The 10-Minute Interview – Business Angel Eileen Burbidge

Business Angel and Internet technology expert, Eileen Burbidge, talks to Brett Tudor about why she became a business angel and what she looks for in the businesses she invests in.

Eileen has held senior leadership roles at Yahoo!, Skype, PalmSource, Openwave, Sun Microsystems, Apple and Verizon Wireless. She is currently involved in establishing White Bear Yard in London for technology innovation and startups, Eileen is also an advisor to Ambient Sound Investments.

What made you decide to become a business angel?
After Skype I teamed up to work with the founding engineers again, who had set up a small early stage venture fund, Ambient Sound Investments (www.asi.ee), and through the course of evaluating potential investments for them I realised there were certain projects or teams that I wanted to personally support – even if ASI elected not to.  It’s a habit or tendency I’ve been trying to break ever since…!

What do you look for in a business you decide to invest in?

The most important facets of a business I would invest in are its founding team – and the people behind it, starting it and/or also supporting it.  I think life is too short – and there are too many interesting projects out there – to spend one’s time with people who don’t somehow enhance your working/general life and day to day interactions.

How important has your expertise in technology been in helping you choose the right businesses?

I believe that it’s been helpful, but you never do know what you don’t know, so I may actually not have as much expertise as I’d like to think!  I feel that it helps the most in being able to relate to technology founders and in assessing the challenges and decision points in building and growing an early-stage technology business.  By the same token, I try to only evaluate businesses in which I have some basic level of understanding, so for example I would stay away from robotics or artificial intelligence, genomes or an area in which I had no understanding.

Should anyone who hopes to invest in this area have the right technical knowledge to help them make the right decision?
I believe it helps, but with early-stage investment decisions, one’s gut and intuition is often what makes the final call.  So whatever data points will help to influence that are always helpful.  Perhaps sometimes the people (and existing support around those people/team) are enough.

What do you think will be the next big thing in Internet technology?
If I knew that I’d be strictly focused on that – and not investing in or working on anything else!  That said, I don’t know what I feel will bring the biggest change from a “technology point of view”, but I think a lot of opportunities lie in how the technology will be applied, consumed or impact on existing commercial models and products/services.

Is now a good time to start a business in the UK?
I think it’s always a good time to start a business, but particularly now as there is a talent pool established and some tastes of success to whet entrepreneurs, employees and investors’ appetites.

According to the British Business Angels Association only 5% of business angels in the UK are women, why do you think the numbers are so low?
I couldn’t really say and have wondered the same thing myself, but at the same time I feel it’s important to take this statistic into context with the larger business world.  So for example, as I understand it, only 3% of FTSE 100 companies are run by women.  If that’s the case, perhaps the fact that 5% of business angels are female is a positive sign.  Women’s participation/involvement in business (either as employees/team members, executive leaders, directors, advisors or investors) in general needs to be considered – and once that grows, so will the proportion of business angels I’m sure.

What advice would you give to other women looking to get involved in angel investing?
Please go ahead and get started, and feel free to contact me if you want any encouragement or suggestions on where or how!

http://www.linkedin.com/in/eileenburbidge, Twitter handle @eileentso

White Bear Yard website: http://whitebearyard.com

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