VOL. 9 | NO. 26 | Saturday, June 25, 2016
Women-Led Angel Investment Network Launches
By Andy Meek
The husband-and-wife team behind the Broad Avenue retailer City & State – Lisa and Luis Toro – are preparing to open another business in the neighborhood, a diner-style restaurant at 2657 Broad.
They’ve signed a lease for the space, where their plan is to operate a restaurant that caters to the midscale, casual market and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And they’ve turned to a previously untapped source of potential capital to help finance their plans.
It’s untapped, because that source – an angel investment group comprised entirely of women – has just been launched.
“Need begets innovation, that’s really how this group came to be,” said Lisa Toro, who was involved with a small group of women in early discussions about creating the group around more than her project.
The plan is for the group to meet regularly and be presented with potential investment and business opportunities for projects similar to the Toros’ that have the potential to activate commercial spaces in neighborhoods that could especially use it. The point person for the group going forward will be Leslie Lynn Smith, president of Memphis’ EPIcenter organization focused on entrepreneurship.
The group has had one meeting so far. A couple dozen women met a few days ago at City & State for an initial discussion. They also heard a pitch about the Toros’ restaurant.
The idea for the group, using a project like that restaurant as an example, is the women could decide to put up capital collectively, explained Smith. Or, if some of them felt more strongly than others about a particular project, they could invest as individuals.
Eventually, a pool of investment funding could even take shape, though that’s not yet a near-term plan.
“When we opened City & State, it was me and Luis, just the two of us,” Toro said. “I don’t have additional capital necessary to put forward (for The Liquor Store), so I knew I was going to have to find the money, but I didn’t know where to start or necessarily have a network to turn to. When I said that to (Project Green Fork founder) Margot McNeeley, she said, why don’t we create our own?”
The Liquor Store was the first investment opportunity presented to this group.
“It’ll be an old-timey diner, but with a modern spin on it,” Toro said. “It’ll have a straightforward menu, but we’ll try to keep it fresh and less greasy than what you think of with a diner. We also want to have fun in the evenings. We’re planning to serve what is now coined boozy milkshakes and soda-fountain cocktails, so there will be a full bar that’s part of it as well.”
She doesn’t have a timetable yet on when the restaurant might open, as that will be determined in part by raising the needed funds.
“What Lisa said to me is, we’ve brought all these women together, and does EPIcenter want to take this group on and continue to nurture it on a regular basis and show them other deals?” Smith said. “To which I super-excitedly said, of course.
“Part of what we at EPIcenter are trying to do is solve for gaps of activity around talent, technology, customers and capital. And to activate more angels – to have an active angel investment network like this – is certainly one of our strategic goals.”