Building on a desire to create more funding for for-profit social ventures, as well as addressing the realization that women are underrepresented in the sphere of venture capital, Natalia founded the Pipeline Fellowship, a program that trains women philanthropists to become angel investors through education, mentoring, and practice.

We sat down with her to discuss her successes, the lessons she has learned, and why women should continue to label themselves as feminists.

What were the steps that led up to you founding the Pipeline Fellowship?

In 2008, I launched New York Women Social Entrepreneurs (NYWSE), a network of women social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, which I grew from six women to over 1,200 members within two years. NYWSE members shared with me how difficult it was to secure funding for their for-profit social ventures. Around the same time, I became aware of the huge lack of diversity in the U.S. angel investing community. According to a report by the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire, only 12% of U.S. angel investors were women and only 5% were minorities in the first two quarters of 2011.

How does the Pipeline Fellowship work?

Pipeline Fellows go through a six-month bootcamp that provides education, mentoring, and practical skills on angel investing. Each Pipeline Fellow commits $5,000 to be invested in a woman-led for-profit social venture at the end of the training. In return for the investment, Pipeline Fellows get equity in the company and a board seat. We also match Pipeline Fellows with a mentor, an experienced angel investor who serves as a role model.

Are all of the mentors for your Pipeline Fellows women?

Pipeline Fellowship Mentors include women and men! We want to integrate Pipeline Fellows into existing male-dominated networks.

How much success has the Pipeline Fellowship had so far?

The Pipeline Fellowship graduated its first NYC class in October 2011. The group ended up investing $105,000 in PhilanTech,  an online grants management system, which was launched by Dahna Goldstein. We’re also growing rapidly. We launched the Boston-based Pipeline Fellowship in December 2011, the 2012 NYC Pipeline Fellowship classes this January, and the executive program for participants based outside of Boston and NYC this February. The Pipeline Fellowship will expand to the Bay Area this fall.

Where do you see the Pipeline Fellowship in the next five years?

We’re committed to continuing to provide our alumnae network, Pipeline Angels, with relevant educational opportunities, deal-flow, resources, and support. In the longer term, we’re working on structuring a social venture fund, which will provide another investment vehicle for our graduates.

Why do you think that women have such a hard time seeking out venture capital money?

According to a report by the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire, only 12% of startups pitching for angel capital were women-led and, of those 12%, only 26% secured financing during the first two quarters of 2011. We need to encourage women entrepreneurs to pitch.

What kinds of social ventures do Pipeline Fellows work with?

Startups interested in presenting at a Pipeline Fellowship Pitch Summit:
(1) must be at least co-owned and co-founded by a woman,
 (2) must have a for-profit legal structure, and
 (3) must demonstrate a social and/or environmental mission.

What are some companies that the Pipeline Fellows have considered investing in?

Here are the profiles of the three startups that were selected at the 2011 NYC Pipeline Fellowship Pitch Summit by the Fellows to move forward to the due diligence phase:

Just Shea – Increases the safety and income of women working in the shea trade in Ghana

PhilanTech – An online grants management system for funders and nonprofits to streamline the grants management process

LuminAID Lab (formerly Solar Light Pillow Project) – Provides cost-effective solar lighting to people without regular electricity and victims of natural disasters

What have you learned so far that has surprised you from running the Pipeline Fellowship?

I was surprised to hear from a Pipeline Angel how learning how to invest in a startup made her more comfortable with her own wealth management to the point that she called her financial adviser and requested certain changes in her financial game plan.

As a role model for young women, what advice would you give to the rising generation?

We need more feminists!  In college in the U.S., things have gotten pretty gender neutral classmate-wise—but not necessarily in terms of the number of female versus male professors. Several female college seniors have expressed surprise whenever I have brought up sexism in my talks, saying that it’s no longer an issue. Unfortunately, a few months into their first jobs, these same young women have let me know that they were wrong, having recently experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. We need more voices at the table and we need to, as the Twitter hashtag says, #changetheratio.