Vanessa Proust - From EY partner to fund and community manager

Roundtable
Published on
November 22, 2023
Last edited on
May
X
min read
6
min read
Summary

Vanessa Proust - From EY partner to fund and community manager

Roundtable
Published on
November 22, 2023
Last edited on
6
min read
May
?
min read
Vanessa Proust image

Vanessa Proust rose quickly to partner at EY (Ernst & Young) before dedicating herself full-time to investing in early-stage companies. Her first group project was to launch Neo Founders, an unregulated investment fund alongside fellow business school alumni. Now she is opening up an investment community called One Green Club Deal on Roundtable with a minimum ticket size of EUR10,000.

Vanessa has a strong conviction that business angels are curious people who want to gain an insight into entrepreneurs’ minds, and have much more than money to share.

From EY partner to Angel investing

Roundtable: Vanessa, you describe yourself as a ‘serial early-stage investor’ – what led you to this career track?

Vanessa: I’d been working at Ernst & Young (EY) for 14 years. I was on a fast track, it went well, and I became partner. At this time I started investing, and I realised the most inspiring people are entrepreneurs, especially at seed stage. Two years ago I decided to dedicate myself full time to investing in startups.

Roundtable: You are co-founder and CEO of an unregulated investment fund Neo Founders, which you launched earlier this year. You also launched One Green Club Deal. Can you tell me more about these projects?

Vanessa: I started with 20 other investors who had graduated from my alma mater, Neoma Business School. I was receiving pitch decks and I needed to find a group of trusted people to help analyse them. There is strength in unity! I gathered people from different backgrounds – we have graduates from 1980, all the way up to 2015.

My investment community, One Green Club Deal, is another side of the business but there is some overlap in terms of deals. Some of the startups I invest in via One Green Club Deal are also startups that have been selected by Neo Founders.

Investment and Due Diligence

Roundtable: Why did you launch One Green Club Deal?

Vanessa: I strongly believe that angel investors are key to successful seed investments. We take much higher risks than other groups that are more formalised.

I want to lower the risk by creating a stronger channel of communication between entrepreneurs and investors. A lot of the time you can transfer funds and forget about them – but I want to change that. Maybe three times a year, I plan to hold a gathering – I don’t like the word ‘meeting’ – for the entrepreneurs and investors to spend time together.

Roundtable: Are you open to investing in all industries?

Vanessa: There are some sectors I tend to avoid, such as NFT and crypto, because I don't know how to analyse them. And if I can't analyse them, I can't syndicate investors because it’s very important that investors trust me.

Roundtable: On your Roundtable page, you said you only pick around 10 deals a year. How do you balance the time and effort to sift through pitches versus carrying out due diligence on the chosen deals?

Vanessa: I receive between three to five deals a day. It's a lot. So now I'm working with two analysts; we try to narrow the scope to spend time on the best ideas, the best startups.

I do a deep dive on due diligence. I ask for the legal documentation, the banking statements, review the business plan, and talk to clients.

I am member of ten strategic boards so it takes a lot of time. I read all the reports and decks before a meeting. I try to be efficient, and keep meetings to 30, even 15, minutes.

Now that One Green Club Deal has launched, I will dedicate more time there. If you represent 15% of a startup’s cap table, you have more skin in the game.

Helping founders

Roundtable: I presume there are some companies that just want the cash as opposed to angels’ involvement?

Vanessa: Even though some entrepreneurs may believe they only require capital, 'smart money' from investors who can invest their time and share their network is undeniably a significant advantage for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are often working alone, dealing with critical issues such as talent management, addressing bad leavers, managing their runway and defining their equity strategy. Sharing their concerns and challenges with investors who are serial entrepreneurs and have faced similar situations is invaluable.

Typical business angels tend to receive reports from companies four times a year. The reports are fairly overarching and you may feel that everything is going well. But maybe one day it won’t be going so well and you don't know why – there is a huge discrepancy in information between entrepreneurs and the management team, the board members and the investors.

To me, it's very important not to have such a big gap. When you are on the board, you are more aware of what’s going on, and the more you can help out.

I'm fascinated by entrepreneurs. They are true visionaries who take risks. They spend their nights and days thinking about their companies. My place is to help them, not monitor them.

Roundtable: How much time do you expect your fellow community members to spend with companies?

Vanessa: I let each investor get involved in any way they want and are able to, but I want them to realise that one hour of quality time can save an entrepreneur weeks or months in terms of execution.

Angel investors’ primary motivator is not only money. They don't want to lose money, but they don’t expect to earn money very easily either. You usually need to wait for five to seven years to get your money back.  Investors also want to experience the entrepreneur's journey. They want to understand how the young entrepreneurs behave, how they think. That's why most of them are very happy to spend some time with them.

Championing Diversity

Roundtable: There are not that many women in this space. What is your attitude towards being the face of this syndicate? And what has your general experience been like?

Vanessa: Regarding the investors in my community, I think they trust me and are well aware of my experience.

Actually, I think it's an asset to be a woman investor. Some companies are willing to adjust their minimum ticket size for you as they want more women on their cap table. I also receive deals from very famous funds for similar reasons.

Of course, the cap table is a spreadsheet. It’s not public. But sometimes companies want me to be on their strategic committee, which is public. The highest performing startups will be the most inclusive, with people from different backgrounds and ways of thinking.

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