People of FiBAN: Female angels boosting diversity in the startup investing scene

March 06, 2020

Who are the power ladies behind one of the world’s biggest business angel networks? Let us introduce some of them to you together with investment tips and background stories shared by them. These female business angels bring much-needed gender diversity to the startup investing scene.

Diversity, in every sense of the word, gives us more capacity to help startup founders on a mission to solve big problems. Investing in women-led startups can generate higher revenue and improves gender equality in society. In the startup scene, there is need for more female founders as well as female investors.

Currently, only 11% of FiBAN members are female investors, and the community of angels hopes to see more women joining the network. To encourage women and enhance gender equality, we now share brief stories of some female business angels who represent the FiBAN community together with other enthusiastic angel investors.

Pia Erkinheimo

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Pia Erkinheimo joined FiBAN over five years ago. Besides this role, she has been working for innovation in startups and large companies. Pia describes herself as Jacqueline of all trades in innovation and is an experienced board member in several startups. Her background is at Nokia, Capgemini, DIGILE as well as the research and innovation work in the European Commission. Pia is a founding member of Women in Tech Finland and MyData Global. In August 2019, she started as a Director – Power of Data at Vake, The Finnish State Development Company, which is a new governmental investor focusing on climate actions and digital transformation.

My investment strategy is based on what I can give and learn with the company + understanding on what is sustainable business. Learning is the new currency.

My tip for fellow investors is to be patient and active – don’t be afraid to take a position in the board, the work always gives more than takes.

Ainomaija Haarla

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Ainomaija Haarla, Dr.Sc.(Tech.) and MBA, is a board professional, adviser and investor. She had a long career in large corporations in forest and metal industries mainly in Finland and in Germany, before joining a dynamic and fast-moving SME and startup world. Ainomaija has served in the Board of Directors of 17 companies, large, medium and small cap as of 2005 i.e. Neste, being the only bio-products expert in the Board 2005-2007. She joined venture cap firm in 2006 as a Member of the Board of Directors in Korona Invest and served as a Chair from 2008 until 2016. She presently serves as an industry partner in Evli Growth Partners, as an advisor for Korona Invest, runs a family office and works actively with five companies. Ainomaija joined FiBAN in 2013, has investigated 78 startups and invested in 16. She won FiBAN’s Exit of the Year Award in 2017 for Gold&Green Foods, a plant protein -based “Pulled oat” company established by two ladies, which is one of the few science-based successful innovations in Finland. Ainomaija worked as a Professor of Corporate Entrepreneurship in Aalto University from 2013 to 2017 still sparring startups established by her students. Her areas of interest include manufacturing, bio-products, packaging, water purification, educational games, AI and D&F.

My tip for fellow investors: use enough time to find out broadly the real capabilities of the team members and its internal dynamics; 2. having a serial entrepreneur in the team from the beginning is a benefit; 3. timing is everything!

Outside the FiBAN activities you’ll find me being a downhill ski instructor for my grandchildren in the Swiss Alps, in my greenhouse growing trees & vegetables & herbs, in art exhibitions or searching for new scientific discoveries having large market potential.

Maarit Halmela

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Maarit Halmela has a strong background in both developing B2B sales as well as customer service processes across different industries. In her everyday life, Maarit works as a consultant and runs a coaching company she founded herself. Her passion is to coach companies and individuals for a more meaningful and effective working life. Maarit joined FiBAN in 2017 and has since made a couple of investments. She is constantly learning more about angel investing. Most of her investments are made through other angels or through the FiBAN network.

Being a business angel makes me excited because I am able to develop Finnish startup communities further. I also hope that in the future I can give more time and know-how for startups.

My investment strategy is based on finding business ideas that I understand, scalability, and most importantly a good team.

Pia Jormalainen

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Pia Jormalainen joined FiBAN in 2014. Pia is an international entrepreneur and investor with over 15 years’ diverse experience in global business and marketing. Currently co-founder and CEO of New Nordic School. Having held global and local roles in marketing and business management both in Finland and abroad, Pia maneuvers well in corporate and start-up set-ups. Pia is known to be passionate about brand and business. Pia underlines continuous learning and graduated from Hanken eMBA program in December 2014. Pia’s investment focus is on companies and entrepreneurs solving customer problems in an innovative way.

Being a business angel makes me excited for many reasons: I get to know new, interesting people – both entrepreneurs and fellow-angels. I can apply what I have learned in the past, both working with corporations, but also as a start-up entrepreneur. Most importantly, sharing my own mistakes, so that entrepreneurs won’t repeat them – they have plenty of opportunities to make their own.

Outside the FiBAN activities you’ll most probably find me at New Nordic School negotiating deals for transforming education with Finnish type of education in India, Middle East or Southeast Asia.

Pia Kantola

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Pia Kantola is an international business leader with a strong customer relationship, digitalization and operations experience. She has worked in big international corporations, but also in smaller growth companies. She has gained successful results in managing customer operations, leading strategy projects and developing innovative digital solutions in consumer electronics, SW and automation industries. As a business angel she has invested in consumer product businesses as well as data and automation start-ups. Now she has a strong focus on sustainability and circular economy.

Being a business angel makes me excited because of the opportunity to help other entrepreneurs.

Female founders rock because they deliver good results.

Florence Korhonen

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Florence Korhonen joined FiBAN in 2011 and has since focused her professional activities around angel investing. She founded the Nordic Female Business Angel Network (NFBAN), in 2015 and actively continues to advocate attracting more women to angel investing as an asset class and to increase funding opportunities for startups.

Outside the FiBAN activities you’ll most likely find me at my office listening to a startup pitch, running a business networking event or getting chlorinated at the swimming pool!

My tip for startup entrepreneurs is to embrace value creation, good work ethic, integrity and persistence and move faster than the rolling stones!

Anna Kotsalo-Mustonen

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Anna Kotsalo-Mustonen, known to most as Annukka, likes to think that all angel investors are unique. We are a combination of our experience, character and values. Even though we hear the same pitches and have the same numbers, we interpret them differently. My background from business, academic research, management consulting, innovation and philanthropy frame the way I analyze startups.

I get the most kicks when I can be part of building something new or something that is changing the world for a better place.

The last time that made me proud of myself was while on the board of a company – not being an engineer but economist, I got my mobile phone related idea patented. I enjoy innovating!

Sonja London

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Sonja London is a long-time licensing executive, lawyer and EMBA who has spent her career mostly in corporations. She has been working with Nokia patent business for 13 years, currently leading patent licensing program for consumer electronics. In addition to her Nokia roles, Sonja has been active in the start-up sector and served several companies as investor and board member. Currently she serves as board member and IP advisor to FusionLayer Ltd and 21TDMC Group Ltd.

Being a business angel makes me really excited because working with start-up’s  and technology companies is interesting, rewarding and gives me perspective. Being an investor too brings me closer to the company and makes working together more meaningful.

Diversity matters because many studies show that diversity and gender equality promote better financial results of businesses. There should be more women and minorities in the boards and business leadership as well as investors of companies. Finding no qualified women does not tell anything about women not being qualified  – but it does tell all about the lack of networks of the people who could not find any qualified women. Same of course applies to other minorities.

Anna Longoni

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Anna Longoni works as advisor and consultant, recently for companies and organizations promoting innovation and developing entrepreneurial ecosystems. She is actively building investor and startup communities. Anna has a strong marketing and sales background from L’Oréal and her startup and IT experience comes from Sunrise Resources and Digia. Anna invests with her colleagues through Tartecfund – an investment vehicle that she co-founded. She is also Co-Founder of Global Super Angels Club and a member of EBAN (chaired the EBAN Malaga annual congress), Marbella Tech Angels and Red Malaga Business Angels.

Currently I’m excited about developing the activities of the Global Super Angels Club and preparing for the next Global Super Angels Summit. Additionally, about Marbella Tech Meetups – we are organizing and promoting the tech community around Málaga and South of Spain. Big vision: #CostaDeStartups! I wish to contribute in bringing Finnish startups to Spain, and to the Spanish speaking market with huge potential. I advice eg. PropTech, TourismTech and HealthTech startups to consider the opportunities in this area.

​As a multicultural Finn, living in Spain, I’m eager to find ways to help FiBAN and Finnish/Nordic startups in their internationalization efforts.

Marjo Niittuaho-Nastolin

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Marjo Niittuaho-Nastolin has over 15 years of experience in developing SME activities from different perspectives. She has been involved in helping over 100 startup companies and in corporate strategy and development work, including financial planning and execution. Customers represent a wide range of industries but all have had a common desire, desire to develop and grow. She joined FiBAN over 5 years ago and she is FiBAN’s regional business angel in Mikkeli.

Being a business angel makes me excited because I meet a lot of interesting people with new business ideas and when I feel that I have been able to help in some way to take the idea further.

Currently I’m excited about establishing a venture capital fund in South Savo. The fund is intended for early-stage growth companies and hopefully the fund will start operations this summer. The implementation of this project has taken approximately two years.

Ira Stening

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Ira Stening is known for her interest in competitive strategy that is based on foresight. Her experience originates from working within large publicly listed corporations and she has held positions from Corporate Director and Vice President to Market Analyst within the past 20 years. Her mission is to turn early foresight findings to agile adjustments of business strategy. Today Ira is actively involved in a handful of startups as a board member, advisor, coach, investor and a team member.

Being a business angel makes me excited because it´s a sneak peak into the future. Working with startups provides a way to experiment on ideas and collect the learnings quickly.

Diversity matters because research shows that diverse teams make less biased and better decisions. This should ultimately result in growth of individuals, teams and companies.

Anne Urrila

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Anne Urrila has a background in software development in construction business. She is an expert in BIM (Building Information Model) and has a good understanding of both the software development and customer needs. She used to be a shareholder and member of the board in a software company that has been sold to a German public-listed company in 2015. She left the company in 2018 and started to make some angel investments for different start-up companies.

Being a business angel makes me excited because you can learn a lot from the entrepreneurs and fellow angel investors.

At the moment, I’m eager to learn more about AI and machine learning.

Terhi Vapola

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Terhi Vapola is an experienced venture capitalist and international business executive, with a proven track record in creating new tech businesses and driving growth through board work. Her experience spans from managing high tech start-ups and growth companies to angel investing, venture capital and corporate venturing. Currently she is the leader and founder of Helen Ventures, the investment arm of Finnish energy company Helen Ltd. Her angel investment portfolio includes 20+ startups.

My private angel investment strategy is based on the combination of finding startups that are solving grand problems with digital solutions, are working on areas that I understand and can help with but can also learn something new myself, have fantastic teams that are just nice to hang out with, and are not in the investment focus area of my day job. And naturally in addition to the previous, startups need to tick the right boxes on what makes them a good investment opportunity.

Outside the FiBAN activities you’ll find me investing in startups that are transforming the energy sector and the related fields. Personally, I am particularly interested in the teams that are trying to address climate change.

Who else are the people of FiBAN?

The women introduced in this article represent a part of FiBAN’s female angel investors and the whole community of 670+ angel investors.

Want to join the FiBAN community of business angels? If you are thinking of becoming a business angel yourself read more on how to apply for FiBAN membership.

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