The Brief | January 5, 2023

The Brief: Electrifying New York’s ‘dollar vans,’ biodiversity startups in Indonesia, affordable school loans in India, sexy circular strategies

The team at


Greetings, Agents of Impact! 

Featured: E-Mobility

Electrifying ‘dollar vans’ to boost livelihoods and cut carbon in New York’s transit deserts. Along Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn, several informal “dollar vans” pass by for every city bus, and are cheaper to boot. Ubers are out of reach. Yellow cabs are nonexistent. In recent years, the informal economy of dollar van drivers and riders in New York’s transit deserts has been disrupted by high gas prices, rising insurance rates and COVID slowdowns. Now, a collaboration between local tech and climate entrepreneurs is aiming to both improve the livelihoods of dollar van drivers and decarbonize urban transport by helping drivers switch to electric vehicles. Backed by a $10 million grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, the Clean Transit Access Program aims to electrify at least 100 dollar vans in Brooklyn and Queens this year. “We want the drivers in the industry to have the best equipment and technology because oftentimes our communities don’t get what is the best,” says Su Sanni of Dollaride, the Brooklyn-based startup spearheading the collaboration. “We’re trying to show the world that this is how you uplift communities and deliver impact.”

  • Transition financing. Dollaride has raised $1.1 million in pre-seed funding from Backstage Capital, Sorenson Impact Foundation, Powerhouse Ventures and other investors to digitalize payments and transit routes for dollar van drivers and their customers. More than 400 dollar van drivers use Dollaride’s mobile app and report income increases of up to 33% since joining the service. BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based company that installs heat pumps to electrify buildings in low-income and minority neighborhoods, will deploy up to $30 million to finance the EV conversions, “in the same way that BlocPower helps building owners finance and perform energy-efficient upgrades without paying upfront costs,” BlocPower’s Keith Kinch tells ImpactAlpha. BlocPower boasts about “turning buildings into Teslas.” Says Sanni, “Essentially, we’re going to turn dollar vans into Teslas.” 
  • Green infrastructure. Brooklyn-based HEVO will supply more than 100 plugin and wireless EV charging stations for dollar van drivers and nearby EV owners. The Clean Transit Access Program will help Dollaride expand drivers’ access to vehicle ownership and affordable insurance as well as low-carbon technology. Says Sanni, “At the end of the day, we don’t want to turn away anybody.”
  • Keep reading, “Electrifying ‘dollar vans’ to boost livelihoods and cut carbon in New York’s transit deserts,” by Roodgally Senatus on ImpactAlpha.

Dealflow: Conservation Finance

Conservation fund Terratai launches to invest in biodiversity startups in Indonesia. Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth. Deforestation, overexploitation of natural resources, climate change and other issues are threatening the country’s natural ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. Matthew Leggett, formerly with the Wildlife Conservation Society, launched Terratai to invest in startups developing solutions to protect Indonesia’s biodiversity. The fund has backing from Hong Kong-based family office RS Group

  • Biodiversity ‘radiotherapy’. A global biodiversity framework was agreed at last month’s COP15 summit in Montreal to quell the current wave of biodiversity loss and extinction. More than $700 billion is needed annually to reverse the decline. There are few durable NGO-led conservation initiatives, and startups are often too niche to scale, Leggett says. “What we need is radiotherapy across the system,” he told EcoBusiness. The firm plans to invest in pre-seed-stage startups with potential to protect natural resources at scale.

Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • Kering and L’Occitane Group committed €140 million ($148.5 million) to a natural capital fund mobilizing capital from fashion and beauty brands for regenerative farming and land restoration.
  • Cabinet Health secured $17 million from Global Impact Fund, Natureza and Unreasonable Group to make sustainable packaging materials for the pharmaceutical industry. 
  • Singapore-based Alterpacks clinched $1 million to make biodegradable food containers and “bio-pellets” to replace petroleum-based resins used in manufacturing machinery.
  • The Norwegian Climate Investment Fund backed ReNew Power’s renewable power transmission project in the Indian state of Karnataka. 
  • Bangalore-based Varthana raised $7 million from MicroVest to provide affordable school loans to students in rural India.

Impact Voices: Circular Economy

Three ways product resale is making the circular economy sexy. “If your product company wanted to try something new in the, er, boardroom, you might be eyeing up the circular economy,” Maura Dilley and Nicole Bassett of consultancy Cascade Circular write in a, um, provocative guest post. “After all, what’s better than the fleeting satisfaction of one sale? The repeat pleasure of multiple sales!” The authors lay out three precepts for product resale, “because reselling instead of manufacturing makes money, not pollution.”

  • Product design is the ooh-la-la of circular. Well designed circular products, “at the end of their many, many uses, they can be cost-effectively disassembled and actually recycled into more reusable products. Again! Again!” say Dilley and Bassett. In apparel and textiles, that means climate beneficial wool, closed loop dying, dissolvable thread, and fibers designed to be recycled into more fibers.
  • Circular operations, or, this top needs a bottom. Sending products in-and-out of inventory, cleaning them, replacing parts, quality checks, tantric customer engagement, merchandising and balancing budgets in all new places – resale is going to make operations sweat. “We’re looking for enterprise software designed for returns and resale; software for managing extended customer relationships; and (wait for it) accounting software that adjusts production costs across multiple sales, not blowing it all on the first time.”
  • Circular data for lubricant. “Data can lubricate each step in the circular sales process, capturing, optimizing, and priming success for the next partner in the chain,” the authors write. They’re particularly keen on digital IDs for sharing troubleshooting and disassembly instructions, cataloging materials and storing critical resale data like original MSRP and product images.
  • Keep reading, “Three ways product resale is making the circular economy sexy,” by Cascade Circular’s Maura Dilley and Nicole Bassett on ImpactAlpha. 

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

New year, new gigs: The Rockefeller Foundation names Natalye Paquin, ex- of Points of Light, as chief operating officer… Jed Emerson is promoted to chief impact officer at Tiedemann Advisors… Valentin Olivry, ex- of Elevar Equity, is named director of impact finance at Sorenson Impact… Lloyd McAllister, ex- of Newton Investment Management, is named head of sustainable investment at Paris-based Carmignac. 

Alison Taylor of Ethical Systems steps up to clinical associate professor at NYU Stern School of Business… Singapore appointed Lim Tuang Liang, former chief of science and technology, to the new role of chief sustainability officer, the first such role for a country… Melanie Nakagawa, ex- of the National Security Council, starts her job as Microsoft’s new chief sustainability officer.  

Fifty Years is hiring a recruiter, a synthetic biologist, a storyteller, and a chief of staff… Trimtab Impact is looking for a catalytic capital senior associate… Common Future seeks an investment operations manager… The Shirley Chisholm Family Residence in Brooklyn is the winner of Community Capital Management’s annual impact award… The Green Rural Redevelopment Organization and Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute are hosting the Rural Food Forum, Jan. 12 in Henderson, N.C.  

Thank you for your impact.

– Jan. 5, 2023