Every month, BeAngels profiles one member to shed light on the profile of business angels within our community. March's profile focuses on one of our women members, Corinne Saunders. Although her background was broad and varied after two decades of executive career, Corinne loves learning and innovation, so becoming a business angel was only a natural step.
Can you tell us a bit more about your professional background?
After studying economics and languages in France, I moved to the US where I lived and worked for five years, which has been critical in forging my corporate identity. Upon my return to Europe, I spent the next 25 years working for large Multinationals in BtoB services (American Express, Dun&Bradstreet, Wolters Kluwer) as a Global "Corporate Intrapreneur," opening or scaling new markets/ entities and/or pivoting them in Europe, Asia, and South America. I always worked closely with our M&A teams in sourcing, negotiating, and integrating small new assets.
For the last few years, I have worked for Private Equity firms as a Strategic advisor and as an Interim Operational Executive. For the last 15 years, in parallel, I have acted as a Non-Executive Director on several international boards, first within the Joint Ventures operated by Dun& Bradstreet and then on tech European boards.
How did you become an angel?
Throughout my professional life, I gained significant experience by identifying and assessing “small assets” (startups or scale-ups) to accelerate growth plans and integrated several within the large corporate environment. I experienced first-hand the challenges faced by those entrepreneurs to adapt to this new environment. I also saw how much fun and stimulating it was to work with people who had created and were passionate about their own businesses. In parallel, I mentor for PWI (Professional Women International), including for the founders of 2 startups, accompanying them from conceptualisation to launch.
All this has motivated me to become an active part of our local Benelux entrepreneurial ecosystem. Having the opportunity to learn how to invest personally in startups in a collegial group manner, as we do at BeAngels, is attractive. Combining investment training offered by BA Academy with group investment is one of the safest and most progressive ways of becoming an angel investor. I am excited about the next few months and all the learnings this brings.
Do you consider your experience and background an advantage to investing in startups?
Indeed. To be a business angel is to actively support entrepreneurs and their teams by providing industry or functional knowledge. It has to be a constructive and insightful collaboration over and above the financial support.
Being able to bring well-rounded business experience coupled with in-depth execution in a particular field is a great advantage.
Do you gain anything from investing in startups on a personal level?
Personally, I believe it is a very rich experience on many fronts. Firstly, it is a great learning experience. By nature, entrepreneurs work on finding new solutions to existing challenges, whereas by introducing new processes, leveraging new technologies and diversifying channels for product distribution, by hearing monthly about pre-selected start-ups, you stay at the forefront of what is happening in Fintech, Med Tech, HR tech and new concepts of living and working on the innovation front.
Secondly, participating in an investor’s group is a very valuable approach. You are confronted with colleagues from very different backgrounds and profiles who must come together for a majority decision on 2 to 3 start-ups during their year-long engagement.
This requires good team dynamics and healthy debates about the business.
Thirdly, being able to encourage early business concepts to come to life is a purposeful and rewarding undertaking.
"Being a business angel takes time." Do you agree with this saying?
It takes time, and therefore you need to be doing this at the right time in your professional life. You need time to investigate the various start-ups you could be interested in, assessing their market trends, competition and current situation. When you go into due diligence, it is like any other due diligence except that you have fewer data and need to pay a lot of attention to the current team, their current trajectory towards key milestones, their cash burn rate etc. Ideally, meeting the founders virtually or in person and testing their strength as a team is critical.
What do you look for specifically in founders and companies when considering an investment with the group?
As I just said, I believe the team is very important. Being able to check the expertise but also passion they bring to their business. Secondly, the market and the ability of the team to be able to scale within that market. Finally, the financials as, as an investor, you want to ensure you are “betting on the right horses” if possible. Last but not least, I personally look at sectors I understand better and or have a better affinity with ( BtoB Saas models, Ed, HR tech or enterprise workflows’ efficiency solutions).
Start up against large corporates? Do you see a difference in innovation?
Obviously, one is the level of investment dedicated to innovation.
Even though this is changing, large corporations often look at innovation as a pure incremental improvement to current products/solutions. In start-ups, you see more leap-frog innovation., totally disrupting an existing value chain and business model.
How do you see the business angel industry today?
The startup ecosystem will keep growing, pushed by Generation Z and younger professionals whose work identity is closer to the startup world than traditional large companies. The ecosystem for start-up, state and business school structures has really developed over the last years, and this will definitely encourage more entrants.
I hope there will be more bridges between start-ups and large companies so that we will see more corporate incubators allowing start-ups to grow with investment and corporate support.
In your opinion, are there any conditions for becoming a business angel?
You need to be intellectually curious and willing to keep learning because technological disruptions keep accelerating. You need time to properly assess the start-ups and eventually join their Board or advise them to second them as much as possible. be open-minded because you will be exposed to projects from all sectors, biotech, green tech, media tech, and so much more, as BeAngels is sector agnostic. You also need to be at ease with uncertainty because you are confronted with only the possibility of success in the startup world, and you are there to try to allow it.
I read that you regularly mentor on behalf of European women's executive networks. Women are consistently underrepresented among business angels, unfortunately, including at BeAngels. What would you say to women who are hesitating over getting involved?
I would say, "Please come. And Join in.” We need more women at all levels, as investors and as entrepreneurs, to equally represent our society. This is a great way to shape the future by focusing on trends and challenges which really matter.
Are you interested in joining BeAngels or a Business Angel Club (BAC)? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.