A growing network of female, Connecticut-based investors — established by the current governor’s spouse and a former governor’s niece — has raised $800,000 in funding with the intention of financing early-stage startups led by women and minorities.
The Tidal River Fund, created by members of the Tidal River angel investor network, set out to raise $500,000 in pooled investment but soon surpassed that goal. The fund is now shooting to raise $1 million by the end of this year.
So far, more than two dozen Tidal River members have contributed at least $25,000 each to the fund. Of the funders, all but one live in Connecticut — and 21 are first-time investors.
“Our goal with our members is really to tap into Connecticut women to become investors,” said Chris Gelnaw, Tidal River member and managing partner of the fund.
“What we’re providing to them is not only a community of like-minded women,” Gelnaw said, “but it’s also the education and the tools that give them that confidence to make decisions and really understand the value of the investment and the economics.”
Annie Lamont, managing partner of venture capital firm Oak HC/FT, and Alison Malloy, managing director of the state’s venture capital arm Connecticut Innovations and niece of former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, launched the Tidal River angel network in 2021 to support women interested in investing in startup companies. Women make up only around 15% of the check writers at venture capital firms, according to Crunchbase, and startups founded by women received less than 2% of all venture capital funding last year, according to PitchBook.
Gelnaw said while the governor’s wife is behind the creation of the network, Lamont did not contribute any money to the Tidal River Fund because “it’s a conflict of interest.” The fund received $100,000 from CTNext — a subsidiary of the state’s venture capital arm Connecticut Innovations — to cover some of the fund’s operating costs.
(Lamont’s Oak HC/FT and Connecticut Innovations both invested in biotechnology startup Sema4, which won several state contracts to perform COVID-19 testing during the pandemic. Both Ned and Annie Lamont said they weren’t involved in the state’s decision to enter those contracts, and Annie Lamont recused herself from her firm’s relationship with Sema4, now known as GeneDx.)
Onyeka Obiocha, CTNext’s executive director, said that money will go toward developing a “playbook” for Tidal River investors that can also be used by other fledgling networks of angel investors around the state.
“That’s a big part of what we’re doing here,” Obiocha said. “We’re investing in the amazing women of Tidal River to raise a fund, and there are legal documents, there’s a stack of information and a high barrier of entry in order to do that well,” he said. But once that work is done, “the next group of people who want to create a fund have the opportunity, and now the lower barrier of entry, to do that as well.”
“We’re thinking about this investment almost as a public good and educational opportunity,” Obiocha said.
Tidal River Fund has already heard pitches from 80 companies and invested in two: Connecticut-based Deeplook Medical and Arizona-based Rivia Health. While both of the investments so far have been in the health care field, the fund is hearing startup pitches from an array of sectors.
“Our mission is to empower underrepresented founders and have good return on investment for our investors,” Gelnaw said.
Marissa Fayer, chief executive of Deeplook, said she’s had a hard time finding startup funding as a female founder, but the investment from Tidal River Fund was “not just about money,” she said.
“I love having the support of other smart women,” Fayer said. “It’s about helping us grow, helping us move to the future, and using the thought leadership and the partners that we have at Tidal River. … It’s just so important to have that support.”
An earlier version of this story included a headline that unclearly stated who was contributing money to the Tidal River Fund. It is some members of the Tidal River angel investor network, not all members.