalia develop her adaptability. With an international, multi-lingual upbringing, she transcends categorization with ease.
Natalia’s parting word of advice: learn a second language, if you haven’t done so already. “It really expands one’s mindset,” she says. “Knowing that there is more than one word for ‘glass’ is very powerful.”
(This article originally appeared in the spring 2012 issue of Exhale magazine.)