The Brief | January 10, 2023

The Brief: Deploying community infrastructure, digitalizing India’s shops, sustainable real assets in Germany, inclusive corporate VC, fairness as a service

The team at


Greetings, Agents of Impact! 

Featured: Catalytic Capital

Matching local projects with climate capital to deploy community infrastructure. The Great Deployment is on. The capital is teed up. The technology is ready. The Inflation Reduction Act and infrastructure bills unleashed hundreds of billions of dollars for U.S. renewable energy projects, water infrastructure upgrades, energy retrofits, electric transportation and other infrastructure for the low-carbon transition. “Where the world has not caught up is in creating the projects,” Jigar Shah, who heads the U.S. Energy Department’s Loans Program Office, said on ImpactAlpha’s Agents of Impact podcast last month. The Community Infrastructure Center, a new portal created by the Milken Institute, is intended to stock the project pipeline by helping communities take advantage of once-in-a-generation funding opportunities. Communities, especially rural, Black, Brown and other underserved communities, often lack capital for the upfront feasibility studies, site acquisition costs, architectural and engineering work, and permitting needed before project construction begins. “The idea is: how do you connect high-demand, highly replicable projects with the experts and capital that can help?” Milken’s Dan Carol tells ImpactAlpha

The portal, to debut this week at Milken Institute’s Public Finance Forum in Washington, D.C., aims to ensure that good projects in underserved communities are able to navigate complex regulations and identify sources of funding and technical assistance. The forum brings together the world of municipal finance with local project developers, impact investors and others interested in inclusive, green development. Already, 16 community projects have registered, including a municipal workforce development program in Colorado, a village relocation project on the Shoalwater Bay Indian Reservation in Washington state, and a clean coal fertilizer facility in West Virginia. Carol is cautiously optimistic that the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives won’t stall the historic funding opportunities. “We think that the deployment of community infrastructure projects to advance local communities – use cases like broadband, more efficient wastewater plants, better and more efficient buildings – is a very bipartisan issue,” he says. “Delivering catalytic capital, like pre-development capital to advance their projects, is extremely bipartisan.”

  • Keep reading, “Matching local projects with climate capital to deploy community infrastructure,” by Amy Cortese and Dennis Price on ImpactAlpha.
  • Watch the livestream. The Milken Institute Public Finance Forum livestream kicks off Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 8am ET. Speakers include the D.O.E.’s Jigar Shah, World Bank’s David Malpass, Greater Share’s Dana Bezerra, Public Finance Initiative’s Lourdes German, and John Podesta, in one of his first public appearances as President Biden’s advisor on clean energy innovation and implementation. Tune in.

Dealflow: Enterprise Tech

VilCart raises $13 million to digitalize India’s mom and pop shops. Bangalore-based VilCart helps India’s kiranas, or mom and pop shops, digitize their business operations and source inventory. The company, launched in 2018, caught the pandemic-fueled enterprise tech wave that helped informal and micro businesses in emerging markets procure goods, manage inventory and access financial services. VilCart supports more than 45,000 shops in villages across the state of Karnataka. Asia Impact, Nabventures and Texterity Private Limited backed the Series A round.

  • Enterprise tech. The digitalization of the vast informal business sector in emerging markets was one of the stories of 2021, with tech startups raising billions of dollars from venture capital investors (see, “How technology is disrupting small-business financing in emerging markets – in a good way.”) Not so in 2022: investor interest slowed with the downturn, and a number of once-hot startups, including India’s Dukaan and Psi Phi Global, Kenya’s MarketForce, Nigeria’s Alerzo and Egypt’s Capiter, have laid off workers, pivoted or shuttered. “It is new technology and you need a certain level of handholding,” commented Gaurav Ranjan of Bangalore-based VC firm Prime Venture Partners. The market slowdown seems to have accelerated the shakeout of winners and losers. “There is no lack of intent” from small and medium-sized enterprises, Ranjan said. “Everyone wants to go online.”
  • Check it out.

Commerz Real’s Klimavest real assets impact fund crosses the billion-euro mark. Germany is one of several European nations that backslid on fossil fuels in order to generate power as Russia’s war on Ukraine hit energy supplies. But the country remains committed to phasing out coal as a power source by 2030, and more Germans are turning to low-carbon technologies, such as heat pumps. Klimavest, the alternatives-focused impact fund of Germany’s Commerz Real, invests in clean energy, sustainable infrastructure, green mobility and forestry projects. The fund’s portfolio includes 43 wind farms and solar parks in northern Europe, 10 of which are in development. “We expect to see a further acceleration of the energy turnaround, coupled with new and attractive investment opportunities for investors,” said Klimavest’s Timo Werner. The open-ended fund is targeting returns between 3.5% to 4.5% this year.

  • Heating up. Separately, Swedish climate tech company Qvantum raised €42 million ($45.1 million) in a Series B round to bring zero-carbon electric heat pumps to densely populated areas in Europe.
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Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • EV battery tech developer Noco-Noco is going public at a $1.3 billion valuation via Prime Number Acquisition Corp. I, a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.
  • DBL Group secured a $52 million loan from British International Investment to create a cotton yarn mill that will create over 1,000 jobs for mostly female workers in Bangladesh.
  • Bangalore-based CropIn, which helps farmers analyze crop yields and risks with satellites, sensors and weather data, raised $13.7 million from Google, ABC Impact and other investors.
  • Nigerian agtech startup Releaf scored $3.3 million to link smallholder palm oil producers to consumer goods manufacturers. 

Six Short Signals: What We’re Reading

📈 Inclusive corporate VC. Most venture capital funds that debuted last year raised money from corporations. The corporate trend is supporting emerging VC firms targeting underrepresented areas. (Global corporate venturing)

👩🏽‍🦱🧑🏼‍🦱👨🏾‍🦲👩🏻‍🦰 Overlooked ventures. A list of almost two dozen investors that fund women, Black, Latinx and LGBTQ founders. (The Business of Business)

🏢 Diversity in real estate. Fifteen developers of color just graduated from a new program in Philly that aims for equity in real estate. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

⚖️ Fairness as a service. An AI-powered tool helps financial institutions assess whether their automated decisioning models inadvertently reflect bias. (Fairplay)

💉 Vaccine for honeybees. The U.S. government has approved use of the world’s first vaccine for honeybees, a new weapon against diseases that routinely ravage colonies necessary for food pollination. (The Guardian)

☀️ Heritage and sustainability. Solar panels disguised as ancient Roman tiles or terracotta bricks, adopted by the archaeological park of Pompeii and the Portuguese city of Evora, are turning architectural constraints into assets. (TechXplore)

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Stefan den Doelder, ex- of Stafford Capital Partners, joins North Sky Capital as a managing director in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the firm’s first office in Europe… The University of Exeter is hiring a part-time senior impact and partnerships development manager for its digital economy research center in London… Cardinal Health seeks a remote environmental sustainability manager… Calvert Impact Capital is looking for an associate general counsel in the Washington, D.C. metro area. 

FUSE has several open fellowship positions in San Jose, Calif., Seattle and Los Angeles… South Pole seeks an impact investment associate in London… Ideas on Purpose is recruiting a senior sustainability and ESG reporting strategist and writer in New York… The California Health Care Foundation is looking for a senior program investment officer for its innovation fund in Oakland. 

The Gordon Foundation is hiring a remote environmental data specialist in Quebec or Ottawa… The World Resources Institute seeks a climate finance research consultant in Washington, D.C… Village Capital is looking for a remote Africa regional lead… Catholic Relief Services is recruiting an impact investing manager and a temporary impact investing senior advisor in Baltimore. 

The Foundation for Delaware County in Pennsylvania is accepting grant applications from organizations offering education, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and supportive services to help families grappling with mental health and substance use disorders… Opportunity Finance Network’s Small Business Finance Forum returns in person June 20-21 in Chicago.

Thank you for your impact.

– Jan. 10, 2023