A few years ago, Maria Maso, an entrepreneur and investment maven originally from Barcelona, worked as an IT program manager for Fortune 500 companies like Shell, Telecom, and Centrica. Then a very sick child spurred her family's move to Houston for better medical care, where she "started to become interested in how these technical [medical] devices are made that are saving our family’s life — and who is investing in them."
But Maso, whose career focused on finance process improvements around the world, quickly discovered that one of the biggest problems plaguing this kind of innovation is lack of diversity.
Maso's investing journey began after her friend Juliana Garaizar, the Director of the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund and former managing director of the Houston Angel Network, nudged her to become an angel investor for several local organizations. It didn't take long for her to encounter multiple roadblocks.
“The first problem was that they were not inclusive. I was the only Latin lady, speaking too fast, moving too much, and not really feeling like part of the team,” Maso says. “The other problem was that they were not educating me. They assumed that because I had the capital and wished to invest, I knew what was going on.”
After a meeting in 2019 with the Angel Capital Association, Maso realized that not having enough investors from diverse backgrounds was a national problem leading to lack of investment in diverse startups. This felt personal to Maso given that although more than 70% of the Houston population belongs to a minority group, New Majority business owners still represent less than a quarter of the local startup ecosystem.
“I was surprised that even though I was in Houston, at the Latin Round Table, and in all the organizations I should be a part of, I was not not getting good investment opportunities,” Maso says. “We’re just missing an organization that will bring together new investors, and bring together more capital to be invested in minorities.”
This is how the Business Angel Minority Association (baMa) was born in March 2020. baMa aims to bridge the investment gap in New Majority startups, or startups targeting minority-driven markets, by rallying a troop of accredited investors with an annual investment pledge and presenting them with 10 annual pitches. To be able to pitch baMa, startups need to be either founded by a New Majority member or have a New Majority member on the board. Because baMa is still a new organization, they currently require an investor to lead the round.
baMa has responded to the challenges of COVID by launching its Investment Academy with four modules addressing the basics of business angel education, the basics of investing, the difference between venture capital and corporate venture, legal information, and more. “For me education was an important part of the journey,” says Maso. The original plan was to launch the academy in 2021, but because there’s been a lag of investors, Maso decided it was best to start the education process first.
In fact, Maso sees a silver lining in the current moment: “A lot of people were supposed to join us but didn’t because of COVID, so naturally, why not educate as we wait?” The first round of one-on-one business angel education begins in August.
In the meantime, baMa is also focusing on building partnerships with other organizations that are also investing in minority startups. Most recently, it partnered with Hub Angels, the Boston investor group.
“There are a lot of good initiatives that aren’t working properly together. One of the ways we’re trying to address that issue is by making a fund of funds,” Maso says. “That way we can bring more money to the table and invest in organizations that are already in the market. Our goal is that baMa will have their own fund that will be invested in startups and other funds.”