WEL
Credit: Courtesy of Women’s Equity Lab

Members of Women’s Equity Lab

Victoria-based Women’s Equity Lab aims to bring more gender balance to the angel community

Amielle Lake wants to make one thing clear: her new angel investment group may be called Women’s Equity Lab (WEL), but it’s interested in companies run by men as well as women. “We often get referred female ventures,” says the co-founder of WEL, which launched its first cohort in Victoria this month. “I think often people assume that because we’re a women investment group that we are for women entrepreneurs only.”

Some might look at WEL and conclude that their odds of securing funding from a group of female investors aren’t as strong, adds Lake, a Vancouver businesswomen and an entrepreneur-in-residence at UBC. “I find that a bit ironic because that’s exactly what we’re up against as women entrepreneurs.”

Canada’s first all-female venture of its kind, WEL is a club that educates women about angel investing, Lake explains. She launched it with Victoria angel investor Stephanie Andrew, co-founder and co-executive director of the non-profit Capital Investment Network (CIN), who came up with the idea and heads the group; and Elizabeth Dutton, COO of DreamCraft Attractions, a Victoria-based creator of augmented and virtual reality experiences for the theme park business.

A spinoff of CIN, WEL seeks to change the fact that fewer than 20 per cent of Canadian angel investors are women—and boost gender diversity among shareholders. Lake’s own experience as an entrepreneur prompted her to get involved. She is founder of Vancouver-based Tagga Media, a customer data platform for marketers that global email marketing and automation software provider Campaign Monitor acquired last spring. Tagga made hundreds of pitches to angel investors—almost all of them men. When Lake exited the company, just two of the 57 people on its capitalization table were female.

Including the three founders, the inaugural WEL cohort consists of 18 women from a variety of backgrounds who have each put up at least $5,000 to create a $100,000 pool for investing in early-stage companies. (The maximum number of participants is 20.) For Andrew, the investors who joined them are the real leaders of change.

“The whole thing is a lot of fun,” Lake says of WEL, which kicked off in November with a lunch in Victoria. “The discussion was robust; the energy was high. People love it.” Next year WEL’s monthly meetings will include speakers from investor group Seattle Angel and B.C. investment firms Beehive Holdings and Vanedge Capital Partners.

The founders source companies through their network—most of the candidates they’re looking at are based in B.C.—but other members are also welcome to bring businesses to the table. After doing their due diligence over the next few months, the group will probably make just one investment, Lake says. To keep things simple, WEL is structured so that any company it allocates to will take on a single shareholder, not 18 or 20.

“The value prop to the investor is we’re going to walk you through your first angel deal,” Lake says. “The value prop for the company is here’s an opportunity for a $100,000 investment. But to me, the opportunity is you get to network and connect with 20 high-net-worth individuals.”

All-female angel groups already exist in countries such as the U.S.—where they tend to invest in women-led businesses—and Belgium. Canada lags because there still isn’t much capital available to startups here, Lake speculates. “We are so much smaller than the U.S., so maybe that’s the reason why this concept hasn’t come to the market yet.”

Andrew stresses that WEL isn’t out to undermine programs that only provide capital to businesses led by women. The group will help fund such enterprises while also addressing the structural gender inequality among Canadian growth companies by building in more female capital and shareholders, she notes.

Male angel investors strongly support WEL, Andrew says. When she pitched the club to the male board members at CIN, they backed it right away. “It was a tipping point for me to continue the process,” Andrew recalls.

Lake has seen the same thing. “I have investors here in Vancouver who are saying, ‘I told my wife about this, and she really wants to get involved,’” she says. “They’re also sending us companies. There’s no friction. Everyone is supporting the initiative.”

Demand is strong enough to expand WEL to Vancouver and beyond, Lake says: “Right now we’re so focused on the pilot, but the vision is to scale it across Canada.”

Disclosure: The author’s wife, Danielle Rockel, is a participant in Women’s Equity Lab.