For the second installment in our Women on the Other Side of the Table, we sit down with Natalie Blacher, a member of Asheville Angels and an active early-stage investor. 

When Asheville, NC, was recently named one of the top 25 best places for women entrepreneurs (along with Durham-Chapel Hill), Blacher wasn’t the least bit surprised. She says Asheville is a good place to be a female investor, too. 
After more than three decades leading marketing and strategic initiatives in the restaurant industry, she decided to add “angel” to her resume. She is the sole woman in the 25-member Asheville Angels investor network. 
She recently took a few minutes to talk to me about her role as an angel investor, and entrepreneurial growth in Asheville. 
Editor’s note: Blacher’s responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 
Q: What attracted you to investing and Asheville Angels? 
I became an angel investor two years ago after moving to Asheville from Miami, FL. I thought angel investing would be a great opportunity to expand my investment portfolio, while also getting involved with my new community and participating in the economic development of this area. 
This was my first experience as an investor. One of the things that appealed to me about Asheville Angels was the ability to be part of a larger, diverse group while also maintaining an individual say about my investments.* 
I’ve invested in BrightField Transportation Solutions, Atlas Organics, Rival Health and Baebies. 
*Asheville Angels is an angel investing network that allows individual angels to invest, rather than investing from a committed fund. We’ll talk more about that in a later interview. 
Q: What is it like being one of just a few women in this angel group? 
I have worked in male-dominated industries and companies before, where there were some challenges. 
One thing I really like about Asheville Angels is the fact that even though I am a woman in a group that is by far mostly men, it doesn’t really seem to matter. We all have input into the filtering process whether or not we go forward with the investment. My voice carries as much weight as anyone else’s. It’s very democratic and even egalitarian. 
I think angel investing is a great way for women to play a larger role in their financial success and create new opportunities for personal wealth,to invest in companies and concepts that matter to them, and to share their expertise and use their business skills in a whole new way. 
Q: How do you find investment opportunities? 
A lot of companies find us through our website. 
While we are based in Asheville, we don’t limit ourselves to investments here. We are tied into a national angel network and other regional networks; so many opportunities come through those partner angel groups. Our individual members bring deals to the table as well. Typically, by the time they get in front of the larger group, they have at least some initial interest. If we decide to move forward, our due diligence team comes in and we start to look at a number of variables. 
Q: What do you look for in those opportunities? 
We look at a lot of factors. Is there a strong concept? Is there a strong management team? How much competition is there in that area? If they meet our benchmarks, then we recommend them for investment and everyone can make an individual determination about whether or not they want to invest. 
This is not a deal breaker, but I do look for some of track record. If the founder has built successful businesses in the past, or has had a successful exit, that is certainly appealing. I also look at the depth of their management team and their board. 
I look at not only strength and knowledge of the founders and management team, but also who is advising them. I look at how realistic their projections are, which can be a great indication of their experience. 
Q: What are some of the challenges you have seen these companies face? 
Some of the challenges that have been interesting to me have been around biotech and healthcare, which is a new area for me personally. There are a lot of challenges, including FDA approval, the need for rigorous testing and other liability issues, that may affect the trajectory of growth. 
There are of course a number of challenges that cut across all industries. For example, the concept may be interesting and there may not be a lot of competition, but is it scalable to new markets, new consumers and new geographies? We really have to look at that since as angels, we do have an end-game in mind – i.e. make money. It’s interesting because on one end of the spectrum we have really complicated investment opportunities like those in biotech and healthcare, but on the other end we have really simple concepts like the idea of composting that we can all relate to. And we have opportunities that fall somewhere in between, like solar energy. 
While my background has been primarily in the restaurant industry, and I may not have experience in these other industries, there are some key fundamentals of business that I know to look for across all of those industries. 
Q: What is the biggest mistake you see entrepreneurs make when seeking funding and/or even succeeding in business? 
The things that are really red flags for me are presentations where at the end of it, no one is clear how they are making money. It’s also a concern when we ask about the opportunity and their completion, and they can’t really tell us how this will fill a void in the market. If there are challenges, we at least want to see that they have put some thought into how to address them. 
Q: What advice would you give entrepreneurs about finding the right funding partner? 
You are looking for their money, but you want an investment partner who can add real value with knowledge, experience and contacts. You want someone that is going to ask tough questions – have you thought about this, have you done that, etc. I do want to point out that the entrepreneur has to be open to that advice and counsel. If there is resistance to that, that is going to be a big problem in the future. 
Q: Is there anything unique about the Asheville entrepreneurial scene? 
A lot of the companies here in Asheville are very young. Many are in the concept stage or just gearing up. While a lot of those companies haven’t been quite ready for us, we are seeing more and more of them and expect that to increase. 
One thing that I think is unique about this area is the fact that people here are very, very creative. There are a lot of companies here really wanting to make an impact on environment in addition to our local company through the creation of jobs and other opportunities. 
The entrepreneurial ecosystem is really growing here as well. We are seeing more and more great resources in the area dedicated to helping these entrepreneurs and small businesses. There are also a lot of people, like myself, who have come from other areas and want to help make this area more economically diverse and want to support homegrown businesses.