How six Women started Investing in Upstate NY Startups Launch NY Roundtable: VCs and Angel Investors swap stories about how they got involved with Early-stage asset class

Women investors are still fighting an uphill battle toward fair representation in startup investing and venture capital.

But the world is now full of opportunity for women who are interested in backing innovative, high-growth startups. It’s just a matter of connecting with the right network and clarifying your personal investment thesis.

Those were some of the topics covered during a virtual roundtable discussion titled “Woman Investing in New York,” hosted March 28 by Launch NY. The event was held in honor of Women’s History Month.

During the conversation, successful women investors described how they were introduced to startup investing and the lessons they learned from it.

That included Mary Grove, the managing partner at Bread and Butter Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm based in Minnesota that has invested in several New York startups. Grove previously spent 15 years at Google, where she worked on its IPO in 2004 and ultimately became the founding director of Google for Startups.

She said being involved with a big corporation showcased the need for system-level change, especially in a world where women represent 80% of the purchasing power in American households but only 11% of allocators at venture capital firms. Grove said more than half of Bread and Butter’s 71 portfolio companies have women founders and 60% have a founder who is a person of color.

Since change was needed, Grove said, she decided to be part of that movement.
“We know the tidal wave of change that happens when women fully participate in an innovation economy will be extraordinary,” Grove said.

Launch NY is a venture development organization that serves the 27 westernmost counties of New York state. The nonprofit houses a variety of programs that support early-stage entrepreneurs, including mentorship and InvestLocal financing programs. Out of Launch NY’s 94 portfolio companies, 40.7% are led by women, vastly outperforming national averages.

Launch NY is led by founder and CEO Marnie LaVigne, who decided to become an angel investor through her involvement in helping build Upstate New York’s startup community.

Launch NY has since created nonprofit and for-profit seed funds and its own angel investment syndicate, Investor Network, which has grown to more than 300 investors who receive access to pre-vetted deals among Upstate NY startups.

“As someone who was part of trying to build the new economy in Upstate New York, I said, ‘If I’m trying to convince investors to support these companies then I need to get in the game myself,” LaVigne said, noting her own experience co-founding venture-funded startups showed her the impact investors could make. “These dollars could turn amazing ideas into products that improve people’s lives.”

Many of the panelists noted that the first step to funding private companies is qualifying as an accredited investor, which is based on wealth or income thresholds or the financial sophistication of that individual. Being an accredited investor is often necessary to gain access to angel syndicates such as Launch NY’s Investor Network, but now with the rise of equity crowdfunding platforms, anyone can get involved and write small checks to startup companies.

While startup investing may seem exotic, it’s a sensible strategy to create high-upside assets within your broader investment portfolio, said Elisa Miller-Out, managing partner at Chloe Capital, an Ithaca-based venture capital firm that invests in women-led startups. Chloe Capital co-invested in several Launch NY portfolio companies.

Miller-Out ran her own successful technology firm for ten years and also serves in an advisory or mentorship capacity for innovation programs at NYSERDA, the National Science Foundation and Cornell University. She is also an angel investor.

Miller-Out encouraged women to think of the many options within startup investing. That energy can be turned toward different niches – whether they are regional, industry-specific or based on a subset of founders. That led to the Chloe Capital investment thesis of investing in women.

“We realized how incredible the opportunity was to serve diverse women leaders who were overlooked even though they were overprepared and overqualified,” she said.

Juliet Lawrence has known she wanted to be an investor since she was taking finance classes at Santa Monica Community College, launching a journey that led to an MBA from the University of Michigan and a successful career at Dow where she ultimately became its director of business finance.

Lawrence became an angel investor about a year ago. She took an online course in preparation of becoming an accredited investor and then sought out investment groups that she could join. Lawrence now invests through Gaingels, the Houston Angel Network and Launch NY’s Investor Network.

There is a lot to learn about this world, but the more experience Lawrence gets, the more confident she feels.

“There are many studies out there focusing on public markets that show women get better results than men, and I cannot help but believe that translates into the private markets as well,” Lawrence said. “If you don’t leave with anything else, if you are new to this and trying to figure it out, just know that you are capable and believe in your own methodology and your own way of investing.”

Maggie Dorn is the Chief Network Officer at The Motley Fool, a financial services company that aims to help people around the world to achieve financial freedom through investing. She’s also a venture partner at Motley Fool Ventures and a Launch NY board member. Dorn said she was motivated to invest in the private markets when Motley Fool Ventures launched their first fund back in 2018.

Dorn said there are many more options for individuals to invest in the private markets now than ever before – private investment platforms like, plenty of thematic angel groups, and regionally focused groups like the Launch NY Investor Network. Each of those avenues provides individuals with opportunities to invest in high-growth businesses.

“Your values and your vision should align with the fund managers of the group, or if you’re investing directly in the companies, really understanding the business and the problem they’re trying to solve and having a conviction that this business can grow into something big,” Dorn said.

Holly Hubert has the unique distinction of being a former FBI Agent and a startup founder as the CEO of GlobalSecurityIQ, a cybersecurity firm based in Buffalo.  Given her successful career, Hubert was looking to give back to young business leaders through mentorship and possibly funding.  She explored several investment groups before connecting with Launch NY, which she found “forward-leaning” and gave her a sense of belonging.

Hubert is now an active member of Launch NY’s Investor Network.  She said she takes an FBI Agent’s perspective to due diligence, focusing not just on business fundamentals but also leadership and asking herself, “Can they get it done? Can they take feedback? Who are they working with?”

It’s a gratifying process, although people who jump in must beware of the risk.

“When you decide to invest in something, you have to consider ‘I might lose this money. Am I OK with losing some or all of it?” Hubert said. “This is a complement to the traditional index fund investing you’ve done all your life.  It’s a way to diversify your portfolio.  It’s risky but the returns, in several ways, can be very rewarding.”


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