Quietly growing the chorus of female angels

Nina Le Lievre is the new CEO of Enterprise Angels.

Popular culture paints angels as female, the Bible as blokes.

Either or, Nina Le Lievre, the new archangel or CEO of Enterprise Angels, the group that connects start-up businesses needing funding with investors, quietly wants to see more women in the, ironically, not-for-profit organisation.

“Finance is an industry where women are under-represented,” says Nina, herself a trailblazer.

The former investment banker is the country’s first female Angel network CEO, although there’s good female representation on the Angels board. “But there’s only about 20 females amongst our 200 members. And there are plenty of smart business women out there. Perhaps they haven’t heard of us.”

Nina wants more female entrepreneurs as well. “There are a lot of studies that show investors only invest in something that typically looks like them. So there’s a lot of stuff around the world that I read about venture capital and the small amount of money that goes to female entrepreneurs.”

If you thumb through the Enterprise Angels portfolio there are a few women start-ups. “The one’s we have are amazing.” Nina would again, quietly of course, like to achieve greater investment in female enterprise.

Nina Le Lievre arrived at the Angels after an abrupt career shift. She studied languages, then spent ten years with the leading London investment bank, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, before coming home and weaving motherhood into a stint at Craigs Investments Partners.

Neil Craig was chair of Enterprise Angels at the time, introduced her to Angels founder Bill Murphy, and it’s been all start-ups and investment dollars since. She worked alongside Bill for six years before slipping into the hot seat.

Nina is talking with the Weekend Sun in the vault at The Vault in Spring Street – it’s the reborn but easily recognizable strongroom of an old bank. It is now very appropriate workspace for the Enterprise Angels.

And Nina’s musing about start-ups.

“Mmm - a risky space investing in start-ups,” says Nina. That’s because the data tells us of ten investments, probably just two will give most return. “A few will give back your money plus a little bit, then you'll have a few that would fail totally.”

However the Enterprise Angels portfolio is seeing fewer total failures and a lot more ventures that are getting two or three times the return. But it’s not an exact science and just sometimes they have to be philosophical.

“We do see some failures - a couple that were manufacturing. With manufacturing you only need a couple of things to go wrong. And a couple of things did go wrong. That’s always hard.”

That’s when Angels need to expect failure and be prepared.

If celestial angels are agents of God protecting and guiding human beings, then earthly angels are so named because they are either former entrepreneurs or experienced business minds who have grown a business, worked in large corporates, made some money and want to give back both in terms of investing and experience.

“The entrepreneurs have an idea or business they really want to grow, and the type of deals that are angels look for are globally scalable essentially and you know, it takes money and it takes expertise to do those two things.” Nina and her chorus of Angels facilitate them. “We bring them together.”

Last year Investment Angels invested probably six or seven million dollars. To date they have invested about 40 million in 80 start-ups.

“Enormously satisfying, definitely,” says Nina Le Lievre. “The entrepreneurs we work with really inspiring. It takes certain qualities. You know, the drive and adaptability to seize opportunities and take risks. But it's lovely.”