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An angel at our table

Susan Oliver and Angel Investing by Annie Bolitho

Photo by Jacinta Cubis

In the past seven years I’ve worked alongside many social entrepreneurs and start up founders as a founding and ongoing member of co-work space, Hub Melbourne. I put up my hand to do this blog as I’m interested in how women fit into the start up picture.

So it was the February Women’s Table. I sat next to Susan Oliver, founder and chair of an angel investing group targeting women with innovative business ideas - Scale Investors http://scaleinvestors.com.au.

It was 36 degrees and we went straight to places by the fan. Later when I was writing this blog, considering what matters to Susan, as a woman out front in the world of change, she walked past the window of the cafe carrying a wallet of papers! I wondered if the contents were in line with my question ...what matters to Susan Oliver?

The smell of concrete

From childhood the construction of the built environment attracted Susan. Building, a scene of action that has the capacity influence so much change. She began her career in construction and came to be known as a woman with heavy industry expertise, sought after for housing, automative, and infrastructure roles. She loved being on the board of Transurban starting in the 1990s, influencing corporate social responsibility and diversity policy and setting strategy that endures today. 'I built my future' she said.

Productive Investment 

Private enterprise excites Susan. She likes how with money, you can do stuff. She encountered angel investing in the US through Golden Seeds and was determined to make it make happen here. Scale Investors was born to:

  • Invest in the future and the future of work
  • Develop women as entrepreneurs (currently only 4% of investment in entrepreneurial innovation goes to women), and
  • Create capacity in women investors.

In four years, through Scale Investors approximately $6 million private investment has flowed to social entrepreneurs and start ups led by women, with little government assistance. There are now 100 Angels. Investment is in ventures with a business plan that anticipates a $20-30 million exit in 5-10 years. My enterprise, Kinship Ritual isn’t going to be a qualifier!

Changing the landscape of social investment

Angel investing makes a difference to the start ups that are funded. You can find case studies at http://scaleinvestors.com.au/

It’s an amazing option for women who want to make a difference through investing, who become part of an investor community, learn what a good pitch is and increase women-led innovation, as well as being so welcome to women founders seeking funds.

Some surprises

I’ll just conclude with some things that surprised me:

  • Susan’s perception that women investors are sometimes too cautious - getting lost in the details and losing sight of the big picture. 
  • Start up women are mature women, they work in snatches and at night around children and household responsibilities, Despite this the general perception of start up persona is a youthful male. 
  • The decision to invest in a start up relates to a significant extent to the entrepreneur's energy. Investors want to know that they’re dealing with a person of substance.

There was plenty more exchange on what matters during this lunch at The Women's Table. They included what we learned about Susan's own start up and her views on governance and boards. That's another story for another time...

When she's not sitting at The Women's Table you can find Annie Bolitho at

Kinship Ritual www.kinshipritual.com.au

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