Millennials get a bad rap, but some industry experts value millennials and their unique perspectives. One of those experts is Christina Bechhold Russ, early stage investor and Co-Founder of Empire Angels, a member-led, New York City-based angel group comprised of experienced young professionals with a wide range of backgrounds investing in early stage technology ventures with a focus on supporting young entrepreneurs.
Bechhold Russ is also a principal on the Samsung NEXT Ventures team, which seeks out and supports early-stage software and services entrepreneurs. She discusses her approaches to investing for both Empire Angels and Samsung NEXT, what she looks for in a company before deciding to invest, and why she's so excited about millennials.
Project Entrepreneur: You are a co-founder at Empire Angels and principal at Samsung NEXT Ventures. What are the biggest differences between venture capital firms and angel groups? When a founder approaches you about funding, how do you determine whether the company is a better fit for Empire Angels or Samsung NEXT?
Bechhold Russ: [Empire Angels and Samsung NEXT have] very different value propositions and focuses. Empire Angels is a group of young professionals that looks exclusively at seed stage, but across verticals, from food to Consumer Packaged Goods to enterprise software. Because everyone is investing his or her own money, there's a uniquely wide range of interests and expertise we can access.
At Samsung NEXT, we're making strategic investments into early stage software and service companies that can leverage the Samsung platform to build, grow and scale their businesses. By the nature of the hardware Samsung builds, our focus is most squarely on deep technological innovation.
Empire Angels has the youngest membership of any angel group in the United States, and is the only one focused on training younger angel investors. Why is it important for Empire Angels to focus on millennial investors?
Traditionally, angel investing has been the domain of older, male business professionals. When my co-founder Graham [Gullans] and I decided to start investing, we knew our perspectives, experience and background were very different from the makeup of most angel groups, in a good way.
We're part of the first generation to grow up with computers in our bedrooms, and technology has been a part of our lives from an early age. We're the first adopters of many of the new technologies, products and business models in which we invest, and the people inventing them are often our peers.
We use our age as an investment edge to identify opportunities others may miss, and support our companies with a collective energy; we're building our careers and reputations alongside our portfolios.
How does your experience as an angel investor and former startup employee inform your work at Samsung NEXT?
Putting my own hard-earned money on the line, as well as having some operational experience, hopefully gives me a better appreciation for the challenges and risks of being a founder, and a comfort with rolling up my sleeves to help.
I spend my day hearing about people's dreams and trying to find ways to help them, [and I'm] backed by the incredible resources of one of the largest and most influential technology companies in the world. It's a very privileged position that I value immensely.
Not every company is a good fit for venture funding. What are three things you look for in a company before deciding to invest?
A smart, coachable team, a big market opportunity and good timing.
You are an avid supporter of ventures created by millennial entrepreneurs and a member of Venture for America's Rise Partnership, which is focused on increasing diversity in entrepreneurship. How has your interest in these groups influenced the way you approach Samsung NEXT's investment portfolio?
Diverse teams perform better, period. We need support systems so the broadest set of potential entrepreneurs with great ideas and know-how can access the capital and mentorship required to successfully scale.
I spend a lot of time advising and coaching female founders and non-coastal companies, in particular. Great business can [be], will [be], and are [currently] founded everywhere by people solving problems they're uniquely qualified to identify. We want to find and fund them.
What are some of the projects you're working on now that have you really excited about the future of millennial women entrepreneurs?
I'm a group leader for a program called P3 (Parity Professional Program), which is focused on advancing high-performing young women through strategic leadership development and community building. It's a very focused, action-oriented, year-long commitment for future leaders across the country. The more confident, experienced, ambitious women we have moving up--whether in business, politics or entrepreneurship - the more societal progress we're going to see.