By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
They have received a great deal of attention locally, regionally and nationally since they announced their intentions in the fall of 2013.
The people to whom we are referring are the seven women in Chattanooga who are the energy behind The JumpFund, an angel fund dedicated to investing in women-owned or led companies.
“We are the only angel group in the southeast focused on women,” Kristina Montague, Managing Partner, says. On a national basis, there are a handful of groups, but they are mostly networks, not formal funds.
“Ours is very unique . . . all women investors investing in women,” Montague says.
Their work in a little over a year garnered recognition in December as the “Angel Investor or Angel Group of the Year” in the 2014 #AllAccess Awards.
In addition to Montague, the other partners, all Chattanooga-based, are Cory Allison, Chief Operating Officer of Iron Gaming Inc.; Betsy Blunt Brown, Vice President and Trust Officer at Cumberland Trust; Shelley Prevost, C-Founder and Partner at Lamp Post Group; Tiffanie Robinson, Director of Operations for Lamp Post Group and Founder of WayPaver; and Leonora Williamson, Vice President of Partner Development at SIGNiX. Chief Advisor is Stefanie Crowe, Executive Vice-President and Director of Wealth Services for Capital Mark Bank.
Like many initiatives originating in the Scenic City, their story is about taking things in their own hands to make a difference rather than waiting on others to do something.
During a recent interview, Montague explained the impetus for The JumpFund was a series of conversations launched by Prevost and Robinson. It was 2012, the first year of the city’s “GIGTANK” accelerator, and none of the teams was led by a female.
“I was in the initial conversation,” Montague recalls of the discussion that focused on the absence of active female entrepreneurs in Chattanooga. One meeting led to a series of sessions with a group that ultimately grew to about 20 women.
“We were told (that) you are going to move the needle if you address the lack of capital,” Montague said. Over about a 12-month period, a core group that included Crowe and Montague led an effort to determine the best way to address the need.
The JumpFund founders formally announced their intentions in November 2013 and completed their initial fund raising efforts last June with about 50 investors. Montague left her former position as Assistant Dean at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga’s business school that same month to assume the Managing Partner role.
With $2.5 million, she expects The JumpFund will make 10 to 15 investments over a three-year period. Five have already been announced, and those run the gamut – from a seed investment of $25,000 to one of $200,000 that The JumpFund led.
Is the fund focused just on Chattanooga? The quick answer is “no.” Three of the five are outside the group’s home base.
“We are looking for companies that have the potential to scale to at least $20 million and produce a return for our investors,” she explains. “We are not interested in lifestyle companies.”
Montague regularly uses the term “C Suite” as a metaphor to describe the role that a female must play for the company to be considered. In addition, she says any candidate for funding must have a clear exit strategy.
For companies interested in exploring funding from The JumpFund, Montague offers a simple first step.
“Look through our material online and see if you qualify before applying,” she says.
In addition to its funding, The JumpFund is also connected with other women-focused angel investors like Golden Seeds.
Looking back on a several-year effort, Montague talks proudly about the team’s success in building a fund to invest in women-led companies as well as its other focus – recruiting more females as investors.
Recalling the initial conversation around the “GIGTANK,” she notes the change that occurred in just a couple of years. Four of the 2014 “GIGTANK” companies were led by women.
Late last week, Montague issued an annual report on the first full year, describing 2014 as “a banner year.”