Looking Ahead to 2023 | December 26, 2022

Holiday Lists No. 1: A dozen Agents of Impact who broke through in 2022

Dennis Price
ImpactAlpha Editor

Dennis Price

ImpactAlpha, Dec. 26 – Let’s give all of you Agents of Impact a round of applause. In dozens of profiles this year, we held up a small subset of Agents from around the world that we thought the rest of you should meet. Like you, they are breaking new ground, forcing hard conversations, and doing the hard work of driving positive social and environmental impact. 

We began the year with a tribute to the late Harry Halloran, who had a big vision and made early bets on social entrepreneurs who became leaders in the still-growing movement to reshape business in the U.S, Latin America and around the world. 

We capped the year with a profile of Napoleon Wallace, who has established a series of innovative approaches for replacing extractive and exploitive structures with inclusive and regenerative models to create wealth for Black families and businesses.

Let’s take a end-of-year spin through a dozen Agents who stood out:   

Ambar Amleh, Ibtikar Fund: Putting Palestinian entrepreneurs on the map 

The risk factors for a venture fund based in Ramallah, Palestine are obvious. The opportunities, perhaps less so. “Technology is borderless,” says Ambar Amleh, who co-founded Ibtikar Fund to bridge the early-stage funding gap for Palestinian entrepreneurs. Investors agreed, piling $15 million into Ibtikar’s second fund. 

Alloysius Attah, Farmerline: Helping farmers in Africa produce and sell more food

As conditions become more challenging, farmers need high-quality seeds and fertilizer, training and data, and access to markets and finance. Alloysius Attah founded Accra, Ghana-based Farmerline to provide digital tools and logistics support to aggregate demand and make sure that the chasm between farmers the resources they need is bridged.

Seth Bannon, Fifty Years: Big swings at big challenges (podcast)

Seth Bannon and his partner Ela Madej launched the venture capital firm Fifty Years “to back founders that are taking incredibly big swings and incredibly risky paths but ones that might fundamentally push the world forward if they succeed,” Bannon told ImpactAlpha’s David Bank in an Agents of Impact podcast. Fifty Years’ big swings include chemical decarbonization firm Houston-based Solugen, now valued at more than $2 billion, and satellite internet company Astranis, valued at $1.4 billion. Upside Foods, the lab-grown meat producer whose cultivated chicken was green lit by the FDA, is valued at over $1 billion. 

Eric Berlow, Vibrant Data Labs: Visualizing the flows of climate finance

An ecologist and data nerd, Eric Berlow spent years studying the dynamics of complex systems, from food webs and natural ecosystems to friendship ties. His latest project: The Climate Finance Tracker, which uses machine learning to map the flows of capital to climate mitigation and adaptation (in partnership with ImpactAlpha, One Earth and others). “There’s going to be trillions of dollars in investments in climate over the next decade,” says Berlow of Vibrant Data Labs, a “social impact data science” group. “If we can bring evidence and data to bear on those decisions to be more strategically impactful, that’s our goal.”

Suzanne Biegel, GenderSmart: Making markets work for women and the world

“Be a first mover,” says GenderSmart’s Suzanne Biegel, who encourages investors to back first-time female fund managers so they can go on to raise second and third funds. “Help them in every way that you can to succeed.” Biegel continues to help build the field of gender-lens investing through the 2X Collaborative, formed this year through the merger of GenderSmart and 2X Challenge.

Carmen Correa, Pro Mujer: Standing by low-income women to lift Latin America 

Billions of dollars of venture capital are flooding into Latin America. Yet a financing gap remains at the base of the economic pyramid. “We are still one of the few organizations working with low-income women in the region,” says Pro Mujer’s Carmen Correa, who this year took the helm as CEO of the 30-year-old nonprofit investor.

Brandon Dennison, Coalfield Development: Forging a path forward for Appalachia’s green economy

In the roller coaster climate bill negotiations with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Brandon Dennison brought something to the table that many other policy advocates couldn’t: the local impacts of a green economy. “With smart management of our natural resources, there will be good job and investment opportunities,” Dennison says. Coalfield has helped reskill and employ more than 1,600 workers and has helped launch local solar installer Solar Holler and other green and social enterprises.

Taj Eldridge, Include Ventures: Putting the cool in climate action

The PhD and climate tech investor doesn’t hug trees. “I hug people,” says Taj Eldridge. Climate change is a public health issue, an economic issue and a social justice issue, he says. “I’m here to impact them all.” Eldridge helped build the L.A. Cleantech Incubator before moving to Include Ventures, a fund of funds led by diverse and emerging managers. His latest efforts: Climate-Resilient Employees for a Sustainable Tomorrow and Klean Energy Kulture. “We’ve made climate investing cool,” Eldridge told ImpactAlpha. “We’ve made it to where it is just about as cool as being in Web3.”

 John Holdsclaw IV, Rochdale Capital: Advancing co-ops and community ownership

In his earlier roles, John Holdsclaw was drawn to high-mission deals that wouldn’t fly at a regulated bank. He championed black-owned grocery store in a food desert in Waterloo, Iowa, and a community-led initiative to purchase and redevelop a mall in downtown Los Angeles. At Rochdale Capital, Holdsclaw focuses on deals in cooperative housing, worker coops and others that advance community ownership and asset building in rural and urban distressed communities. 

Blake Jones, Kachuwa Impact Fund: Making co-ops work for investors, too

After co-founding four co-op enterprises, including Namaste Solar and Clean Energy Credit Union, Blake Jones brought the principles of cooperative ownership to impact investing. Boulder, Colo.-based Kachuwa has grown to more than 200 members and more than $30 million in assets. Every member gets one vote on governance matters and net income is distributed via “patronage dividends.”

Sandra Moore, Advantage Capital: Bringing capital to entrepreneurs of color

New Orleans-based Advantage Capital seeks out businesses in underserved communities. Sandra Moore is the firm’s chief impact officer and its only Black woman partner. Following the murder of George Floyd, Moore pushed the firm to adopt an explicit racial lens. “I knew we needed to continue to deploy capital to businesses in capital-starved markets, but with a laser focus on supporting minority-owned businesses.”

Mia Mottley, Barbados: Shaping the global finance agenda

Barbados is an island nation of just 166 square miles and less than 300,000 inhabitants. But its leader, Mia Mottley, emerged in this year’s climate debate as a powerful voice for island nations and other countries on the front lines of climate change. Her message: the global financial system erected after World War II needs to reform for an era marked by cascading climate, food and energy crises. “We were the ones whose blood, sweat and tears financed the industrial revolution,” she said at the COP27 climate summit. “Are we now to face double jeopardy by having to pay the cost as a result of those greenhouse gases from the industrial revolution?”