Greetings, ImpactAlpha readers!
#Featured: Impact Voices
Why some venture capitalists talk about gender (and others don’t).“There’s a strong chance the next Bill Gates isn’t going to look anything like the last one,” Melinda Gates wrote recently, taking to task venture capitalists who don’t put diversity at the top of their agenda. “I’m interested in finding solutions that will help ensure we recognize her when we see her.” One such solution: own your own gender lens.
Suzanne Biegel, who was behind the recent Project Sage report identifying 58 venture funds investing in women, says she has been surprised by how many fund managers are indeed investing with a gender lens without being conscious about it. Others invest in women intentionally, “but choose not to talk about it — whether that’s to industry peers, in marketing materials or to prospective investees,” she writes in a guest post on ImpactAlpha.
Changing the system requires more than just investing in women, Biegel says. Investors also need to talk about it. “The only way we’ll accelerate the movement of capital at scale is by building an evidence base and normalizing the notion that investing in women is smart, for various reasons, at all levels of the financial system.” In her post, Biegel suggests three good reasons for fund managers to talk explicitly about gender.
Read, “Why some venture capitalists talk about gender (and others don’t)” by Suzanne Biegel on ImpactAlpha.
#Dealflow: Follow the Money
John Legend helps launch startups for and by former inmates. Unlocked Futures, a 16-month accelerator started by singer John Legend and the philanthropic fund New Profit, supports entrepreneurs who are former inmates or are helping others transition back into society. “Entrepreneurship is important because we may not get jobs. We’re hiring ourselves. It’s out of necessity,” says entrepreneur Teresa Hodge, part of Unlocked Futures’ inaugural class. Hodge runs Mission:Launch, a nonprofit that offers workforce re-entry training. Another member founded Bronx-based Hope House, which provides housing for women in their first year after incarceration. The eight entrepreneurs in Unlocked Futures’ first class, six of whom have spent time in prison, will each get $50,000 in funding. Unlocked Futures is backed by $500,000 from Bank of America, which has supported other criminal justice programs, including investing in the state of New York’s recidivism-reduction social impact bond.
Greenlight Planet closes $60 million for off-grid solar expansion … The company is one of the largest pay-as-you-go solar providers, selling its Sun King line of solar products to five million off-grid households in 62 countries. U.K.-based private equity firm Apis Partners led the debt-and-equity fundingas an equity partner with Eight Roads Ventures and Bamboo Capital. The debt portion includes commitments from Deutsche Bank, Global Partnerships, SunFunder, PG Impact Investments, responsAbility and SIMA Funds. Greenlight is expanding its distribution and financing network as well as its product line, which includes home energy systems, lighting, phone chargers, radios, fans and soon, televisions.
… while Africa GreenTec commissions village solar system in Niger.The German startup is installing a solar-based power system in Amaloul Nomade, an off-grid village on a route used by 90% of African refugees. Less than 15% of Niger’s population has access to electricity, compared to 37% for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Africa GreenTec’s Torsten Schreiber says electricity access is key to “comfort, access to education and knowledge and new prospects”. The village-power system includes a 41-kilowatt photovoltaic installation and a 60-kilowatt/hour battery storage system. The project is backed by the German Investment and Development Company (DEG) as part of the government’s International Climate Initiative, and unspecified private investors.
#Signals: Ahead of the Curve
Jewish-lens investors ask, “Why impact?” As interest in impact investing grows, faith-based communities are recognizing its power to advance their values. JLens Investor Network hosted its first summit at Fordham University in New York this week, bringing together rabbis, investors, philanthropists and other institutional leaders. “It’s not new,” said Rebecca Trobe, an impact-investing consultant. “It’s a reorientation to something old and timeless.” The simpler question Trobe poses is: “What is investing about and why do we do it at all?” This turned conversations to the power of shareholder advocacy, taking a stance on Israel and countering boycotts, divestments and sanctions, multifaith collaboration and the Sustainable Development Goals (See, “Turning Israeli technology toward sustainable development”). Threading through the conversations was the question: How to engage the next generation in impact investing with Jewish values?
Keeping track of artificial intelligence. Even experts can’t agree on what the future of artificial intelligence holds. Will it liberate or destroy us? In an effort to ground this speculative discussion in real data, Stanford University’s One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence has developed an AI Index to track, distill and visualize what is known about AI. Among the indicators: attendance at AI conferences, investments in AI startups and AI milestones such as wins at checkers, chess, Jeopardy!, Go, poker, Pac-man and other games (sorry, AI is already better than humans in all of these). Worth watching: how the project incorporates data about diversity and inclusion among those shaping AI; the societal impact of AI on healthcare, automotive, finance, education and more; and the potential ethical and fairness considerations associated with the widespread use of AI. The project says it will incorporate all of those measures. As ImpactAlpha reported last week, a McKinsey study found that AI could eliminate as many as 800 million jobs globally by 2030. By then, one AI chore will surely be to keep the AI Index updated. The full report is worth a read.
Onward! Please send news and comments to TheBrief@impactalpha.com.