Greetings, ImpactAlpha readers!
#Featured: Impact Voices
Rural Arkansas powers an entrepreneurial revival on camelina and biofuels. De Witt, Arkansas, population 3,292, is similar to, and different from, many towns in southeast Arkansas, and across this country. Like many other places, it declined with the closure of local factories. Unlike many others, it is reviving itself with significant investment, hard work, and local leaders who have embraced their interdependence to make progress against long odds.
Key to De Witt’s revival is the development of a local biofuel industry, based on a new crop — camelina — that is creating more income for farming families and energizing the region’s economy. Delta Bioenergy is a biorefinery and farmer coop that turns the small camelina seed into biodiesel that powers De Witt’s city equipment. Such a “value chain” approach is taking hold among economic and community development lenders seeking to connect community assets to market demand.
“De Witt’s turnaround story is not because of any single leader or organization,” writes Amy Hartzler of the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies (BALLE), which took a group of investors to De Witt last fall. “De Witt is thriving because everyone has come together, to do the hard work of creating a plan, and committing to make progress together.”
Read, “Rural Arkansas powers an entrepreneurial revival on camelina and biofuels,” by BALLE’s Amy Hartzler, on ImpactAlpha.
#Dealflow: Follow the Money
Smarter Sorting raises $5 million to repurpose chemical waste. The Austin-based startup partners with municipalities to scan waste for hazardous household chemicals, like bleach and solvents, and then finds buyers to use the chemicals for other uses. Smarter Sorting’s partners, like Austin, Tex., would otherwise pay to have the chemicals incinerated. Smarter Sorting, which operates as Waste Repurposing International, raised $5 million toward an $8 million funding round, according to an SEC filing. The company’swebsite says it has at least nine municipal partners, including Austin; Portland, Ore.; and Boulder, Colo. Smarter Sorting claims its model helps cities save 10% on cost and could address up to 30% of non-recycled city waste.
Opportunity Finance Network backs five community development finance institutions. Philadelphia-based Opportunity Finance Network awarded $5 million to five community development financial institutions for experiments with new financial products and models in underserved communities. The winners include: Reinvestment Fund, which will commit the $500,000 award to its pay-for-success fund; Minneapolis-based Metropolitan Economic Development Association, which will develop a “patient equity” product for early stage minority entrepreneurs; and Coastal Enterprises, Inc. in Brunswick, Maine, which will use the $1.5 million award to provide long-term debt and equity to commercial solar projects. Opportunity Finance Network awarded the funding through its NEXT Fund for Innovation, a partnership with Wells Fargo, Prudential Financial, and the MacArthur and Kresge foundations.
Agricx Lab secures $500,000 to quality-check produce. The startup, based in Thane, Maharashtra, has built mobile-based marketplace for farmers and traders to sell agricultural products. The app includes a feature that scans and assesses product quality with a smartphone camera. “Globally there is a need to understand the quality of food that we eat,” says Ritu Verma of Ankur Capital. “Objectively determining the quality at all points becomes all the more important.” Ankur led Agricx’s seed round with backing from Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship.
#Series: New Revivalists
Bryce Butler: Quarterbacking capital into Louisville’s neighborhood economies. Bryce Butler rattles off statistics about poverty and community finance like a Louisville sports fan going on about the Cardinals. Instead of bootlegs and draws, Butler’s playbook includes Kiva loans, strategic real estate, non-traditional debt funds and direct investments for neighborhood revival. Butler founded the nonprofit venture firm Access Ventures in Louisville to coordinate a basket of loans, equity investments, grants and technical support for entrepreneurs and organizations making the local economy work for more people. It’s the community “quarterback” approach, says Butler, an idea championed by social investor Kevin Jones. “We need an organization or a person or an entity within these communities to say, ‘OK, what’s the end goal?’ Butler told ImpactAlpha. The community quarterback’s job, he says, is to ask, “What’s keeping them from accessing the markets? And what solutions can we help bring to bear?” Read, “Bryce Butler: Quarterbacking capital into Louisville’s neighborhood economies,” by Dennis Price, on ImpactAlpha.
New Revivalists is a series from ImpactAlpha and Village Capital profiling the people, places and institutions reviving entrepreneurship — and America.
#Signals: Ahead of the Curve
Nine financing structures to overcome barriers to low-carbon solutions. It’s game-on for financial engineers seeking to mobilize capital to advance the Sustainable Development Goals and the global climate agreement. The latest cases-in-point are the nine instruments selected by the Climate Finance Lab, a private-public partnership that has already launched 25 financial vehicles that have mobilized $978 million, including $228 million from Lab members themselves. The new candidates include mechanisms for accelerating clean energy, low-carbon transit and sustainable land use. The Green Aggregation Tech Enterprise, for example, aims to streamline renewable energy mini-grids in sub-Saharan Africa. In India, the Residential Rooftop Solar Accelerator will lease systems to households that lack the credit history to purchase them, while Financing for Low-Carbon Auto Rickshaws will lend money for low-carbon and electric rickshaw drivers, lowering emissions and helping drivers gain independence from renting. The Socio-Climate Benefits Fund Facility aims to restore Amazon forests with long-term loans for smallholder farmers of low-carbon protein from fish, poultry and pigs. The nine ideas, selected from more than 100 submissions, will go through a development cycle in preparation for launch by the end of the year. See all of The Lab’s prospects here. And for even more innovative financial instruments, check out the “SDG unicorns” from Rockefeller Foundation’s Zero-Gap portfolio.
Onward! Please send news and comments to TheBrief@impactalpha.com.