QCA Rising with New Ascent Program

Earlier this year, QCA launched the Ascent program with the purpose to add diversity and unique perspectives to QCA with a goal to welcome younger members, more women and people of color. Ascent is an outgrowth of a key strategic imperative for QCA to improve diversity and inclusion. The effort will make QCA a better organization that will ultimately deliver better outcomes, and returns for investors and portfolio companies.

Recently, T.H.E. had the opportunity to interview Ann Mooney, a member of QCA and the person tasked with leading this new initiative. Ann grew up in a small town in rural Ohio, and launched her first entrepreneurial venture at the age of 12 with a lawn care service. She earned her bachelor’s and MBA in finance from Indiana University, and started her career at P&G working in finance, strategy and marketing. After 18 years at P&G, she launched Rising Moon Consulting in 2009, working with Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. She is a mentor at The Brandery and serves as a strategic advisor with a young company that has grown to more than $13 million in revenues in just over three years. Recognizing her passion for start-ups, she wanted to learn more about the funding side, which led her to QCA and the Ascent program.

T.H.E.: What made you want to get involved in QCA and Ascent.

Mooney: Ascent’s lower upfront investment definitely accelerated my timeline in getting involved in angel investing! And I’m thrilled that I made the leap when I did. I’ve learned so much in this last year, and know it’s only the beginning of an exciting many-year journey for me in angel investing.

T.H.E.: Why Cincinnati, and why now? What makes this the right place and time for Ascent?

Mooney: It’s an exciting timing in Cincinnati! The downtown economic development is cultivating a palpable vibrancy and energy in the city. The #StartupCincy ecosystem is bumping! Union Hall, led by Cintrifuse, is a true hub for entrepreneurialism. Incubators and accelerators seem to be almost reproducing (e.g., The Brandery/gener8tor, UpTech, Aviatra, Mortar, Hillman, First Hatch), with an increasing emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

There’s an infusion of energy and youthful talent and exuberance that is elevating the city. At the same time, new venture funds are spawning, and there seems to be the beginnings of an influx of new blood into angel investing. For start-up founders, the cost of living of Cincinnati gives them an advantage over the coasts – with funding raised going further (lower payrolls, lower burn). And, for investors, start-up valuations in the Midwest are more reasonable, allowing for higher possible returns.

T.H.E.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges for getting more women involved in angel investing?

Mooney: I see four definite challenges. First and foremost is awareness. We need to make more women with the financial wherewithal aware of angel investing as an asset class.

Second is education. Women, need to understand the ins and outs of angel investing, and how to get started. It’s worth noting that the education program that Sue and Steve Baggott have put together has been amazing! It’s helping accelerate my learning curve on many important topics related to angel investing – from due diligence to term streets, etc.

Third, women tend to be more risk averse. The lower Ascent investment allows me to learn and experiment with angel investing without an outsized financial commitment.

Finally is respect. This might not seem obvious to some. The current QCA membership is disproportionately male. Many women, like me, who’ve spent a career in male-dominated corporate environments – with perhaps more than a few examples of feeling under-appreciated, slighted, passed over, disrespected, etc – might not want to carry the weight of helping turn the diversity tide in angel investing. I’ll be honest, I had that thought myself. Ultimately though, I decided I want to be an integral part of creating the changing face of angel investing. I relish the challenge. I’m diving into this effort initially via membership on the QCA Diversity & Inclusion Committee. I’ve also started to actively socialize QCA & Ascent among my network, with the hope of attracting more newcomers like me.

T.H.E.: How do you measure the success of the program?

Mooney: We want to look at a broad set of KPIs, include Ascent membership, diversity, educational sessions conduct and participation levels, as well as due diligence team participation, the number and amount of angel investments made, and referrals by Ascent members for additional QCA members.

T.H.E.: Since you started, what have you learned about the people interested in angel investing?

Mooney: Since joining QCA via the new Ascent membership in early 2017, I’ve learned that those interested in angel investing are really awesome people! They are deeply invested in the whole entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. Out of the gates, I noticed experienced angels were welcoming to newcomers like me! And, not surprisingly, I discovered angels are smart, enterprising people who’ve had very successful careers in their own right. Angels seem to be motivated by a combination of ‘staying in the game,’ helping young founders be successful, earning a return and/ or making a meaningful impact. Though without exception, angels’ unique expertise is hugely valuable in evaluating start-ups seeking investment and advising them once investments are made.

T.H.E.: How do you see Ascent helping people transition to angel investing?

Mooney: The Ascent has a lower investment threshold, and hence removes the upfront ‘big check’ that might be a barrier for some contemplating joining QCA. This is especially true for women and minorities. The program allows Ascent members to gain experience and confidence in angel investing, and to learn from the vast wisdom of the QCA group.

T.H.E.: How do we get more women to get engaged with investing in start-ups?

Mooney: To get more women engaged with investing in start-ups, we need to address the aforementioned challenges barriers to entry: 1) awareness, 2) education, 3) risk and 4) respect. A great example of an event that addressed the first two was the Venturesome Woman event, a by-women, for-women day-long educational workshop last Summer. There were 60+ fabulous women in attendance. The energy was amazing. The curriculum was terrific. The speakers were true subject matter experts. The materials were relevant and helpful. We all left energized and inspired! I’m hoping we can do more of these types of things. Another example that addresses all four challenges mentioned are angel funds like Rising Tide abd Next Wave that are squarely focus on diversity of investors and companies.

T.H.E.: What’s next for Ascent?

Mooney: Ascent is just getting started. As QCA raises its next fund in the next year or so, we want to dramatically grow Ascent membership to perhaps 10% of the total fund. Achieving this would amount to quintupling the number of Ascent members vs. today. This would have a huge immediate impact on the diversity of QCA!