Lauren Flanagan is a professional angel investor, Managing Director of BELLE Capital USA, and lifelong entrepreneur. She's been named Software CEO of the year by Frost and Sullivan, Top 25 Angels in Tech by BusinessWeek and to 40 over 40. She's proudest of her Northstar award from Springboard Enterprises. A California girl who now lives along the Lake Michigan lakeshore, wherever she goes and whatever she does, she's advocating for women and girls.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and what underlying characteristics do you see in successful entrepreneurs?
LF: Entrepreneurship is one of the highest forms of creativity. We create the future, the world we want to live in by inventing new products, services, methods and processes. True entrepreneurs have a relentless desire to solve a particular problem that allows them to override the naysayers and which propels them out of bed every morning, no matter the obstacles. The best entrepreneurs inspire an esprit du corps while leading their team to achieve its mission. Enduring entrepreneurs light their path with humor and kindness.
What are you most proud of in your professional career?
LF: I'm on a mission to help grow the ecosystem of women investors investing in women-led technology companies. My first fund, Phenomenelle Angels Fund, invested in 10 companies. My current fund, BELLE Capital USA, has invested in 3 companies out of a planned 12+ investments over the next few years. I'm very proud that some of the women entrepreneurs I've previously backed have joined BELLE as limited partners. This is how women become the solution to our capital access problem. We pay our financial and human capital forward to other women, creating wealth for investors, entrepreneurs and employees alike, and establishing new role models for girls.
I'm also very proud of Current Motor, makers of all-electric motorcycles and solar charging stations for business and government applications. This is by far the hardest problem I've ever tried to solve, only possible because we have a terrific team who have brought novel products to market in a highly capital efficient manner. We're manufacturing in and exporting from Michigan!
If you could do something over in your life, what would it be?
LF: I have very few regrets. I don't believe in failure either--I prefer to call it Learnings or a "Red Badge of Courage". It's only failure if you repeat the mistake, meaning you haven't learned from it.
I have learned to be more careful about aligning stakeholder values and objectives, whether accepting money from investors or investing in early stage companies. Entrepreneurs should do careful diligence on potential investors (as investors do on them) and make sure their goals and timelines are in alignment. Lack of alignment is one of the biggest causes of "failed" companies and investments.
Tell us about an instance where you had to go against the flow to realize your goal.
LF: An optimistic contrarian, I go against the flow/conventional wisdom all the time, in creating a new girls club in contrast to the good old boys in venture capital. We chose not to seek institutional investors into my fund (BELLE Capital is all women investors or investment entities led by women), we choose to focus on women-led companies (we have no lack of deal flow despite the naysayers), and we invest in underserved markets across the USA (there are great companies being built outside the Bay Area, NYC and Boston). I'm an avid fisherwoman and I like to look for big fish and big companies in waters other boats haven't found.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
LF: There's no such thing for entrepreneurs, and there's no substitute for hard work ("elbow grease" as my Mother calls it) if you are to achieve the mission. However there are phases where you can be working long hours to hit a deadline, and then phases where it's possible to take more time for yourself, family and friends, girding your strength for the next intense phase of work. It is important to find time daily to feed your spirit, whether it's being out in nature, through meditation, playing with your dog or going to your preferred place of worship.
LinkedIn style -- If you were to give advice to your 22-year-old self, what would it be?
LF: I had already co-founded a few ventures by 22. I'd tell my younger self 3 things:
1) Life is a marathon, not a sprint so take care of yourself first. Healthy bodies and calm minds perform best over time. Sleep is your best friend;
2) What other people think doesn't matter, so don't take criticism or rejection personally, and
3) It's never too early to start growing a diverse investment portfolio.