Beats | October 12, 2017

SOCAP signals, calling early-childhood innovators, SDGs as a ‘declaration of interdependence’

The team at


Greetings, ImpactAlpha readers!

#Overheard at SOCAP

SOCAP is the flea market of impact investing” (#SOCAP17 joke making the rounds).

“The Sustainable Development Goals are a declaration of interdependence.” The UN Development Programme’s Achim Steiner said “the UN and impact investing should be talking.”

“Racial equity can help meet America’s challenges of competitiveness and growth,” said Jacinta Gauda of the Gauda Group. The Kellogg Foundation is sponsoring a Racial Equity track at SOCAP and will release an updated version of its 2013 report “Business Case for Racial Equity” this fall. See, “Racial equity is a growth market.”

“The 2008 financial crisis was a gift.” B Lab co-founder Bart Houlahan said the Great Recession shifted the business narrative around communities and the environment. “We are seeing an absolute surge from leaders that want to influence the greater good.” B Lab recently released its Best for the World lists of businesses and funds.

“We can stand vigil for mission and impact.” The F.B. Heron Foundation last year beat its own deadline to deploy 100% of its $250 million endowment to further its mission of helping people help themselves out of poverty. Foundation president Clara Miller said other foundations also are making an impact with all of their investments, “they just don’t know if those impacts are good or bad.”

“You can create an economic buffer that prevents the spread of insecurity.” Babban Gona’s Kola Masha said improving the livelihoods of farmers is a bulwark against Boko Haram, the extremist group that has wreaked havoc in northern Nigeria. Babban Gona’s package of financing, agricultural inputs and marketing help boost farmer income to three times the national average. “We make small scale farmers profitable.” See “And a Skoll Award goes to…Babban Gona.”

“Problems are transcendent — they’re local and global,” says Leila Janah. “Helping someone in Ghana doesn’t mean that someone in the Netherlands is worse off as a result.” Janah is the founder of Samasource, a nonprofit that outsources digital work to unemployed people in the U.S. and low-income countries. Samasource got its first slug of capital from Dutch funders and now includes Google, eBay, and Walmart among its clients.

“It’s no longer acceptable to make investments without regard for the environment or society.” Giselle Leung said the Global Impact Investing Network is building a 10- to 15-year growth plan for impact investing. “We’re committed to developing the infrastructure and tools to bring institutional asset owners into impact investing,” she said.

#Signals: SOCAP Edition

Early-childhood innovators will split $1 million from Gary Community Investments. Luis Duarte, from the Denver, Colo., family office, called for solutions that improve the lives of children under three. The contest, designed by OpenIDEO, will open for submission on Oct. 25. New innovators will receive a share of $100,000, early-stage ideas with at least one-year of prototyping will split $400,000 and advanced innovations with at least three years of experience will split $500,000. Caprock Group’s Matthew Weatherley-Whitechimed in, “The ROI for early childhood is among the highest available.”

WeThrive is building a pipeline of entrepreneurs…starting in middle school. Daquan Oliver thinks society should nurture entrepreneurs from school-age like it does athletes. The 25-year-old founded WeThrive, an entrepreneurial training and leadership experience that pairs middle-school students in under-resourced communities with college students. The program is now in 27 schools in New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland and East Palo Alto and has enrolled 750 students in the program. Oliver is an Echoing Green Fellow.

The Hood Incubator boosts participation of people of color in the cannabis industry. The Oakland-based accelerator is out to ensure communities of color, disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs, get in on the legal cannabis industry. The market is set to grow from $7.3 billion in 2015 to $20.7 billion by 2020. “If black people don’t become the leaders of the cannabis industry, that’s by pure human design,” said Lanese Martin, Hood Incubator co-founder and another Echoing Green Fellow. Through its annual four-month, 100-hour program, the accelerator helps underground cannabis entrepreneurs transition to legal markets.

#Dealflow: Follow the Money

Oolu raises $3.2 million to expand power access in West Africa. The Senegal-based startup sells solar-energy products to off-grid households in West Africa, where 150 million people lack access to the grid. Oolu, part of the Y Combinator accelerator, partners with money-transfer company WARI to enable subscribers to pay monthly fees with mobile payments. Oolu’s Series A funding round was led by Persistent Energy Capital with participation from Y Combinator. It plans to use the funds to expand in Senegal and Mali and launch in a third market next year.

Envoy Global lands $21 million for foreign-worker services. The Chicago-based company pairs software and legal services to help employers navigate the immigration and visa process for foreign-born workers in the U.S. and expatriate workers overseas. Foreign-born workers are seen as critical to filling the 2.4 million high-skill science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs expected in the U.S. next year. The Trump Administration’s uncertain immigration policy is forcing companies to rethink how they fill skills gaps, says Dick Burke, Envoy Global’s CEO. “The talent shortage is real,” he says. Envoy Global’s Series C round was led by Catalyst Investors and joined by General Catalyst, a venture capital firm. . Since launching in 1998, Envoy Global has raised $48.75 million.

Pennsylvania newspaper and university partner on incubator for rural businesses. Washington & Jefferson College and the Observer-Reporter, the local paper in Washington County, Pa., are starting a $2.5 million incubator to support local businesses and fortify the university’s relationship with the city. The county, situated on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, is home to about 200,000 people and 5,000 businesses. “There’s no real coworking spaces, so they miss out on that peer-to-peer learning,” says Max Miller, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Washington & Jefferson. “Part of what we want to do is help create that culture.” The partners have so far raised 10% of the funds from the county, and the Observer-Reporter is committing vacant space in two buildings for the incubator.

Onward! Please send news and comments to [email protected].