PALO ALTO, Calif., July 15, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Autism Angels Group ("AAG" or the "Investment Association"), in collaboration with a consortium of investment and strategic partners, is excited to announce its launch as the world's first early-stage investment group specifically focused on investing in neurodiverse teams and companies focused on innovative solutions for the autism community.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") now estimates that one in 54 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Autism Angels Group cofounders, Cathy Schwallie Farmer and Maureen Dunne, both lifelong autism advocates with unique personal and family stories that inspire their deep commitment, joined forces as partners with the hope of redefining autism in the minds of investors and employers as one of the great missed opportunities in terms of both investment and talent.
With two brothers on the autism spectrum, Cathy Schwallie Farmer has been involved with the autism community since the late 1960s. Her father,Ed Schwallie, was a well-known autism advocate on many fronts, including cofounding the globally recognized Organization for Autism Research ("OAR") and the Schwallie Family Scholarship Program.
Farmer remarked, "Access to early-stage investment is one of the largest barriers facing startup companies. We want to invest in teams who share our passion for making a positive difference in the lives of people with autism and their families. There is a huge need out there for autism solutions, and we want to contribute to filling in gaps by investing in for-profit companies that are likely to demonstrate significant financial returns while simultaneously making a positive social impact."
Farmer is an active angel investor and venture advisor with several investment groups, including UC Berkeley's SkyDeck Accelerator Program and the Haas School of Business LAUNCH accelerator program. She has also been appointed as a mentor at the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps (NSF I-Corps) and is a Healthcare Advisor across Cal's Startup Ecosystem. In addition, Farmer holds several board director roles focused on ASD, cofounded technology companies related to autism, and previously served as a Chief of Staff at Kaiser Permanente.
Dr. Maureen Dunne, cofounder of Autism Angels Group, commented, "Our goal is to empower and include the trailblazers who dare to be a bit different by investing in new approaches to critical problems that have the potential to change markets and lives," continued Dunne. "We will invest in teams who commit to including people with autism as key team members, regardless of market vertical. We will also invest in autism-specific solutions with a competitive advantage founded by neurotypical entrepreneurs who share our own passion for the inclusion of people with autism."
Dunne, a Rhodes Scholar with a doctorate degree from Oxford University, has a wealth of experience as a cofounding executive at multiple technology companies and as an angel investor and advisor to both startups and investment funds. A Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneurship Fellow, she spearheaded the "Autism and Innovation Initiative" with funding from the Discovery Partners Institute and private donors, and serves on several nonprofit and corporate boards, including Aspiritech, one of the first organizations in the world focused exclusively on employment for people with ASD. Dunne has also been a foster parent to children with ASD and founded her first autism organization at the age of 17. In recent years, she has created several customized support programs to help young adults with autism transition to college or work, including the Transition2Success Project and the Dr. Maureen N. Dunne Autism Student Success Scholarship.
As the first investment vehicle that specifically seeks investment opportunities in neurodiverse teams and markets, Autism Angels Group has the support of many prominent individuals, funds and corporations, including Sean O'Sullivan, a leading venture capitalist perhaps best known for cofounding and taking public MapInfo, the first street mapping technology for personal computers. He is also credited as the father of the term "cloud computing."
O'Sullivan, Founder and Managing Partner of SOSV, a $700M venture fund with offices in the USA, Europe and Asia, and also father of a son with autism, applauded the launch of AAG and its mission to make a difference in the lives of families affected by autism, stating, "Unfortunately, autism comes with massive challenges and co-morbidities for the majority of those who have it. These present profound opportunities for technology to advance, both in physical health and through computer assistance, the quality of life for those who need it. Specialized talent and financial backing are needed to evaluate and support the startups coming into this area, and I applaud the creation of AAG as smart money for founders at the earliest stages."
Dunne and Farmer both said that their passion for this space is "in their DNA" and that their backgrounds, skills, and experience perfectly complement each other as managing partners capable of impacting what they see as a "talent pipeline problem." Dunne has been leading what she calls "inclusive coding bootcamps" and pre-accelerator programs that fund and bring together project teams that include at least one key member with ASD. Both Farmer and Dunne have been heavily involved in startup investments for many years and are currently partnering with later stage funds. Farmer is General Partner of the Schwallie Family Partnership investment fund and a key advisor to social impact funds and companies, while Dunne serves on the C-Suite Screening Committee of Astia and partners with several venture impact funds. Dunne is also a faculty affiliate of the Discovery Partners Institute, a public/private partnership with an initial $1B in seed funding with a core mission focused on developing solutions, promoting entrepreneurship, and empowering inventors of the future.
Dunne continued, "We are committed to investing in autism innovation both to spur new inventions and creativity in this space and to provide support to neurodiverse teams. ASD represents a broad spectrum of strengths and challenges with incredible untapped talent that may not always fit within currently available opportunity pathways. I have witnessed how neurodiverse inventors have created entire new markets by visualizing solutions from angles outside of typical ways of thinking and innovating. With our partners, we aim to build coalitions that can help evolve our understanding of inclusive workforce models that truly empower and include those with ASD."
Farmer added, "Our investment thesis is that there is a huge missed opportunity in autism innovation and that the inclusion of neurodiverse talent will not only be good for society but also good for business returns."
Autism Angels Group will deploy all investment capital directly into their portfolio of startup companies. AAG also plans to offer access to mentorship and strategic partnership opportunities through virtual networking events that bring together startup founders, investors, companies, and organizations with a focus on neurodiversity and inclusion in the workforce.
About Autism Angels Group
The mission of the Autism Angels Group is to bring together capital and talent to aggressively drive economic opportunities and technology-driven solutions that create a positive social impact for the autism community. We welcome partnerships with individuals, organizations and institutions that wish to join us in investing in people, private markets and for-profit enterprises that seek to include and empower those on the autism spectrum. For more information, visit: www.autismangelsgroup.com
Maureen Dunne, Co-founder, Autism Angels Group
Cathy Schwallie Farmer
Cathy Schwallie Farmer, Co-founder, Autism Angels Group
SOURCE Autism Angels Group
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