SEBA Alumna Brings Humanitarian Perspective to Investing

Shirley GeeIf you think you’re ready to start talking to investors about funding your start-up, it would behoove you to talk to SEBA alumna Shirley Gee first. Gee and her company Angel Plus, LLC have earned a reputation for doing some of the most thorough and exhaustive due diligence reviews in Silicon Valley—and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

But being a stickler for preparation is not all she is known for. From her long history of civic activism to her more recent role as an investor, Gee also has a reputation for opening doors and creating opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds.

Driving Social Change

After earning her MBA from SEBA’s Executive MBA Program, Gee joined the angel investment group Keiretsu Forum as an accredited investor. As an investor, she started to take the lead on due diligence both to be more informed and to share information with her colleagues. Four years later, she founded her own company—Angel Plus, LLC—specializing in due diligence review for later stage start-ups and providing educational content to better educate investors.

“Angel investing is one of the earlier rungs in the capital market, but it’s a critical one,” she says. “Angels are a more accessible to innovators and can help companies get the capital they need to get off the ground. Often times, venture capitalists aren’t interested in an idea unless it already has a significant amount of demonstrated revenue. Angel investors will look at a company with zero to a lower level of revenue and be willing to invest in it and give it capital liftoff. They’re some of the first investors to finance innovation and creativity.”

For Gee, entrepreneurship, social responsibility, and a willingness to work hard all tie together. With angel investment, innovation, creativity, and ground-breaking ideas can thrive regardless of family pedigree or being outside of a well-established network.

Gee also understands the value angel investing can have on the global capital eco-system. In emerging economies of countries like Chile, Turkey and Vietnam, innovators and entrepreneurs have to turn to public money or coax money out of wealthy individuals. Countries with angel investors can give innovators a third way to grow their business and help strengthen the overall capital system.  This additional infusion of capital can have a rippling effect changing economies from agrarian to industrialized and help create wealth among the upper band of the middle class. Angel investing can be the tide that lifts all boats, which is why Gee travels around the world to lecture eager students and entrepreneurs.  

Opening Doors at the Margins

Gee’s belief in the social benefits of entrepreneurship stems from her own struggles growing up. Before Gee became a name in Silicon Valley, she was a kid in Oakland who worked hard in school and tried to help make life easier for her parents. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Gee grew up in a working-class family where there was a balancing act between prioritizing education and providing for the family. The need to provide is why Gee, who finished fifth in her class at Oakland High, entered the workforce immediately following high school.

“My immigrant parents and I never knew about grants or scholarships. We didn’t know there was free money and there were no low-interest education loans then. I ended up leaving high school on a Friday and going to work on Monday, and working my own way through college,” she says.

Rather than being limited by a lack of a college education, Gee thrived professionally, working for the Atomic Energy Commission all while whittling away at the credits needed for a bachelor’s degree. She was ultimately selected at the age of the 27 to join the Executive Senior Staff at Stanford University and stayed for well over 25 years. During her time at Stanford, she raised two sons, earned her degree, and relentlessly worked to create opportunities for minorities and women and those less connected to prestigious networks.

At Stanford, Gee not only specialized in discrimination issues, but she also established the state-certified Apprenticeship Program to promote diversity in the trades, administered a national summer science program at Stanford dedicated to increasing the number of women and minorities in the sciences, and ran the Graduate Engineering for Minorities program.   

For Gee, her childhood informed the type of work she chose to do. “I never was able to forget my parents’ financial and social struggles. I have empathy for those who struggle with discrimination, poverty, and being perpetually on the outside of networks. There’s an affinity and obligation that I have with people who are, and have been, marginalized.”

“I was always looking for ways to get people who were not connected into this prestigious place,” Gee says. “And I got them in any way I could. I got them in through the front door, through the back door, and through side doors.”

In 2009, Gee retired from Stanford, but her work ethic and social justice streak soon brought her into the capital system and into angel investing. By then, Gee had earned a Bachelors in business management and an MBA.

Always a Gael

“I was initially interested in going to Saint Mary’s as an undergraduate because they were flexible enough that I could still work, raise my children, and go to school,” says Gee. “I came back for my MBA because of the values of the school—particularly the dedication to social justice, inclusion and equality. It always felt like a natural match for me.”

Since earning her MBA in 2009, Gee has been a frequent guest of the college. She’s a staple at the annual Business Idea Competition, a Saint Mary’s version of Shark Tank that is hosted in partnership with the Keiretsu Forum. Gee serves as a judge for the competition, but also offers her expertise to students who need to complete due diligence before presenting to investors.

“Hope is not a strategy,” Gee says. “I try to make sure that people are on the right track from the start. I believe that life is 30% preparation and 70% serendipity. There’s only so much you can control, but what you can—that 30% preparation—needs to be airtight. The planning and preparation has to be really good, and if it is, the other 70% won’t matter as much because you’re going to be able to take advantage of that serendipitous opportunity when it comes.”