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Interview: How much do you have to invest to become a business angel?

Martine Van Went – business angel and expert on investment from Femmes Business Angels

Martine Van Went is an active member of the Professional Women's Network in Paris and its former president. She is an expert working for Femmes Business Angels, an organization that is a member of the WA4E project consortium. She has extensive expertise on mentoring women to become business angels. She had previously founded her own company specializing on helping professionals develop their management and communication skills.

In her interview for our newsletter, among other things, she explains that women often worry they do not have enough funds to become business angels. But from her experience in France, most women invest between 5,000 to 10,000 Euros. 



The WA4E project has recently published an extensive survey on why women become women business angels. What do you make of the report?

I generally agree with the survey results. There have been no surprises, it confirms my pre-survey assessment on why women invest into start-ups. The unexpected result was the profiles who answered the survey. They were mostly retired women, with a lot of experience and not only in the industrial sector.

Are there any national specificities that you could identify that fit/diverge from the survey results?

I would say there are not many. France is the average regarding women business angels; also in the global context.  The study shows that women invest in all the economic sectors. In France, we can notice that BtoB companies are more likely to receive funds. Over the past year, French women business angels had a strong interest in healthcare as well.

Could you tell us more about your organisation?

Femmes Business Angel is a network that was created in 2003. The only French network bringing together more than a hundred women who invest personally in start-ups and support them to grow and succeed. The selection process is very precise; all done by FBA’s volunteers.

There are 140 members (with a headquarters in Lyon). The average age of women business angels is 50 years old; the youngest is 34 and the oldest is 84 years old. Every year there is an increase of 50 members joining (the turnover is about a third). FBA gives them a short training and then there are monthly meetings. Most women join for guidance and advice on how to find a good investment.

Would you like to share your experience as a woman business angel/entrepreneur? What is the most challenging and most rewarding?

I had an unusual path. I was a bank director for 15 years. 30 years ago I set up my own company, I had always wanted to be independent. Now, I only invest in start-ups where I can be part of the strategic committee. I am also part of the network PWI Paris.

I believe the main obstacle for women business angels is not to ask themselves why they should do it. One of the main difficulties is executing the due diligence before investing in start-ups. Finally, most women are hesitant to become business angels to their contrary belief that they lack the cash flow. Huge sums are not needed to become a woman business angel; in FBA, most women invest between 5,000 and 10,000 EUR. 

The type of start-ups receiving investment are very diverse, with start-ups by both men and women entrepreneurs. We find that a high-performing team is usually comprised by both men and women.

Are you planning any activities that will more specifically tackle the issues raised in the survey? How (if at all) will this survey help YOU improve your work? 

We are going to formalise the selection process. There are between 10 and 30% of women who are not women business angels and attend our meetings to gather information and learn about the possibility. As an association, we need these women to take the lead over the due diligence. The well-prepared have to teach the other ones how to challenge a project until the final decision: do I invest, yes or no? The study shows that one of the barriers is the lack of confidence in financial skills. In order to help them go into the due diligence and not be afraid of what they do not know, we are currently creating papers and informal documents which could be used as guidelines.

We are thinking of doing events to inform women about business angels across women networks in France: every year we participate in the Semaine des Business Angels (Business Angels’ Week) which is an entire week – between November and December – dedicated to the promotion of our activity, in order to recruit new women business angels. In 2017, we were in Lyon with our new deck and local Business Angels network. The first aim of that kind of event is to inform about what we do, especially the fact that you don’t need to be a billionaire VC to become a BA!  

Would you agree with the statement: the more woman business angels there is the more women entrepreneurs there will be?

I am not sure there is a correlation. There might be women entrepreneurs who absolutely want to be funded by women business angels, but it is not the majority.

Project is co-financed by the European Union