Every month, BeAngels profiles a member of its investment community. This month, we interviewed Anne Cambier, who has been an active member for 7 years. After holding several different positions in both major and smaller businesses, Anne decided mid-career to set up as a freelancer in human resources. This new chapter represented her first step towards entrepreneurship, before becoming a business angel a few years later.
Can you tell us a little more about your professional career path?
After completing my engineering studies specialising in applied maths, I began my career at Accenture, in the corporate and industry sector. I stayed there for 8 years, before joining the telecoms group Mobistar, which was launching at the time.
I had the good fortune of experiencing extraordinary growth in this company which had to start out from scratch. I occupied several positions in marketing, supply chain, customer service and human resources and I was even lucky enough to be nominated to the board. The startup had reliable shareholders and available cash at the time, so anything was possible. And it was highly stimulating.
At the age of 45, I decided that I had learnt an enormous amount in all corporate domains through the various positions that I had held and I wanted to focus on my choice area, which is human relations. So I set up as a freelance operator to help companies transform their human resources into human relations.
How did you hear about this activity?
A friend asked me whether I had heard of BeAngels. I hadn’t, but listening to my friend, I thought that I was not at all suited to this type of investing. I imagined it was better suited to people who have more money than they know what to do with (laughs).
And then I met Claire, the CEO of BeAngels, who is punchy and dynamic. I dipped my toe into the business through the group investment formula (BAC). When I mentioned it to my husband, he said “what are you getting involved in, this thing for seniors?”. And then through recounting my network evenings and the projects I saw developing, he ended up becoming a member a year after me (smiles).
How do you explain getting involved in this rather particular business?
I am someone who naturally likes to experiment and take action. I try things out to see if they work. I don’t beat around the bush with questions. So I arrived at BeAngels telling myself that I knew nothing and that I would see what it was like.
However, being a business angel appeared too daunting and complicated and I didn’t know where to begin. I took the plunge however, thanks to the group investment formula (BAC). The group provided a reassuring environment. It was like we were all at school together to learn.
When I began the BAC, the coaches in charge of the group asked me whether I had an investment strategy. I thought to myself “how do I know?” (laughs). It all makes perfect sense today however. In hindsight, it’s rather amusing to see how your attitude changes regarding the projects presented. During the first few forums, you want to invest in all of the projects, as they all seem great, but after a few months, total paralysis sets in, as everything appears too risky.
And then gradually, you find the right balance between the two. It’s as if there is a mental transition with regard to risk-taking. For this to happen, you have to ask yourself what you believe is a sound project and what you want to invest in or not. This is why it’s important to know your values, but also your skills. Investing in a project without adding any value makes no sense to me.
How do you gauge your involvement as a business angel?
My level of involvement varies greatly. As I am independent, I manage my involvement according to my availability. There are times when I am more involved and other times when I am less so. When I want to follow a project, I work out who is potentially involved in the funding round during due diligence meetings. If I see that there are highly skilled people involved, I take a back seat. If there is no one suitably qualified and I have the required skills and enough free time, I take the lead in analysing the project. I adapt. This requires knowledge of the network however and I also have to feel comfortable in the role.
What attracted you to becoming a business angel?
Firstly, knowing tomorrow’s companies. Seeing trends in the economy and among business models. This is highly interesting intellectually.
I also like to be able to contribute as a small cog in the large machine and input some value to the future economy through startups. I believe that we are sometimes a little too humble. However, there are real economic issues at stake, both in Belgium and the European level.
I also enjoy being a business angel and feel good about it. When I attend pitch evenings, I meet people from the community; it is rewarding and not pretentious. I can play an active role among entrepreneurs, which I particularly enjoy. I despise networks where you just shake a few hands, without any tangible follow-through. If I decide to be a business angel, it’s in order to be actively involved.
Lastly, I love discussing issues with people who are ready to listen. It’s a completely different set of dynamics compared to my previous career. We compare our experiences and I learn a lot.
What are the criteria for choosing a project?
I have to like the project’s sector and values. On reflexion, the majority of the projects I have invested in have a technological and sustainable component, associated with the environment. To a certain extent, the startup has to propose a solution which “helps make the world go around”. Without forgetting the startup team, which must also inspire confidence and be readily approachable.
Are you proud of any of your investments?
Not yet (laughs). But I do have some regrets. Sometimes I hesitate too much and err on the side of caution. But the world is full of regrets and that’s all part of the learning curve.
Does investing in start-ups give you some personal satisfaction?
When a startup you invest in is doing well, you have a sense of pride and satisfaction.
Do you agree with the statement “it takes time to become a business angel”?
Although I don’t think I would have ever got involved in this business with a full-time job, that was wrong. Being up to date with the latest innovations adds great value to your work. I even think this notion should be prized among companies.
But to give you a straight answer, yes, it does take a certain amount of time if you want to do it properly. However, the digitalisation of the network now enables due diligence meetings to be organised with entrepreneurs on-line, which saves a lot of time.
Women are still underrepresented among business angels, including at BeAngels. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitating over getting involved?
Try it out and get involved as a business angel, but without investing astronomical amounts of money. We find our right place by testing the water and then realise what supporting entrepreneurs can bring us in return.