Pipeline Angels helps trans and non-binary women navigate the shark- infested waters of entrepreneurship


Natalia Oberti-Noguera


Leslie McMurray  |  Contributing Writer

If I may borrow from Jimmy Buffett, it ain’t easy swimming with sharks.

I’m speaking of the kind of sharks you find on Wall Street, in banks or even on the TV show Shark Tank.

Shark Tank features celebrity investors, such as Dallas’ Mark Cuban, who listen to pitches from eager entrepreneurs and, if they like what they hear, offer to invest in the concept — for a share of the business.

This is often referred to as “angel investing.”

Financial “angels” will put up money for start-ups in exchange for a share of profits or a percentage of the business. Angels invest at a very high risk, because if the fledgling company fails, the angel is left with nothing.

But the lure is there. Imagine being the “angel,” Andy Bechtolsheim, who took a chance and invested $100,000 in a start-up called Google. That investment is now valued at around $2.5 billion.

Gaining a foothold with a new business idea is hard enough if you are a straight, cisgendered male graduate of Stanford. Imagine how hard much harder it is if you are a transgender woman who has an idea, but not enough money to fund it — or even enough money to get her I.D. legally changed. Now imagine walking in to a bank and asking for a loan.

Yeah, good luck with that.

Last month, a Chicago Business School/StartOut study found that 37 percent of U.S.-based LGBTQ entrepreneurs who have secured or are seeking funding are not out to those investors. The reasons vary, but 1 in 8 said it was because they were afraid it would hurt their business.

That’s a sad statement that serves to illustrate just how far we’ve yet to go in the country.

Trans women and non-binary femmes (“Non-binary gender” is a name for any gender that doesn’t fit within the traditional gender category; “femme” refers to genders on the part of the spectrum identified with womanhood) who lack resources are in dire straits indeed. Having identification that may out them can not only scrap any chance they have at securing financing, it can put them in danger of physical violence.

Depending on what city or state you are in, anti-transgender laws — like North Carolina’s HB 2 and the ones that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to see enacted here —can put trans women entrepreneurs at particular risk.

But now there is an organization called Pipeline Angels that’s looking to level the playing field for trans women, especially black, Latinx and/or indigenous trans women and non-binary femmes, who often find themselves left in the dark about what entrepreneurship requires due to poverty, fear and lack of accessible resources.

Pipeline Angels have also teamed up with Goodwin, a Global 50 law firm with a solid track record of working on groundbreaking legal and social justice matters, to provide a pro-bono name change and incorporation workshop for trans women and non-binary femme entrepreneurs.

The name change even includes the filing fees. The workshop will include 30 minutes of one-on-one, pro-bono legal counsel on the incorporation tools available on Goodwin’s Founders Workbench, and each participant may also apply for additional pro-bono counseling through Goodwin’s Neighborhood Business Initiative.

Boudica Cooper, a non-binary black femme who is the program coordinator at Pipeline Angels, explains, “To offer this service to trans women and non-binary femme entrepreneurs allows us to grow our businesses without needing to sign or create documents with a legal name that misgenders us. It allows us to order services, to incorporate our businesses, and to market ourselves, all under our correct name.”

A website has been set up under the name Fempreneur.xyz and has details about the kind of startups they are looking for. The Fempreneur Clinic participants will also be able to apply to the 2016 Fall Pipeline Angels Pitch Summits.

For those unable to make the workshops in person, there are on-line webinars available as well.

Pipeline Angels CEO and founder Natalia Oberti-Noguera, a self-described queer woman, spoke about the importance of boot camps like hers that pair up high-net-worth women in Dallas with trans women and non-binary femme entrepreneurs. Oberti-Noguera shared some eye-opening statistics to illustrate the need:

“According to the Center for Venture Research, in 2015, only 25 percent of U.S. angel investors were women, and only 5 percentwere minorities (their words not mine),” she said, adding that the 2016 Spring Pipeline Angels included 25 percent black women, 17 percent Latinas, 25 percet Asian women, and 33 percent white women.”

Oberti-Nogura continued, “According to the #ProjectDiane report, 2 percent of venture deals from 2012–2014 were for black women startups and black women startups are 4 percent of women-led startups. Over 21 percent of Pipeline Angels portfolio companies have a black woman founder, including Blendoor.”

But it’s so much more than not just money being invested. As Oberti-Noguera explained, “We offer assistance in three areas: practical, educational and mentoring to boot campers,” the women she referred to as her “sharks in training.”

Why Dallas? Oberti-Noguera says it’s about “Activating local capital” and from all indications, Dallas has plenty of it.

But this isn’t a free-money truck. It’s a chance to show what you’ve got. It’s a lot of hard work with a potential payoff for both angel and entrepreneur. How much they invest — the minimum is $5,000 if you are selected — and how much equity the angel receives is negotiated.

If you have a company you want to pitch, here’s your chance: Goo.gl/Forms/R2n3tAOwBS3uEzcA3. Entries will be accepted through this week. The face of angel investing is indeed being changed, and Pipeline Angels sounds like a match made in heaven.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2016.