How Next Act Fund is bringing women and investing together in Pittsburgh

Learn more about investing in women-led companies and becoming an investor at two March events.

Next Act Fund has invested in two companies since it was founded in 2016

Next Act Fund has invested in two companies since it was founded in 2016

Next act fund / facebook
MJ Slaby

Yvonne Campos wants Pittsburgh to be the top city for women entrepreneurs.

The necessary ecosystem exists: There’s innovation, funding, accelerators, universities and more, she said.

“We have everything we need,” Campos said, adding there needs to be “just more of it.”

To tackle that problem, Campos launched the Next Act Fund in September 2016. The angel investing fund has about 40 accredited investors, mostly women, and is focused on investing in women-led businesses, largely in Pittsburgh.

Its goals are two-fold: more women merging or selling (aka exiting) their companies and more women investing their money.

Two March events in Pittsburgh — one by Next Act and another featuring Campos — focus on just that. Campos also founded Campos Inc., a market research and strategy firm, and is a nationally known speaker and active member of the business community.

Next Act has already invested in two companies, Mount Lebanon-based BoardBookit and Cisse Cocoa Co. (based in Mamaroneck, N.Y), and a third investment is coming soon. 

There’s so much startup activity in Pittsburgh, and it’s “growing by leaps and bounds,” so this fund “really makes a very bold statement,” said Kelley Skoloda, a fund investor and KS Consulting & Capital LLC founder.

Funding women-led companies

BoardBookit, a secure way for board members to manage and access information on multiple platforms, was the first company that Next Act Fund invested in. It’s the fourth company for founder and CEO Marion Lewis, but the first one she’s  fundraised for.

Even though the process and the questions are the same as pitching to other investors, there is a different dynamic with Next Act, said Lewis, who is also a Next Act investor. “A fund like this helps change the culture.”

Being an investor “puts a fine point on how women like to invest and how women like to pitch,” Skoloda said, adding that it’s a very comfortable environment where investors feel free to ask questions.

To pitch, the companies coming to Next Act must have a management team, completed a beta test and have a product that clients are paying to use, Campos said. These are companies that are ready to see growth and are thinking about exits.

Angel investing also makes the investors available for mentorship and guidance, so they can help expand the network for entrepreneurs, Skoloda added.

While Next Act Fund is focused solely on women-led companies, other investors like Innovation Works are also working to increase the number of women-led companies in their portfolios, too.

Investing in women-led companies has been an area of interest for Innovation Works for several years, spokesperson Terri Glueck said. More than half of the current portfolio have co-founders who are women and/or underrepresented minorities.

Seeing more focus from investors around the country and in Pittsburgh is heartening, she said. On March 15, IW’s Caffeinated Innovation series will focus on just that — women investors and investing in women-led businesses — with Campos on the panel.

Caffeinated Innovation: Women investors and investing in Women-led companies

Panelists for the March Caffeinated Innovation event include Yvonne Campos, president of Next Act Fund; Jeanne Cunicelli, executive vice president of UPMC Enterprises and Liz Todia, analyst at Mutual Capital Partners. Coffee is at 8 a.m. and the panel starts at 8:30 a.m.

Where:Innovation Works at Nova Tower 2, Two Allegheny Center suite 100 (Allegheny Center)

When:March 15, 2018 at 8:00 a.m.

How much:Free

Women as investors

In addition to member meetings where investors hear pitches and ask questions of company founders, Next Act Fund offers two types of investor trainings. There are educational sessions aimed at members, but there’s also an upcoming series focused on women who could become investors later in their careers to help them learn what angel investing is and how it works.

A lot of women aren’t aware of angel investing, Skoloda said, adding that women tend to be more conservative investors and take more time to think about it.

For Lewis, becoming an investor has helped her have a more critical eye and improve her pitches. And it’s also introduced her to women entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh who she wouldn’t know otherwise.

Becoming an investor requires learning a new set of tools to understand the process, Glueck added, and Next Act and Campos help women gain those skills and serves as a set of role models.

Angels in the A.M.: Angel Investing 101

Learn what it means to become an accredited investor with the first session of this series from Next Act Fund. This session is the basics of angel investing from who an angel investor is to what they do. Breakfast starts at 7:30 a.m., the program is at 8 a.m. and networking is at 9:30 a.m. Later sessions are Getting Ready for Angel Investing- Financial Fitness on June 20 and the Anatomy of the Deal on Sept 19.

Where:Alloy 26 at 100 S. Commons (Allegheny Center)

When:March 21, 2018 from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

How much:$30 per session or $80 for all three