Meet our Angels: Dara Nikolova - INTERVIEW FOR THE WOMEN WEEK
Updated: Mar 13
1. About yourself
Hails from: Bulgaria
Education: Bachelor of Science from University of Pennsylvania; MBA from INSEAD
First Job: Investment Banking Analyst at Morgan Stanley
Work Attire: No heels!
Hobbies: Running and acrobatics
Most admired woman entrepreneur or investor, and why: I firmly believe that success without integrity is hollow and I admire people who don’t compromise with their core values in pursuit of a goal. I’ve been lucky to meet a number of such women and one that I think many of you know is Hedda Pahlson-Moller. She does not compromise with her values to take shortcuts and works to build up people and set them up for success. This for me is the most important quality both for an investor and a business leader.
2. About woman angel investing.
What were your motivations being an angel investor? I thought a safe way to get experience as an entrepreneur would be to back the startup of a good friend. Yes, I know. Anyway, I lived vicariously through his infectious passion for a while, but I would have likely stopped then and there. One day I was invited to coach aspiring entrepreneurs on fundraising. They had so many questions and challenges that I was actually able to help resolve! I now look for opportunities to invest my time, experience and relationships along with the money. It’s more fun and rewarding to put a part of yourself into building a dream from scratch.
As a woman do you have a different approach to find, evaluate deals? I don’t believe there is a specifically female or male approach to evaluating a deal. Where we may differ is in understanding the pain point an entrepreneur is solving if it is one where gender is relevant.
What are the specific woman concerns and barriers to angel investing?
Women (any underrepresented group, really) have been conditioned to avoid failure. We feel pressure to perform flawlessly because that’s the only way to overcome bias. We shun risks because we don’t want our failure to be taken as proof that the whole group is worthless. This risk-aversion is already a big barrier: you can’t be a business angel if you are not comfortable making expensive mistakes. One of the first LBAN meetings I attended was a fireside chat on the worst failures as an angel. This openness made me more comfortable with my own “learning moments” – happy to share those another time.
A more insidious way in which this fear plays out is the “impostor syndrome.” For a long time I didn’t trust myself to make an investment on my own, even though I had worked in banking and private equity and had a top MBA. I kept thinking that I can’t possibly be any good and it’s only a matter of time before people see that. It took a lot of coaching and positive feedback from founders and fellow investors before I started to feel secure in the value I bring.
Business Angels Demographics show that 1.1 in 10 BAs is a woman and 3in 10 in Central & Eastern Europe (EBAN, Nov 2019). How can we attract more women to become business angels? I would love to dig deeper into the reason for the higher proportion of female angels in CEE and whether it correlates with the similar proportion of women in STEM in the region. I think it’s easier to start investing in a sector you know well (having a lucrative career helps too). You also must remove the barriers we spoke about earlier. A strong community, an open forum to share expertise and a safe space to experiment are key.
Would you agree with the statement: the more woman business angels there are, the more women entrepreneurs there will be? I think the opposite is just as likely to be true. Or maybe they are both a result of decades of work for gender equality? What ultimately matters is that everyone has the opportunity to be an angel or an entrepreneur if they so desire.
3. Tips & Advice for aspiring woman business angels
Which are the most important qualities of a good woman business angel? The same as the most important qualities for any angel: be confident in what you’re good at, test your assumptions anyway, and never forget that success comes when you lift people up.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring woman angel investors? Trust your instincts, take risks and have fun.
Do you have any other pieces of advice? Surround yourself with people who are different from you. Helps with the blind spots and it is good exercise for your empathy muscles.
4. You & LBAN
Why did you decide to join LBAN? The free gin & tonics
What benefits did you find in LBAN? Previously it was the free gin & tonics, but now it’s the community. I’m also eagerly awaiting the shareholder agreement template. Sonia FRANCK