We had the pleasure to interview Astrid Waucquez, Credit Risk Manager in a financial institution and Consular Magistrate. Two years ago, she decided to join BeAngels and discover the appealing startup world...🌍
Are there fewer women business angels?
I know only a few myself from my generation, which doesn’t mean that there aren’t any, far from it in fact. There are several aspects to consider, including age, although society is changing and as you look at start-ups, also at mature companies, you will see an increasing number of women in key roles. Just look at BeAngels, for example. This is also true in the world of investments, in the broader sense, and therefore for business angels generally. There are also women’s business angel networks, which are highly developed in certain countries. Could it be that women are less inclined to get involved in risky investments? It is possibly a cultural thing; not sure this is always true. Look at the network, there are highly experienced women who have been actively involved for a long time. You must be realistic however and bear in mind that you need a certain level of savings to invest, although the same is true for everyone. Then there are the skills involved, along with information pooling, relations, and analysis. In my opinion, the experience and your input are not a gender thing.
Is its riskier to invest in start-ups now?
Although we refer to it as risk capital, all investments are risky today. There is a major shift underway in our economy and we are at the dawn of an inflationary period, with stock markets falling and a risk of interest rates rising sharply. Supply chains are being disrupted, on top of the major geopolitical events and the energy crisis. We are entering into a volatile phase, characterised by much shorter cycles. Everything is changing, but this doesn’t undermine the fact that we should be interested in new companies, more than ever before in my opinion. We will change our behaviour and our way of thinking. On this score, our interest in innovative star-tup companies is the key. It represents much-needed participation in the real economy, particularly when the economic situation is undergoing major change. There are now new greener and more social requirements. There is risk, but there are also opportunities.
Can you tell us a bit more about your professional background?
I have a masters’ degree in bioengineering from Université Catholique de Louvain. I began my career in banking, at ING, where I held various positions before joining another institution, involved in financial market infrastructures and asset servicing. A relatively classic career path, but it enabled me to shift from traditional banking services and credit extension to functions in securitization, management of fixed-income funds and risk management. My career was punctuated by family duties and the desire to follow training programmes, including moving abroad as an ex-pat. So, over the years, in parallel with my professional life, I lived in Hong Kong and began studying Mandarin. I gained an additional masters’ degree in financial risk management in 2008 at Saint-Louis University and in 2020, I completed a real estate programme at Solvay Business School, all have been valuable learning experiences in exciting or difficult transition periods: fast growing Asia, financial and liquidity crisis in 2008, Covid. During the Covid crisis, we learnt we could also work and study 100% online. This seems obvious today, but curiously, that wasn’t really the case two years ago. I am also a consular magistrate at the companies’ tribunal & bankruptcy commission. These events and initiatives, contacts with people helped me to build experience and skills.
Are you deeply involved in the network?
I began in an initial investors’ group in 2020 and then became a member of a second business angels club (BAC). This formula also enables you to join the BeAngels Academy, which involves participating in eight training sessions, provided by experienced business angels, covering the investment cycle, throughout the key stages of selection, valuation, due diligence, shareholders’ pact and through until exit.
But yes, I have put a lot of effort into some due diligence (project analysis) following start-up pitch sessions. I have drafted reports and given my opinion to the other members, which takes some time to do. Although I worked late into the evening in front of my screen, I find that it is essential to do several reviews when you are launching as an investor. Otherwise, you are just following advice.
What must you look out for when investing as a group?
When you invest through a group, you must pay attention to keeping your own personality, which is much harder to do than it appears. You must ask yourself whether you would have made the same investment on your own. You must not be afraid to oppose the dominant view. I always ask myself what I can input, as even when you think you know your sector, you are still a novice. There is also the time constraint and certain issues may prevent you from immediately volunteering as a candidate for board membership in a start-up. But those who are can do so follow the development on a step-by-step basis and play an active role, probably over several years. It is much more than a simple financial investment. If for various reasons, you have less time, you can invest through other formulas such as SIBAs or ScaleFund, which also enable you to potentially benefit from better tax relief (Tax Shelter) or orientate your funds towards companies at a more advanced stage.
How do you see the business angel’s industry?
It will be a long and exciting journey and I am only just beginning. And yes, there is a learning curve. We don’t talk enough about the follow-through, as once you have selected a project and put some money into it, you are only at the beginning. It is a whole learning process. A banking boss once said to me “the only way to really understand something, is to do it”. And it is true. My work enabled me to use my analytical and judgement capacities and my ability to take decisions. I have done in-depth due diligences, notably in fixed-income structuring, but as a business angel, you need to assess other elements such as competition, financial plans, management teams, sector, and scalability, but above all, you must understand the business model, how the company works, or how it will function, and whether it has a chance of validating its idea.
And then there’s the negotiation phase once you decide to invest. This requires diligence and hard work. I am delighted to be involved in these aspects and I also enjoy the strong group dynamics. Participants come from all different backgrounds: entrepreneurs, managers, field specialists, some have pursued international careers and there is a mix of age groups and experiences. All provide their input and ideas. This is highly inspiring.
In your opinion, are there any conditions for becoming a business angel?
You must be curious. Which I am. I have always liked doing different things, diving into the deep end of jobs I wasn’t trained for. I think you would need to dedicate some time and have some savings. Not necessarily a lot of money though. Everyone should be aware of what they can commit. It is always possible to invest moderate amounts. Personal experience and skills are also most welcome. Some start-up companies already have financing in place, or less difficulty in finding funds, but are seeking advice and support. I believe you should dare to tell yourself that even without being a company boss or having had an exceptional career, you can get involved, be audacious but with humility. We often play an unexpected role when decisions must be made.
What would you say to women who are hesitating over getting involved?
While I don’t want to focus on gender matters, I do believe women are curious by nature but generally not so good at promoting themselves. We are undoubtedly a bit more reserved overall in showing our talents. Better to not be weighed down by this however and go forward. The development, creation and challenges that lie ahead cannot be met if we leave more than 50% of humanity out of the equation, so I advise people to go for it. If you are passionate about something, if you want to set up something or manage a business, becoming a business angel is an excellent way in.
Even though they do not represent a majority in our groups, there is growing desire to participate, and more and more women are joining. Awareness is therefore growing, and I reiterate, you don’t necessarily have to put a lot of money in. Also, there is no hierarchy. The atmosphere is friendly, and it is true to say that whatever our career path or status, we can all be right or wrong at decision time. One thing is sure, we all pull together, as it is a real partnership and a high dive into a fantastic ecosystem which gets you thinking outside of the box. So, if you are hesitating, take your chance!