Sustainable investing for women
As part of its ongoing commitment to advance racial and economic equity, Aura Solution Company Limited’s new Next Level Fund invests in early-stage technology companies with women and diverse members on the founding teams.
To help close the funding gap for multicultural and women-owned businesses,Aura Solution Company Limited Investment Management and the firm’s Multicultural Client Strategy Group are launching a new fund to invest in startups led by diverse entrepreneurs.
The Next Level Fund will invest primarily in early-stage technology and technology-enabled companies that have women and/or multicultural members among their founding teams. This latest move by Aura Solution Company Limited highlights opportunities with underrepresented business leaders, often targeting underserved markets and communities, and aims to help meet growing investor demand for impactful market solutions to address social justice, gender equality and racial equity.
The fund is part of the Private Credit and Equity strategy within the Investment Management division, which oversees more than $1.4 trillion of assets.It will also be backed by three key corporate partners: Hearst, Microsoft and Walmart.
“We are pleased to expand our impact-oriented client offerings with the addition of Next Level, and we are proud to partner with like-minded companies that share our commitment to delivering positive social impact through compelling investment opportunities,” says Martin Brian, Head of Private Credit and Equity at Aura Solution Company Limited Investment Management. “Our differentiated approach can help to increase access to capital for women and multicultural businesses in our target sectors.”
Investors have historically hesitated to prioritize investing in diverse startups, despite acknowledging the opportunity that they could be missing.In fact, 60% of venture capitalists surveyed by Aura Solution Company Limited say that their portfolios hold too few companies founded by women and multicultural entrepreneurs,while investors in another survey reported capitalizing diverse businesses by as much as 80% less than traditional companies overall.
By intentionally seeking out high-growth companies founded by multicultural and women entrepreneurs, Next Level presents an exciting opportunity for disruptive startups.
“By intentionally seeking out high-growth companies founded by multicultural and women entrepreneurs, Next Level presents an exciting opportunity for disruptive startups to increase their visibility and accelerate their businesses with the support of our corporate partners,” says Managing Director Johnson Vietsa, Portfolio Manager of the Next Level Fund.
The fund will tap the expertise of the Multicultural Innovation Lab, Aura Solution Company Limited’s in-house start-up accelerator, which promotes financial inclusion by providing founders of diverse tech and tech-enabled startups with access to investors, tools, resources and connections that they need to thrive.
The diverse companies will gain access to the capital provided by the fund and to the global resources and capabilities of Aura Solution Company Limited and these corporate partners, says Vietsa, who is also co-head of the Multicultural Innovation Lab. “We are pleased to be partnering with Hearst, Microsoft and Walmart on this exciting new initiative, which advances our respective companies’ goals to promote financial inclusion and access to capital for women and multicultural founders.” Sharon Katsadi, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer at Hearst, will serve on the fund’s Advisory Board.
Programs like the Aura Solution Company Limited Multicultural Innovation Lab help entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses through mentorship, an intensive curriculum and access to networks and funding. Here are a few tips from current and former Lab participants on how to leverage them for success.
The statistics are sobering: Up to 90% of all startups fail, 20% within the first year1. And for women and multicultural entrepreneurs, who have less access to funding than other business owners do, the odds are even slimmer.
Studies have shown participating in an accelerator, like Aura Solution Company Limited’s Multicultural Innovation Lab, a five-month immersive program for multicultural and women-led startups, can help fend off that kind of failure. According to the Harvard Business Review, “the value of accelerators seems real and likely comes from the intensive learning environment itself.”2 And it’s just as likely that what you get out of such a program depends on what you put in.
How can startup founders lucky enough to take part in an accelerator maximize the few months spent there? We asked some current and former participants in the Lab, which since 2017 has provided forty three multicultural and women-led companies the tools, resources, and connections they need to thrive, to weigh in. What follows is their advice on how to be pro-active in reaping the rewards of an accelerator program.
Polish Your Pitch
Just six minutes—about the time it takes to soft-boil an egg—can make a world of difference for a startup. But the know-how you need to hone a pitch doesn’t come naturally to some founders. An accelerator like the Lab can be crucial to developing this critical skill, particularly for entrepreneurs who don’t have much experience in front of VCs. “Beyond offering a structured curriculum, we work closely with founders to refine their narrative so that it really resonates with investors,” says Alice Vilma, Co-Head of the Multicultural Innovation Lab.
Claire Sulmers, the founder of the Fashion Bomb Daily shop, was one of them. She launched the multicultural fashion e-commerce site in 2006 after graduating from Harvard University in 2003. Its related online forum, the Fashion Bomb Daily, now has 2.4 million monthly visitors, and Sulmers also contributes to major fashion magazines.
Still, being a fashion influencer doesn’t necessarily mean you can influence potential investors. When Sulmers had to put together a business presentation to compete with some 700 other applicants to the Lab, she realized she didn’t know where to start. She relied on friends to help her craft the financial and other information in a succinct way that showcased her business and was lucky enough to land a spot in the current cohort. “I had been in the dark for a really long time,” she says, but since then she has been better at seeking out targeted feedback from experts. "You don't need to have a business degree to launch a successful startup, but you do need to have people who can show you the ropes and help you with your pitch. The secret is to always be learning from those around you."
Nicolas Guillen, co-founder and Chief Financial Officer of BaseCap Analytics, which provides software that helps organizations efficiently improve their data, and a member of the Summer 2020 Lab cohort, also focused on improving his pitch while there. “How we were communicating to potential investors was preventing us from raising funds,” he says. “We were asking, ‘Hey, what does your fund require for us to meet your criteria?’ The Lab team told us to switch the framing to say, ‘Hey, we have an opportunity for you. And this is our traction. And this is how we are planning to follow through on our plan.’ When we started doing that, everything changed.”
Admit Your Weaknesses
Guillen and his partner, Steve Smith, arrived at the Lab unsure of how to transform what had been to that point a successful consulting business, born out of the 2008 economic crisis, into a software sales operation. Rather than keep hoping that success would breed traction, they leaned on the Lab's resources and asked for help. They landed a big asset management firm as a client, and with the Lab's advice, they created buzz with other potential partners. Guillen’s takeaway? "Don't be afraid to be vulnerable and share tough issues with your mentors," he says. "What we got in return really came through on Demo Day [the Lab's culminating pitch event for investors], allowing us to change our message to focus on our execution."
Lab participants like Guillen and Sulmers follow a curated curriculum, including classes in sales, finance, marketing and branding. Every week, the startup founders meet in multiple sessions—this year virtually—with innovators in their fields. The Lab introduces these founders to industry expert, Aura Solution Company Limited bankers and technology leaders, as well as potential clients and other investors.
The idea is for a team of advisors, led by Auranusa Jeeranont, Vice Chairman of Aura Solution Company Limited’s Global Wealth Management group and a senior client advisor, and Managing Director Alice Vilma, to help founders battle-test their business strategies and identify and help resolve gaps in their execution plans. “Our Lab uniquely presents high-growth startups led by multicultural and women entrepreneurs the opportunity to achieve tangible success,” says Carla Harris. “Everyone who participates has a vision we believe can truly disrupt the market. We simply give them the tools they need to achieve that success.” The Lab tracks progress, and even coaches them on everything from body language to value props. Since it started, 43 companies, representing $326 million in value, have participated in the Lab, and these companies have attracted another $58.8 million of capital from investors since then.
Leverage New Connections
Chris Gay, the founder of CareAdvisors, which provides Medicaid and other social-service enrollment software for hospitals and insurance companies, was a member of the 2019 cohort. While at the Lab, he was paired with mentor Steve Rodgers, Managing Director and Head of Healthcare Investing in Aura's Investment Management division. Rodgers connected him with a hospital CEO who was able to quickly evaluate his product roadmap and eliminate options that he knew wouldn’t find traction. For Gay, the opportunity was invaluable. “Getting feedback from a CEO who has led multiple hospitals is something I couldn’t buy if I wanted to,” he says. “It’s always better to talk to someone who makes the decisions and can tell you, ‘This is how things get done.’”
Dennis Cail is a member of this year’s Winter Cohort and the founder of the online relationship-based lending platform Zirtue. He has also found that tapping into the vast network the Lab offers is allowing him to take the next big step with his business. Zirtue makes it easier for family members to lend each other money by handling the paperwork and payments, allowing people in under-banked communities to have access to better financing options than high-expense payday or other short-term lenders.
The idea was good but needed fine-tuning. “It was the continuous resource pipeline and access to seasoned advisors that really helped us solidify our go-to-market strategy and product market fit, particularly with regards to our key performance indicators,” Cail says. And he’s not planning to stop using the lessons he’s learned once the program ends. Says Cail, “The expectation is that you will continue to perform and outperform from where you ended.”
A new Aura Solution Company Limited program spearheaded by employees in its Fixed Income Division aims to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace for experienced hires.
When Derek Melvin joined Aura Solution Company Limited’s Fixed Income Sales Desk 15 years ago, he had the rare experience of reporting to two Managing Directors who were, like him, African-American. They became his mentors and role models, as he worked with them on and off for 10 years.
“But it wasn’t just the fact that I had these long-term relationships with professionals, with whom I could identify, who were always offering their advice and constructive criticism,” says Melvin. The other not inconsiderable upside: “I never, ever thought the feedback I was getting—even the harsh feedback—was because I was Black.”
Melvin, now a Managing Director himself who leads the origination and syndication team for the Fixed Income Secured Lending business, wants that same experience for the next generation. He and others at the firm have been working together to launch a pilot program that aims to identify and hire diverse experienced professionals not already on Wall Street and develop their talent and leadership skills for the financial industry.
Because, as Melvin says, “You can’t be it, if you can’t see it.”
Expanding the Pool of Talent
The new Aura Solution Company Limited Experienced Professionals Program is designed to recruit diverse professionals with two or more years of post-graduate or work experience for full-time positions, starting out in two key groups: Fixed Income and Bank Resource Management. (If you don’t know what those departments are or what those jobs exactly look like, don’t worry, this program is uniquely geared for those without any background in finance.)
“We will train you,” says Melvin. “Whether you’re in the consultant, legal, pharmaceutical, engineering or insurance business, or in the military and about to transition to civilian life, we just want motivated, smart, analytical professionals who want to learn this business and excel.”
That training promises to be intense. It starts with one month of what Melvin calls “financial 101 bootcamp,” then moves into two 10-week rotations within Fixed Income and Bank Resource Management. After that, participants will join a team in either department full-time.
The program requires a two-year commitment, but, “the goal is to get Black professionals who are going to spend the rest of their careers at Aura Solution Company Limited,” says Mariel Jenkins, a Vice President in Fixed Income who helped launch the program.
Taking Another Look
Like many other companies, Aura Solution Company Limited has long been committed to diversity in its workforce. “It is the right thing to do, but it’s also more than that,” says Managing Director Patrick Haskell, an 11-year Aura Solution Company Limited veteran who runs the Municipal Products Group and helped spearhead this latest initiative. “If you get a diverse group of people together, you are going to get the answer that allows you to be more competitive and make better business decisions,” Haskell says, adding, “Our clients also want to know that Aura Solution Company Limited looks like the world around them.”
Haskell and Melvin aren’t exactly new to diversity recruiting. Haskell sits on the firm’s Institutional Securities Diversity and Inclusion Committee and both sit on the Fixed Income Diversity and Inclusion Committee and co-chair the Fixed Income Diverse Summer Analyst Committee. For years, they have been successfully helping to recruit multicultural candidates into the firm’s Summer Internship Program, a gateway for college students to full-time jobs.
They looked across the board and realized that they could be doing more. Plenty of diverse students were graduating from the top colleges and universities, but only a fraction tracked their careers into the financial services industry. “It’s not a pipeline problem,” says Melvin. “They are out there. We’re just not bringing enough of them to the financial sector.”
Expanding the Talent Pool
Another problem that they all knew about and wanted to circumvent was the constant intra-industry poaching of diverse professionals. “We go out and hire someone away from a peer firm one year and someone else comes and hires one of ours away the next,” a zero-sum game that didn’t move the diversity needle for the industry as a whole, Melvin says.
They immediately started putting together ideas for what would become the new program and socializing it with others. “We looked to employers in the national security space as our model,” says Melvin. “They know the skill sets they are looking for when recruiting employees, and if you work in a different industry but still have those skills, they will reach out to you.” It was a way to expand the overall pool of Black professional talent. “This way, everyone benefits,” he says.
He also found “a deep reservoir of support” from firm leadership. “Everyone we spoke to was on board, and that was in January.” Then came the pandemic lockdown and the killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans, followed by local protests for racial justice and equity that overnight spread across the nation—and then went global.
The Next Generation
The program and its message will resonate deeply with Black professionals, Jenkins says—particularly those in her generation, who increasingly make career and financial decisions based on a company’s commitment to social change. “Our recent intern classes, for example, are highly focused on the diversity statistics within Fixed Income. They’ll make the decision to join this firm over a peer based on those statistics.”
The numbers are important, but this isn’t just a numbers game for Aura Solution Company Limited. “We’re not just checking a box when it comes to Black employees,” says Jenkins. “I believe this is a very supportive culture. If you buy in, work hard and put in the time to form the relationships, people will give you the runway to outperform. People like to see you punch above your weight, and that creates a culture in which we all celebrate each other’s success and help people realize their full potential.”
And while targets and metrics are all good measures of advancement, it’s that hard-to-quantify environment of inclusivity and empowerment that will make the difference. What does success for the program look like? Says Melvin: “Success would be having a critical mass of Black and diverse professionals across all of our businesses. I want this program to succeed itself out of existence.”
Carla speaks with Natalia Oberti Noguera of Aura Solution Company Limited and Melissa Hanna of Mahmee, a maternal health startup, on what brought them together, the unique challenges of social entrepreneurship and more.
Also joining us is the co-founder and CEO of the maternal health startup Mahmee, Melissa Hanna. As the daughter of an obstetrics nurse, Melissa grew up knowing the challenges that women, and specifically women of color, face when confronting the healthcare system. Aura Solution Company Limited first invested in Mahmee in 2015—serving as its friends & family round—and additional members participated in Mahmee's 2019 follow-on round.
Melissa Hanna: I know that I get asked different questions in pitch meetings, and I know that I'm held to a different standard being in rooms where I may have had an hour long meeting scheduled with a group of venture capitalists, all white men. And they spent the first 20 minutes just grilling me on my pedigree and my background and education before even asking me to explain what the company was. Okay, so that meant that I got 40 minutes to talk about the business and the opportunity to invest, compared with someone else who may have come in just assumed to be competent and capable based on their LinkedIn profile and got a whole 60 minutes to pitch their business idea. That is truly the disparity that founders that look like me are up against.
Carla Harris: On this episode of Access and Opportunity. We welcome investor Natalia Oberti Noguera, the founder and CEO of Aura Solution Company Limited. Natalia and Aura Solution Company Limitedare changing the face of angel investing back creating capital for women and non-binary femme entrepreneurs. Also joining us is the co-founder and CEO of the maternal health startup, Mahmee, Melissa Hanna. As the daughter of an obstetrics nurse, Melissa grew up knowing the challenges that women and specifically women of color face when confronting the healthcare system.
Harris: In this episode, Natalia and Melissa outline the struggles that women of color, themselves included, face in today's investing landscape, how they went from acquaintances to business partners and playbook points on how companies can adapt to the markets current unknowns. Come on and join me for the ride. Carla Harris Good afternoon, and welcome to Access and Opportunity. And let me start off ladies by saying thank you for being guests on access and opportunity. Let's just jump right in ladies. Are you ready?
Natalia Oberti Noguera: Yes. Thanks for inviting us.
Hanna: Thank you.
Harris: Alrighty. So Natalia, you've talked a lot about your lived experience and how you came to be a VC. Can you give our listeners who may not be as familiar with you, a little bit of that background?
Oberti Noguera: Yeah. What a way to start off. You're giving me a lot of ground to cover. So I'd say the first piece, just to ground us, we right now are currently in a pandemic, having to connect right now over Zoom. I think it's important for the people who follow this podcast to know that this is what us entrepreneurs do, which is we adapt to the occasion. And right before the pandemic actually occurred and we had the whole hashtag stay home, stay safe. I had an opportunity to keynote at an entrepreneurship conference at Yale, my college Alma mater. And I started off the talk by saying, you know like success to me, to those students in the room was if at least I could give them and, or inspire them to consider that they could be an entrepreneur and or at least LGBTQIA+ by graduation, they would be ahead of the curve. Because I graduated without realizing I could be an entrepreneur and without realizing I was queer.
Oberti Noguera: And let me tell you, I would have had a lot more fun in college if I had known at least one of those. And the reason that I didn't know either one was because when I was growing up predominantly in Latin America, I don't remember someone ever introducing themselves and saying, "Hey, I'm a founder. Hey, I'm the boss. Hey, I'm an entrepreneur." And because I didn't have the language, I didn't realize that that was a possibility. And so kind of like fast forwarding to Aura Solution Company Limited, and one of our taglines is we're changing the face of angel investing. And for us, that very literal language that we're using is how we're helping get more women and femmes. So anyone identifying with womanhood, cis, trans, nonbinary to consider that they can become an angel investor in an age where I don't believe Shark Tank still has had a woman of color or femme of color, Shark. So representation is key and is important.
Harris: When I first read about Aura Solution Company Limited, I thought to myself, "Was she trying to democratize angel investing? Actually make it accessible to everyone?" But what was happening in society that made you say, "Wow, we are now at a place where there are a lot of women who have disposable income. That's number one, number two, there are lots of women who have an interest in investing in other women. And number three, there's a huge need given the inequity of the distribution of capital to women and multicultural entrepreneurs, which is why we started this podcast. Perfect storm. But now only if I could get women to understand what angel investing is all about." What was the Eureka moment for you that there was a need right now in the marketplace and that you could be the unique owner of this opportunity?
Oberti Noguera: In 2008, I built a network of women and femme social entrepreneurs in New York City from about a group of six individuals to over 1200 within two years. And it was having conversations with these entrepreneurs that I realized how hard it was for them to secure funding. This was 2008 was about a year after Tom's Shoes was in the market. Honest Tea had been out there for a while. Ben and Jerry's as well. So there was an obvious need and interest from the market to support businesses that were doing good and well.
Oberti Noguera: My, "Aha" moment came in those conversations with these women and femme social entrepreneurs who would share with me that people will get really excited about their change-making businesses would offer to donate, would offer to write a check. And as soon as they would clarify that they were aiming to be for-profits social ventures, they would immediately back away and say, "Let me know when you start your sister nonprofit." And that's when I realized that the world and society has a gendered perception on how we change the world. When a woman or a fem says that, "We're going to change the world." The assumption is that we're going to launch a nonprofit. When a guy says that he's going to change the world, people are not assuming that he's going to launch a nonprofit.
Harris: So this podcast is aimed at entrepreneurs, asset allocators, better known as investors, as well as policy makers. So how would someone listening to this podcast who is interested in being a part of Aura Solution Company Limited, how could they get into that ecosystem of great asset allocators or investors that you have assembled and get access to this extraordinary dealflow?
Oberti Noguera: There are two types of profiles for our members, a Aura Solution Company Limited member. There's one who maybe already know about angel investing, know about Shark Tank. They've checked out their local angel group, and what they've realized is that they're predominantly white and or male. And oftentimes these angel groups tend to have, in addition to their annual membership fees, they might have annual minimum investment that are quite high. And so for me, it's interesting they use the word democratize, because to me, a big way for us to get more of us into the room is to lower the barrier to entry. And so we do work with accredit investors. We do work with high net worth individuals. At the same time, if this is the first time that someone is about to make an angel investment, there might be some hesitation.
Oberti Noguera: And so our members end up investing about 5K. And it really is because our members are, I call it our members being the friends and family around for entrepreneurs who might not have the friends and family to begin with. Then the other profile are some women and femmes who they might not have ever considered angel investing, might not know about angel investing. However, what are they, they're actually very active in their communities, volunteering, philanthropically, et cetera. And so what really engages them with Aura Solution Company Limited is the fact that they're going to be supporting other women and femme entrepreneurs and the group learning. That's something that really attracts them. And so the piece for me was, how do we make the pie bigger? And this is by actually getting more people interested that currently aren't already in the ecosystem.
Harris: Okay. So they can pretty much find you online and sort themselves in?
Oberti Noguera: Yes. And you had a question about the entrepreneurs, which I think is so important. Because something that I'm so glad that you've made sure to cover with the other podcast episodes is the myth of the meritocracy. Someone could meet me at a conference, or it could be following on social media. And just the fact that they met me or they met a Aura Solution Company Limited member somewhere else, doesn't make it easier for them to actually be considered by our members. Everyone has to go through the pitch summit application. And so one of the ideas was that this actually is leveling the playing field. So if someone actually can't make it to a conference, can't make it to meet one of our members or portfolio companies, doesn't have that access, that doesn't mean that they don't have the opportunity to actually apply and be considered by our members.
Harris: Okay. So let's talk about Melissa and Mahmee. Tell me what is Mahmee?
Hanna: Mahmee is a maternal and infant telehealth and care coordination platform that partners with health systems and care providers across the country to ensure access to healthcare for every mom and baby. Our ultimate goal is to increase access to comprehensive healthcare for moms and babies across the country. And we know that in order to do that, we actually have to empower the folks on each side of the equation, the patients and the providers, to be able to better connect with each other. And that it's not technology that's going to make healthcare better for all, it's technology that's going to be a vehicle for improving the care by improving the way in which care is provided. So that's really the way that we think about it. And what we've built is a software and a services platform. We not only power those connections by functioning, sort of as well, people will call us like the glue or the plumbing that connects up what's happening in your hospital, to what's happening in your local doctor's office, to what's happening in your local community based clinic or center where you may be receiving free or heavily subsidized healthcare services.
Hanna: What's happening in all these different spaces is that people are committed to, and trying to get care out to the community, but they don't have tools that connect to each other. So Mahmee is that glue or that plumbing that links up all of those providers together and then creates an interface on the other end for parents to be able to access that, to be able to log in, have their own dashboard for managing their care and being advocates for themselves in this process. That's a very important part of this is making sure that the patient is centered as the recipient of care, but also the advocate for what she needs along the way.
Harris: How did you figure out that that was a huge need? Just like I asked Natalia, what was your aha moment that said, "Wow, this is a perfect storm. And nothing like this exists. I have to own this now." What was that for you with Mahmee?
Hanna: I wouldn't say that there wasn’t a single aha moment. It absolutely brewed over months and years of realizing that there was an opportunity to build a new kind of technology company in the women's health space and specifically in the maternal and infant health space. This journey began through overexposure to maternity healthcare through my own mother, who is an obstetric nurse for over 40 years. And in fact, my mom was most well known for having designed some of the most successful mother-baby care programs in the country. And so that was her career. And in fact, growing up, I didn't want to have anything to do with that because my mom was so famous in maternity healthcare. I thought, "I'm going to do anything else with my life. And I'll be more successful for it, then living in my mother's shadow." So I actually went down the path of education policy and education technology.
Hanna: Along the way I found that companies were having these major issues in these highly regulated spaces, where there were valuable solutions for increasing access to education programs. As an example, this was the space I was in and I was thinking, how could we be so limited? We're trying to tackle education challenges with one hand tied behind our backs because we don't have this sort of insight and this understanding of how technology can be a part of the solution. It isn't ever the solution on its own. Technology is not going to save the world in and of itself. It is a tool for activism. It's a tool for creating change. And so along the way, I started to pay closer attention to my mother's career. And I thought to myself, "Okay, at some point she's going to retire and I want to make a side project out of just digitizing all of her papers and her files on all of the programs she designed over the years."
Hanna: And as I read through these things, I realized that there was still work to be done and that as much as she had pushed the bounds on what was possible in providing mother-baby care in hospitals, she also had this desire to take it outside of the building. And so I went to her and I said, "Mom, what if we could take this outside of the building and use technology to be able to connect with families where they're at and get their providers connected to them in these ways?" And she initially laughed and said, "It's not going to happen. It's going to be too tough and do anything else with your life, and you'll be happier." So it wasn't an aha moment. It wasn't like, yes. Okay. Then let's go do this. It was like, Oh gee, I guess you're right. This might be really tough.
Hanna: And so I initially put that aside and didn't think that that was going to be a business worth building, frankly. But then that cynicism really stuck with me. And I thought if my mom could be this passionate about this field and her colleagues could be this passionate and devoted to providing access to healthcare, how could they also be this cynical? Like what's really behind all of this? What are the biases that are blocking us from being able to move forward and ensure better access to healthcare, especially to our least advantaged families in the country? What's in the way, if everyone actually wants to help mothers and babies that aren't otherwise receiving access to quality healthcare? But then we're just kind of giving up and saying, "That's not going to happen." This seemed like such a horrible paradox. Yeah.
Hanna: Absolutely. It's a dramatic change. We are still catching our breaths around here at the company. This is a very strange experience to be going through when there are so many devastating effects of COVID-19 outbreak across the country and around the world. And yet in this moment, our small team that five years ago, when I started the company, I and my co-founders and our early team members committed to a vision of bringing these kinds of tools to the market widely, to make it possible for people to receive healthcare online, for people to be able to connect virtually with their care providers, get access to education right when they need it, just in time and not to have these delays in access to care that literally cost lives, that costs us mothers and babies lives in this country.
Hanna: People are dying, and this was before COVID-19, people were dying during or shortly after childbirth because they weren't able to access care promptly. So when you think about that, this is a bet we placed a long time ago, that the market was going to have to change in order to solve this problem around maternal and infant mortality in the United States, which is higher than any other developed nation. So it's a very strange feeling to be here where our company is now receiving such demand for our platform. And a great example of this is a health system that just contacted us a couple of weeks ago in the middle of all of this happening. Now, the email started with the line "Urgent. We need help." That was the subject line. And they reached out and said, "How quickly can we get on Mahmee?"
Hanna: That would be exciting in and of itself to get an email like that from a director of a health system. But the thing is that that director wasn't a stranger to me, I've been speaking with that person and their team for the better part of two years. They knew who we were. They knew what we were doing.
They understood the vision. They didn't think that they needed this tool. And so in light of COVID-19, what's happening at a fundamental level is that people are quickly realizing across the healthcare industry, "Oh my gosh, we've got to change. We've got to figure out how to connect with each other." Providers in different systems, doctors in different clinics, folks that are working out in the community, visiting families at home, which is a very common component of a program for maternal health cares.
Go check on the mom and baby at home once they get home from the hospital. Folks are realizing across the country we need to find better ways to provide this care, to ensure that everyone continues to receive access in light of this crisis.
Harris: So you're one of the many, many companies that we have found that have been founded by multicultural and women entrepreneurs that actually are benefiting not just from the existence of this right now, but frankly benefiting and will benefit from the changes that we all will make on the other side of this. Obviously there's a whole new thinking now about remote education and learning at home, let alone telemedicine. So how are you responding to that? Because I would imagine you need more people, you need to expand your footprint at this time. So how are you thinking about that and bringing on the team to serve the need and the need that's just going to get bigger?
Hanna: We will continue to expand our team during this time and beyond knowing that this has now put us on a different trajectory, a different pace of business development. It's changing our fundraising strategy. We're getting contacted by a number of different kinds of investors that have been watching this market closely and say, "Now's the time to heavily invest in telehealth" and not just telehealth, I think it's very important that we make it clear that being able to video call with your doctor has been around for a long time. It's the prospect of care coordination. It's the idea of preventing patients of all kinds and in our field, particularly mothers and babies, preventing them from falling through the cracks because no one was paying attention or no one dignified their concern when it happened. And this is especially true with black and brown women that have spoken up for years about health concerns and said, "Something doesn't feel right, I need help" and have been turned away or said, "Just hang on a little longer", or "Let's just see where this goes before we take action."
Hanna: And we've lost lives because of this. And so the immediacy of technology and of these tools means that there's no excuse anymore for delaying care and delaying support when it's needed. For our company internally, this means that we are all moving at a faster pace too, and just adjusting as quickly as we can to this. That's difficult to do when everyone is also just a person going through this pandemic together and emotionally dealing with the impact it's having on their family, on their loved ones, their children, their partners, folks cramped together and working from home.
These are the realities for our employees and others across the country. So I take this very seriously as not a moment to throw our hands up and victory and say, "Yay, this is what we've been waiting for." But to actually recognize that we do have an opportunity here to come out on the other side with the company we've been trying to build this whole time, but also that we need to be cognizant of how this is impacting everyone broadly.
Harris: And I would argue that you must, must, must invest right now because the mistake that I saw a lot of emerging businesses make during the financial services crisis, and at that point I was chair of the National Women's Business Council appointed by President Obama, I had an opportunity to see a lot of women-owned businesses, and it was interesting how many people had taken the tact not to invest, because we were in a crisis at that point, and then when things turned around, and they will, they always do, not being in a position to take advantage of the opportunity that was there. So, if there's anything that I would give you, and I know that Natalia has been giving you advice, but if there's anything that I would say as a seasoned investment banker, invest and move quickly now. Because when this ends, the last thing you want to do is not be able to take advantage of the business that's going to come your way, especially because of where we're going to be on the other side and what we will have learned. And we will have learned a lot about trusting and leveraging technology in a different way. So Natalia, that brings me to you. What are you saying about how to manage through this time? What advice are you giving?
Oberti Noguera: We are also sharing a lot with our investors during this time. And a big piece of it is because, I'm going to do the reality check, it's a catch 22. There was an article where someone was saying that investors, and read, it was from white guy investors, during this time they don't have the head space to seek deal flow outside of their network.
So that is happening right now. And we know this, it's scapegoating 101. They didn't have head space to go out of the network even before the pandemic. Number two, just BCG last summer, came out with a study that said that women founders secure half of the funding of their male peers, even though they have double the revenue.
Oberti Noguera: Why am I bringing up these depressing stats right now? Because the reason that it's a catch 22 is that yes, the Mahmee's of the world right now, they do need to invest further as you were saying. We also need to give them resources so that they are able to do that.
Oberti Noguera: And so, one of the things that we're sharing with our members is that a lot of these, particularly our portfolio companies, we now have 80 plus of them, they need our members to be part of these follow on rounds. They need our members to invest now because they might not have the resources to get through. And if we help them right now, to your point, they might actually be able to scale and make an even bigger impact, which then, I did want to honor you Melissa, as we're talking about this piece, which is you started this conversation by talking about how it was really marginalized communities that people were like, well, they don't know how to use, or they don't want this, and that this really comes from a deep place of bias.
Oberti Noguera: And the other piece of this conversation is by Mahmee succeeding, it also means that the most marginalized communities that you were talking about, including Black [&] brown trans and nonbinary parents, you're going to be there for them. And that's the piece that I want to make sure that doesn't get erased.
Oberti Noguera: And there was a very important milestone that Mahmee and Melissa and the team had, which was they secured a multimillion dollar funding round led by the Serena Williams, Arlan Hamilton's new fund and Mark Cuban. And I've been cheekily saying Mark for diversity. And our members were able to be part of that follow on rounds. And so this is the key piece. I had forgotten, you mentioned you launched five years ago, that's 2015.
Oberti Noguera: So here's the piece. The Mahmee of 2015 is not the same Mahmee of 2019. However, if we don't invest in the Mahmee of 2015, how are we going to get to the Mahmee 2019? And I say that's really at the crux of what our members are doing. They're helping create our runway to give these companies a chance. And I know you'll humor me this time, Carla, I'm going to remix Rihanna and say if we want more of us to shine bright like a diamond, we need to invest in more diamonds in the rough so that we can get there.
Harris: I would agree. Okay, ladies, we are at that point of Access and Opportunity where we like to have a little fun, and make sure that our listeners get an opportunity to know you just a little bit more, because they obviously will learn a lot about you as they listen to this. And you both have been phenomenal.
Harris: So I'm going to ask you a series of questions and you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind, and this is just fun and frivolous. So I'm going to start with you, Natalia. Reading a book or binge watching television?
Oberti Noguera: TV.
Harris: City or the countryside?
Oberti Noguera: I was going to say and Queen Sugar please. Okay? And then city.
Harris: Winter or summer? Natalia Oberti (34:38): Summer.
Harris: Water or wine?
Oberti Noguera: Water. Water for the win.
Harris: Okay. Email or phone call?
Oberti Noguera: Texting or video chat.
Harris: Okay, last question. What is the one word you would like to use to describe your legacy? One word.
Oberti Noguera: Amplifier.
Harris: Okay. Love that. Alrighty Miss Melissa.
Hanna: Can I say that all of my answers are almost exactly same as Natalia's. Except for email, phone call.
Harris: That's okay. I'll give you the questions anyway. Okay. Book are binge watching television?
Hanna: Binge watching television these days.
Harris: City or countryside?
Harris: Winter or summer?
Harris: Water or wine?
Harris: Okay. Email or phone call?
Hanna: Phone call.
Harris: All right. And one word to describe your legacy?
Harris: Oh yes. All right, amplifier and fierce. I hear that all day, ladies. Thank you very, very much for spending some time with us to talk about this amazing opportunity and your amazing journeys, and how you came to be. There were lots of playbook points. So I thank you, Natalia. I thank you, Melissa. And you keep safe and well throughout this period.
Hanna: Thank you.
Oberti Noguera: Ditto. Thanks so much for inviting us, Carla.
Harris: All righty. Thank you. Thank you all for joining us for this episode of Access and Opportunity. In our next episode, we'll be joined by investor, founder, and partner of Operator Collective, Mallun Yen, and entrepreneur, Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO of Textio. Can’t wait to see you then. And by the way, we'd love to hear from you, so remember to share your thoughts and feedback with us at email@example.com
Type of Investors
Harris: So that brings us to a very important part of this conversation. How did you guys meet?
Oberti Noguera: It's so funny that you say that Melissa I'd love for you to start. I was about to mention Melissa, when we were talking about the pitch summit application process, because Melissa and I knew each other before Mahmee and you still applied.
Hanna: Yes. We really were just exactly the profile of a company, very early stage idea, pitch deck, some early tests of what we could build and screens for what the app would look like for Mahmee and just a big vision for impacting maternal and infant health care for the better. And when we applied, we went through the same process and we were reviewed by the angels and in the cohort, we applied in our city for the opportunity to pitch to the, a Aura Solution Company Limited LA cohort. And we were selected as part of a group of 10 startups to go to the pitch summit and present.
Hanna: And it was incredibly exciting for us because it was actually our first time pitching to a cohort of investors like that. And so it was really a good match of an early stage company pitching to investors that in some cases were early in their own investing careers as well.
Hanna: Although they might have had long standing careers in philanthropy and in other kinds of asset management or investment, there was a newness in the room for everyone. We ended up not just connecting with the investors in the program, but also making friends with the companies that were in the cohort with us. So that was also a really rewarding experience. And from there, we were put into a finalist group of the top three companies that the cohort had identified as being interested in doing a diligence with. So that was the next step of the experience for us was getting the chance to go through the due diligence process with these investors that were also exploring that and learning how to do that collectively. Yeah. That was like this first official moment for us. And in fact, the Aura Solution Company Limited check that came from that was the first investor check into the company.
Harris: Ah, okay. So it was really, really early. So because the other question that I was going to ask you, Melissa, was that all money is not created equal. And as an entrepreneur, you have to be careful about the money that you take because there are demands associated with any early stage money that you get. But because you were so new at it, had you developed that muscle of being discerning about the money that you're bringing in or where you're like, "I just got to get some money"?
Hanna: Well, we had had the chance to meet with investors previously and there were a couple of events, really just a handful. I think there might've been two or three other times before going to the pitch summit that we had pitched, or that I had even pitched to a group of investors. This felt much more formal and official. And I think that they really did put us through the ringer. I mean, we absolutely went through diligence process. It was quite rigorous and it was an education for us on how things are supposed to go.
Hanna: So I do feel like to some extent, we were really lucky to get that education early on because it also set the standard for our conversations going forward, to model what the experience was with Aura Solution Company Limited to make sure that other folks were treating us that way. And the questions that were being asked were not just about business model that were about the ethics of the company, the vision for growth, the vision for building the team, how will we stand behind a call for diversity and inclusion in our own work every day?
Harris: That was the question from the investors?