For more than 30 years as a business owner and market strategy expert, Yvonne Campos spent time around plenty of successful, smart women.

So in 2016, when a fellow member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) reached out to her for help raising capital for a new tech company, she was puzzled.

“I couldn’t understand her challenges raising money,” says Campos, president of the Next Act Fund. “She checked all the boxes of why you would invest in someone.”

Campos decided to make a one-off investment in the company. “After the word got out,” she says, “I had a lot of other women approaching me.”

Those women all shared similar stories: They were interested in finding angel investors — or learning more about how to invest themselves — but they just weren’t finding opportunities. So Campos harnessed her entrepreneurial spirit to launch Next Act, which helps women grow their personal wealth by investing in early-stage, women-owned and women-led companies.

Fighting stereotypes and changing lives

Investing, says Campos, is “like anything else in our society: If we’re not giving an opportunity to 52 percent of the population, we’re really missing out on some talent.”

According to Campos, research has shown that diverse leadership teams are at the helm of the most successful companies, but women are still lagging behind men in C-Suite roles. One reason? The persistent myth that women are more risk-averse.

“Women take just as many chances,” says Campos. “The difference is in the way they approach it. They do their homework and collect information first.”

As Next Act grows its investment portfolio, Campos and her team are carefully selecting companies with strong management and significant market potential whose leaders have a goal to exit (sell or merge the company) within five to 10 years.

To date, they’ve invested in Cissé Cocoa Co., a New York State-based purveyor of ethically sourced chocolate, and the Mt. Lebanon software company BoardBookit. A third investment in a medical solutions product is currently in the works.

Catherine Mott, founder and CEO of BlueTree Capital Group and BlueTree Allied Angels, is on the advisory board and “helped set the stage” for the Next Act Fund, which launched a year after the Invest in Her pitching competition for women entrepreneurs.

Currently, 47 members have committed to investing $10,000 per year for five years along with an administrative fee annually. Anyone interested in joining must do so before the end of June when the fund will close for membership.

Their most recent investment came from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for $100,000.

Growth and possibility

“A strong entrepreneurial ecosystem is built on business diversity,” says Jennifer Wilhelm, assistant director of the URA’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “Watching these businesses grow and expand is not only good for the city, but will hopefully inspire other potential women entrepreneurs.”

Wilhelm believes Next Act is the right firm to take on this challenge because of its strong team, whose collective capabilities can make a measurable impact for women entrepreneurs and raise the profile of Pittsburgh as a city where their businesses can flourish.

“Not only are they dedicating their funds to the support of women entrepreneurs,” she says, “but most of their investors in the fund are also women. This dual mission of elevating women is unique and captivating.”

In order to execute that mission, Next Act works not only to invest financially in women entrepreneurs but also to educate women on building wealth.

The first session in Next Act’s three-part educational series was held on March 21. Upcoming classes — which cost $35 and include breakfast — will be held on Wednesday, June 20 and Wednesday, September 19 from 7:30 to 10:00 a.m. at Alloy 26 on the North Side.

Campos hopes the URA’s investment will help Next Act open doors to women who may not have access to angel investment funds or the know-how to support other women’s businesses.

But regardless of what’s in store, she says, “It’s just a win-win-win all the way around.”