During one of the late summer days when it was still warm, I seized the opportunity to interview Amel Gaily, Managing Director at FiBAN (Finnish Business Angels Network), over a cup of coffee on the terrace in front of Maria01. Presenting this pleasant talk for The Shortcut’s Interview of the Month series for October where Amel explains why a business angel represents both a rewarding activity for an investor and one of the most interesting support a startup can benefit from.
So, what do you do? What is your elevator pitch?
I am the Managing Director at FiBAN, one of the largest and most active business angel networks in Europe with more than 650 members and some 36 million euros invested into 435 startups and early-stage growth companies in 2018. Next year, FiBAN will celebrate its 10th anniversary and there will be a lot going on.
What do business angels do and who are they?
Business angels not only invest their own money in startups but also their time and knowledge. This is what is called “smart money”. Each of them is active at different points on a scale that ranges from pure capital investment to active mentoring.
Usually, business angels are former entrepreneurs who want to have an impact by sharing their knowledge and network. Even though startups represent one of the riskiest investments, they are also motivated by the opportunity to make profits. It is a fun way for them to stay involved in the community and have others benefitting from what they have learned on their journey.
To become a business angel supporting startups you need to have enough capital to be able to spread your investment in order to minimise the risk. As startups rarely grow in a steady and linear way, it is good to be prepared to follow up and invest in several rounds. You also have to be ready to lose it all or just get it back. However, on average, one time out of ten you will make a return that will cover all the losses. Regardless of what statistics say, there is no guarantee of returns.
FiBAN’s network has expanded from 20 members to 650 in less than a decade and we have never had to recruit or convince anyone to join. We get members through networking. Nowadays it has become even easier because potential investors are well aware of FiBAN and have a better understanding of what startups are. To quote Teemu Varpanen, one of our board members, “Why wouldn’t they want to get involved as a business angel? They know they will meet the most talented people and discover crazy things! That’s why they come to us.”.
How do you choose the startups you will link with the investors?
Our members attend startups events where they share information about FiBAN but most potential growth companies reach out to us because they already know FiBAN. We provide a platform where startups can create a profile and we always give feedback. Entrepreneurship is hard. The first idea is often not the one that will succeed. It is frequent for an early-stage business to apply more than once until the right match is found. There is nothing wrong with that, it is only a matter of time.
How would you describe the startup ecosystem in Helsinki?
It is great, it is full of life, there are a lot of players working very hard. There is a good spirit of helping each other, opening doors, giving advice. The ecosystem has developed and matured in a positive way. It has grown from a handful of people to large hubs such as Maria01. This progression is also a tribute to the public sector who has offered its support.
I wish for the future that startups get even better at collaborating openly and helping each other. There is a lot of drive and enthusiasm here and it is important to make sure that they work together rather than everyone doing the same thing separately.
Collaboration has to keep expanding cross-border to other Nordic and Baltic ecosystems. Many synergies can be developed. It starts with sharing information, getting to know how others work, finding similarities and best practices so that we don’t have to re-invent everything from scratch.
Can you tell me about the new impact investing toolbox that FiBAN has been developing?
This toolbox has been a major project in 2019 and it will be launched by the end of the year. Usual metrics are too heavy for business angels and we wanted to address that issue. Impact should be considered as a natural part of investment evaluation, not as a burden. Therefore, we have been compiling already existing material to create a tailored set of simple evaluation tools. There are fantastic sources available offering very relevant and highly educational content such as publications from Sitra (Finnish Innovation Fund) or GIIN (Global Impact Investing Network). We are happy to promote what others have done.
What do diversity and inclusion mean within the frame of your work?
Women are underrepresented amongst business angels and startup founders alike. Hosting Women in Tech Pitch as one of our regularly arranged FiBAN Pitch Finland event where approximately ten potential high growth companies get the opportunity to present themselves and seek for investors is one example of how we address this issue. But diversity and inclusion refer to much more than the gender ratio. We want to see diversification in nationalities, backgrounds and ages too. We are aware of the challenge, we track it and we take steps to foster the advancement towards a more balanced member portfolio.
My team currently includes three members and we are fluent in six languages. I believe it is an indicator that says a lot about the efforts FiBAN makes to increase diversity not only within our network but also internally.
Before joining FiBAN you have worked in a corporate, now you are in contact with startups and personal investors, and you are also an athlete. What is the best asset you have gained from the combination of these different experiences?
My background is definitely a big asset. I am very hard working but, because I have always had to juggle with a lot of activities, I have learned to work smarter. It is not about how much but how. I am also very resilient. I don’t get discouraged if things don’t go as planned, I almost expect it. My family is a great source of energy and motivation too. I value keeping relationships close and spending time with the people I love.
The fact that so many people experience burn-out is a worrying trend not only in the startup ecosystem but also in corporations. This obsessive idea of “proving by burning-out” is wrong and it is very important to demystify it. From an investor’s point of view, the health and the well-being of the team is critical. There are many ways to demonstrate you are serious and capable and burning out is not one of them.
Anything else that matters to you that you would like to add?
The starting point in a career is to be aware of who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, your values. Knowing yourself is the foundation for it, “it” being anything that you want to get involved with.
Thank you, Amel Gaily, for sharing your insight with us!
By Noemi Poget, 25 October, 2019