Female start-up founders gained only 2.2% of the funding invested by venture capitalists last year, according to TechCrunch. Although more women and femmes are creating new businesses every day, we are still left out of funding opportunities. In her plan to change this trend, Natalia Oberti Noguera launched Pipeline Angels in 2010, focusing on training women and femme investors to invest in women and femme entrepreneurs.
Among those investors are women and femmes like Erika Lewis. Erika is currently the Vice President of Culture & Marketing at Live Nation, and she is the co-founder of E.Z. Mo Breezy – the well-known company that created GRITS & BISCUITS, an 18 city-wide party celebrating southern culture and hip hop music. Prior to Live Nation and becoming an entrepreneur, Erika worked for some of the most influential companies and brands, and now she prides on herself on being able to give back to new entrepreneurs through her guidance, time, and financial support.
Recently, Her Agenda connected with Erika Lewis, a Pipeline Angels member, and she dropped several gems on what angel investors look for in startups, what she looks for in the founder’s pitch deck, and more.
Her Agenda: Let’s start at the beginning – tell me more about yourself and your career journey.
Erika Lewis: I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and went to North Carolina A&T State University for undergrad and majored in Communications. After college, I did some production work and worked in the music industry for some independent labels in Atlanta.
Later I moved to New York and worked at ASCAP doing marketing there. After [some time] I went back to school and got my MBA at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
Upon graduation I was very focused on getting a job in advertising, but still focused just as much on marketing. I came to New York and worked for Omincom through an MBA residency program that allowed me to rotate to different agencies and learn new skills. While I was in that program I ended up taking a full-time job as a planner with BBDO which is a global ad agency. I was at BBDO for 3 years and decided to join a team called Scratch, a strategic marketing consultancy, based at Viacom. I stayed at Viacom for five years and transitioned to Live Nation in the media and sponsorship groups department.
During this time around 2010, my friends and I decided to launch a southern hip hop party called GRITS & BISCUITS. GRITS & BISCUITS originally started off as an one off event, but it grew organically, and now it’s a cross country event that takes place in 18 different cities.
Her Agenda: What have you learned about yourself throughout your years of business?
Erika Lewis: I’ve learned a lot about the importance of confidence and over time I’ve found greater confidence in myself through my skill set. For many years, especially when I was younger, there were many things that I took for granted and assumed that anyone could do. The things that I received accolades for, I downplayed. Humility is important, but it’s also important to recognize your gifts as just that and not take them for granted. You should understand that not everyone can do things the way you do them, and you should always have a certain level of confidence in what you bring to the table.
For many years, especially when I was younger, there were many things that I took for granted and assumed that anyone could do. The things that I received accolades for, I downplayed.
Her Agenda: How do you stay motivated?
Erika Lewis: I am motivated by my ideas and seeing them come to life. I am motivated by the impact that I have on others, especially when I’m working on a team and we are all working on a common goal, because I know my work will benefit a large group at once. Lastly, I’m motivated by just knowing that there are even greater opportunities out there that I may have not recognized yet that can come my way.
Her Agenda: You went from an entrepreneur to an investor. How did you get involved with angel investing? Why did you decide to become an angel investor?
Erika Lewis: I got involved with Pipeline Angels in particular because two good friends of mine were preparing to join the cohort, and around this time at the end of 2017 I was very focused on what I wanted from myself in 2018.
I wanted to focus on being more of a giver and giving in a variety of ways whether that’s time, talent, or money – all of those things were important to me. I happened to have dinner with my friend and she was talking about Pipeline Angels. Hearing about them interested me because I’m very motivated by ideas. The fact that I could be apart of someone else building their ideas was very intriguing – especially because I could do it through time and financial giving, so I applied.
As an entrepreneur, there is a certain point where you level out and need to surround yourself with knowledge from other entrepreneurs to be inspired. With Pipeline Angels, I felt like I could learn just as much as I could give, so I applied and I was very fortunate to become a resource.
Her Agenda: How long have you been an investor? What has been the highlight of your experience thus far?
Erika Lewis: I’ve been an angel investor since March of 2018 when I joined Pipeline Angels and I would say the people that I’ve met have been the highlight of my experience. It’s been amazing to hear about these amazing businesses that women and femmes are building, and even more amazing to see that these women and femmes are not just millennials. I’ve experienced young people and older women and femmes, all from different backgrounds that had ideas and were out there pitching and it was very impressive and motivating to see.
I’ve experienced young people and older women and femmes, all from different backgrounds that had ideas and were out there pitching and it was very impressive and motivating to see.
Her Agenda: What do you look for in a startup as you evaluate it for a potential investment?
Erika Lewis: Prior to Pipeline Angels, I think I would’ve been more attracted to companies that I have a certain level of personal knowledge on, like companies in the media or creative space, just because of my comfort level.
Since my experience in Pipeline Angels, I’m way more open to a variety of businesses and I’ve actually invested in companies in industries that I know nothing about but I was drawn to them often times because of the founder. If the founder is very knowledgeable, has a long-term plan, and has a vision, that’s appealing to me. I also believe in using a certain level of community to vet opportunities now so that helps me talk through potential investments.
Since my experience in Pipeline Angels, I’m way more open to a variety of businesses and I’ve actually invested in companies in industries that I know nothing about but I was drawn to them often times because of the founder.
Her Agenda: What do you think about the quote, “People invest in the founder, and not particularly in the idea or business.”
Erika Lewis: I think the startup founder can definitely play a major role in the investment decision, however I don’t think it’s everything. I’ve invested in companies because of the founder, and then I’ve also invested in companies because I really liked the idea. I just think it varies.
Her Agenda: What do you want to see in an investor pitch?
Erika Lewis: Because I’m a marketer, I always look for the founder’s marketing plan and I’m always surprised to see how many people don’t have one, or one that’s thought through. Even if you have a B2B company, if you’re not going to market it properly, no one will know about it.
I also look for the background of your team and the expertise of the team members which you’ve aligned yourself with. If you’re the only person that really has the knowledge, and you have people around you that are not at your level or higher, that concerns me. I look closely at the founder and try to see if you are a person that I would like to spend time with and that’s someone that will do all the things you say you will do. Lastly, I evaluate your company’s financials.
Her Agenda: As an entrepreneur, it can be tough to get in front of the right investors. How would you recommend entrepreneurs contact angel investors they don’t know?
Erika Lewis: The best way is through personal contact. For me since I’ve put Pipeline Angels on my LinkedIn account, I’ve been getting a lot of cold emails and it becomes too many to keep up with, and hard to understand your business in an email pitch. LinkedIn is a great resource to see who we have in common so that person can provide an introduction for you.
Also, pitch competitions are an amazing source to get involved with and meet angel investors. There are so many resources, platforms, and events that women and femmes can attend or be apart of to get training and access to investors that can be helpful.
Her Agenda: What are some reasons someone should consider applying for Pipeline Angels?
Erika Lewis: Pipeline Angels has an amazing network of companies and investors, and anyone who identifies with womanhood– cis, trans, third gender and is interested in angel investing should try to be apart of it. Pipeline Angels is very magical, and I don’t know anyone who has participated in the pitch summit or bootcamp who didn’t walk away smarter because of it. Pipeline Angels is the type of network that once you’re in it, you’re in it, and there are so many other opportunities that can come your way.
Pipeline Angels is very magical, and I don’t know anyone who has participated in the pitch summit or bootcamp who didn’t walk away smarter because of it.
Her Agenda: What is your personal motto?
Erika Lewis: I’m responsible for my own happiness and perspective is key.
EDITOR’S NOTE: INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED FOR LENGTH AND CLARITY. THIS FEATURE IS SPONSORED BY OUR FRIENDS AT PIPELINE ANGELS A BOOTCAMP FOR ANGEL INVESTING FOCUSED ON CREATING CAPITAL FOR WOMEN AND NON-BINARY FEMME SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS. TO APPLY FOR THEIR NEXT COHORT AND BECOME AN INVESTOR, CLICK HERE.]