Honoring Susan Preston, 2015 Hans Severiens Award Winner

Each year the Angel Capital Association and Angel Resource Institute shine a spotlight on one individual whose collective body of work brightens the advancement of the field of angel investing. This year we honor Susan Preston.

Like many angel investors, Susan brings a depth of passion to her work which currently includes General Partner for the CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund, which focuses on seed/start-up stage investments in clean energy technology. She is also the Managing Partner for the new Seattle Angel Fund, committed to fostering entrepreneurial growth in the Pacific Northwest through early-stage investments.  Susan teaches in the MBA program and is the Buerk Endowed Fellow for Entrepreneurship at the University of Washington. She also serves as co-chair and lead instructor for the Angel Resource Institute, a global investor and entrepreneur education organization. She has been named as one of the Managers for the new Element 8 Angel Fund and is a board member for Element 8, a Seattle-based clean-tech investing angel group. In 2014 Susan received the Small Business Person of the Year award from the Small Business Council of America and the Senator Cantwell Women of Valor award.

Susan sat down with ACA to share her views on where she sees the angel capital industry growing in the coming years. Before we share her thoughts, we offer a brief summary of Susan’s recent accomplishments and how she is advancing the field of angel investing:

Susan is a longtime advocate for the advancing best practices among angels independently and in groups and has worked to expand the participation of women and minorities.  The author of numerous articles, white papers and books on angel financing including, Susan authored the foundational resource Angel Investment Groups, Networks and Funds: A Guidebook to Developing the Right Angel Organization for Your Community, a comprehensive guidebook on the establishment and operation of angel investment groups, (published by the Kauffman Foundation in 2004) as well as Angel Financing for Entrepreneurs, Early-stage Funding for Long-Term Success (2007 Wiley Publishing).

She has influenced the implementation of economic policy supporting innovation and early stage capital both in the United States and internationally.  Susan is the architect of the Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs Act, a bi-partisan federal income tax credit bill for private equity investing, which was introduced in the House and Senate in 2006 and 2007. As a national and international consultant and speaks on economic development, angel and venture financing for numerous countries and NGOs including the EU, OECD, USAID, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Industry Canada and EBAN.

Susan’s focus on enhancing the role of women as active participants in early stage capital formation has taken many forms including her work as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for six years, focusing on initiatives supporting the growth and success of women entrepreneurs and initiatives related to angel investing and angel organizations. In 1999, Susan founded Seraph Capital Forum, the first all-women's angel investment organization and more recently has developed the Women First Enterprise, a series of educational programs for women investors and entrepreneurs, through the Angel Resource Institute (ARI). 

Susan has held several board positions with public and privately held corporations, and has served on numerous non-profit boards. She has been profiled in Red Herring, Inc. magazine, Smart Money, Worth, among others. Early in her career Susan held senior management positions in public and private companies with roles spanning general counsel to CEO, was a partner in two national law-firms, and is a licensed patent attorney. Ms. Preston received her JD, cum laude, from Seattle University School of Law and her BS, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, in Microbiology and Public Health from Washington State University.

ACA: Where do you see the biggest opportunity for angel investing impact in the next 3 years?

S. Preston:

I see four trending areas:

1.  Greater engagement of women and minorities - Great entrepreneurs and investors come in all sizes, shapes and colors - I believe we can have an impact beyond just our investment through the sharing of our knowledge and expertise with all aspiring entrepreneurs.  Of course, I am quite focused on women entrepreneurs and investors through ARI’s Women First Enterprise initiative. But the WFE initiative is completely expandable to minorities and we are already taking those steps.

2. Opportunities for improving relationships, broadening analysis approach (see answers below for details)

3.  Many investors are moving toward double bottom line investing.  I think we have a great opportunity to expand how we make money and do good at the same time.

4. Emerging markets - we are already seeing angel activity in some emerging market - I think we have a massive opportunity to support and grow these fledgling investment communities.  

ACA: As more women become angels, what changes do you anticipate in the industry?

S. Preston:

I would like to think we will see:

1. More women entrepreneurs presenting and being funded;

2. More companies receiving funding which have a social impact component;

3. More women on private company boards, which I hope leads to more women on public boards; and 4. Better appreciation for and understanding on the differences in how women and men analyze deals, leading to better quality investments.  

ACA: If you could change one thing about angel investing today, what would it be?

S. Preston:

Though we are making strides in building a symbiotic and mutually valued relationship with venture capitalists, we still have work to do.  Too many times I still hear about angel investors not getting any return on their high-risk investment despite the company doing well at exit.  We need to be pro-active about engaging with VCs, adding value on boards so they appreciate our contributions and educate them on the vital importance of angel investing and the nominal effort necessary to make sure we are treated fairly.  That’s one, but there are many others such as higher post-investment engagement, and more women and minorities.