A Room Full of Angels – Making the Most of the Luis Villalobos Award Opportunity


By: Sarah Dickey, ACA Membership Director

ACA’s yearly Luis Villalobos Award provides recognition to ingenious and innovative ideas in the startup ecosystem by asking members of the Angel Capital Association to nominate their best portfolio companies recently funded.  Three finalists are selected each year and, with the nominating ACA angel, are honored at the ACA Summit where the winner is announced during the annual awards ceremony in front of 700+ angel investors. 

This special award was created to honor Luis Villalobos, who founded the Tech Coast Angels in 1997, one of the largest and most respected angel organizations in the world.  Tech Coast Angels has done so much for startup companies, raising more than $1B to date.  Luis Villalobos was true driving force in the angel field, making nearly 60 personal investments, educating numerous angels, and particularly in educating and mentoring entrepreneurs before he passed away in 2009.  Luis highly valued ingenuity and entrepreneurial thinking and ACA continues to honor his forward thinking with the Luis Villalobos Award.

We followed up with one of the 2018 Finalists for her reflections on her experience and advice for companies participating in this year’s awards nomination process.

Catherine Berman, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of 2018 finalist, CNote, describes her experience participating at last year’s ACA Summit:

Can you please describe your experience as a Luis Villalobos Award finalist?

We were very honored to participate as a finalist for the 2018 ACA Luis Villalobos Award.  CNote was the only fintech company that was selected as a finalist, so it was extremely exciting and such an honor to be competing alongside innovative medical device and biotech companies.  The actual award process was very easy and enjoyable.  CNote was championed by two separate ACA angel groups and having members from those groups present in front of the Summit attendees how CNote is changing the future of finance was incredible.  It was an experience we won’t soon forget. 

What aspects of the awards program did you find to be the most beneficial to your company?

We really valued the opportunity to present our company to a room full of incredibly experienced and sharp angel investors. 

What was your favorite experience of the 2018 ACA Summit in Boston?

Because we stayed for the full event, we met angel investors from across the country who were both interested in an equity investment in CNote and in investing their cash in our competitive cash alternatives.  It is always great when your investors are also your customers!

What advice would you give other companies participating in the Luis Villalobos Award program?

My best advice would be to highlight your strengths, your competitive advantage and what makes you truly innovative and unique.  The most important thing is to work with amazing angels.  We are fortunate to be working with incredible angel groups like Astia and Pipeline Angels.  They made the nomination and finalist experience exciting and worthwhile. 

One of the two nominating angels of CNote, Victoria Pettibone of Astia Angels also shared, “The opportunity for a company, especially one with underrepresented founders, to be recognized and highlighted by ACA in front of hundreds of angels and angel groups nationally is extremely valuable and can expand their potential investor network. Being recognized as a nominating angel group is also an honor.”

The Luis Villalobos Award proves to be a unique experience that provides immeasurable benefits to not only the award candidates, but to the nominating angels as well.  With a straightforward nomination process and the potential for connection-building to new investors, potential partners and larger corporations, ACA encourages members to consider submitting worthy recipients for the 2019 Luis Villalobos Award to be presented in Chicago at the 2019 ACA Summit.  Learn more here.

About CNote:

CNote, of Oakland, CA, has identified two of the financial industry’s pain points, low returns associated with savings and cash alternatives, and the inequality in capital allocation available to Americans. They are working to solve these issues by offering a 2.5% return on all invested savings, generating a return by investing in a diversified portfolio of federally-certified Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) which focused on increasing capital access for financially-underserved communities across America.  CNote dollars are invested in female and minority entrepreneurs, helping to build low-income housing and incite other community development projects.

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