Australia is now one of the fastest growing start-up ecosystems globally, ranking as fifth-most start-up friendly country in the world in StartupBlink’s Startup Ecosystem Rankings 2019 report. With the potential to contribute 4.0% of GDP and 540,000 jobs by 2033, investing in start-ups now could have long-lasting positive impacts on the Australian economy. Entrepreneurs nationwide are solving problems within their industry, creating jobs and disrupting established and profitable industries – most notably the fintech boom

However, recent research from Victorian Government’s LaunchVic found seed-stage angel investing, where affluent individuals contribute a sum to help a start-up in its earliest stages, dropped from $280 million in 2016-2017 to less than $90 million last year. This is in spite of a dramatic leap in venture capital and equity funds, which hit a record $30 billion last financial year. 

For younger start-ups to flourish, Australia needs to increase the prominence of angel investors who play a crucial role in the early stages of the start-up ecosystem. This is why the UNSW Founders Program and AGSM @ UNSW Business School are excited to announce the new Angel Investors Program

“To empower emerging angel investors, we’ve gathered together the best angels and investors in the Australia market to share their knowledge and frameworks to equip them with the critical tools they need to build a meaningful portfolio,” says Jennifer Zanich, Program Director of the Angel Investors Program. “There is a gap in the start-up ecosystem in Australia. Venture capital is at an all-time high for more established start-ups, but it’s angel investors who are crucial to successful growth for start-ups in their youngest phase.” 

Zanich has designed the course drawing on her extensive experience as a senior corporate executive and start-up CEO. She spent 10 years in Silicon Valley as founder and CEO of five companies in which she led two exits. Zanich previously set up UNSW Founders Flagship 10x Accelerator. Now, she has been appointed as Head of Global Partnerships and Ecosystems in the Department of Entrepreneurship at UNSW. 

Angel investors’ place in the start-up ecosystem

According to Zanich, angel investors are essential and deliver a great deal of value in the start-up ecosystem.

“They are funding companies very early in their lifecycle with high risk and way before venture capital people would even consider funding a company. In Silicon Valley, Angels are what get companies going – and we are looking to build confidence and skills to increase the number of angel investors in Australia through this program.”

One person who can vouch for the experience of angel investing is NAB Ventures Managing Director Melissa Widner. Widner is one of the world’s most prolific female angel investors. She began in the Silicon Valley start-up ecosystem as founder and CEO leading two exits. Now she has a significant investment track record as an angel, and leads a venture capital fund.

“It’s important to differentiate between an angel and venture capital (VC),” says Widner. “There’s a beautiful freedom of being an angel. In VC there are very specific targets you have, and companies have to meet certain parameters, fitting into your investment thesis.”

Angel investors are free agents, able to invest based on curiosity – whether it’s to learn about a new industry or work with an appealing entrepreneur.

“As an angel investor, because it’s not other people’s money, I had more flexibility to invest into companies that wouldn’t necessarily fit a VC’s profile.” says Widner. “However, angels should understand that it’s a risky asset class. Yes, there are potentially big returns, but you shouldn’t invest money you’re not willing to lose.”

Giving back and supporting the entrepreneur

For Widner, her angel investing is motivated by a drive to give back to the start-up community. “I had two successful exits for companies that were initially funded by angels, so it’s important to me to give back to the ecosystem.”

Identifying the strength of the entrepreneur is the most important thing to her. 

“I always put a high priority on who I wanted to work with and support when selecting angel investments,” says Widner, who mainly focused on early-stage companies as an angel investor.

She is a strong advocate for female entrepreneurs and co-founded Head Over Heels. The organisation is dedicated to increasing the representation of women leading high-growth businesses by providing access to influential business networks. 

There remains a significant gender gap in venture capital, however Widner’s seen a rise in the representation of women in junior roles. “I think it’s a case of ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, so hopefully as these women progress, we’ll see more equal representation in the future.”

Gender diversity is not only about equality but also strengthening investment decisions. “There are lots of studies proving diversity of thought leads to better outcomes and better investments – so having an increase of female entrepreneurs and investors not only makes things more equitable but should also provide better returns,” says Widner.

Widner is one of eight renowned investment leaders who will be presenting during the Angel Investors Program. She will be sharing her experiences as a female angel investor, imparting wisdom from lessons she’s learned over 30 years in the industry. 

The 3-day program is the first of its kind in Australia. It will run from Wednesday 6 November to Friday 8 November. If you feel ready to take your place in the Australian start-up ecosystem as an angel investor, this course is for you. From identifying opportunities to risk mitigation and portfolio construction, you will learn from some of Australia’s best investors to develop your own angel investing framework.  

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