The Brief | January 8, 2020

The Brief: Emergency student aid, Franklin Templeton acquires Athena, climate-resilient agriculture, Senegal’s startup act

The team at


Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Dealflow: Follow the Money

Edquity raises seed funding to help colleges provide emergency student aid. The Brooklyn-based education startup calls itself a “tech-enabled anti-poverty company.” Edquity’s David Helene says the company’s stopgap measures are needed “until radical policy solutions are enacted to address the structural causes of the rampant financial insecurity in college.” As the price of higher education has soared, millions of students are dropping out of school, often because of small but serious financial emergencies. That gives universities an economic imperative to help students weather such financial strains. Edquity helps educational institutions identify at-risk students and provide immediate cash assistance for unexpected expenses, housing or food through the schools’ emergency aid funds.

  • Disaster response. Edquity’s partners include the Dallas County Community College District Foundation, which has a $400,000 fund for its more than 24,000 students living in poverty. The company says Dallas students have accessed nearly $100,000 in emergency cash grants through Edquity’s app to weather financial crises, including the recent tornadoes that left many students and other residents homeless. Western Governors University will assess Edquity’s impact on its student population.  
  • Seed funding. The $2.4 million round was led by ECMC Foundation. Investors include Omidyar Network, Spring Point Partners, the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social ImpactMichelson 20MM Foundation and Western Governors University’s seed fund, as well as existing investors Lumina Foundation and Strada Education Network. The new financing follows a $500,000 investment from Lumina Foundation last February and its acquisition of Baltimore-based BridgeEDU, which offers at-risk students with coaching, academic and financial support.
  • Read on.

Franklin Templeton unit acquires impact-focused Athena Capital. Athena, a registered investment advisor, has $6 billion in assets under management and develops impact investing and wealth strategies for high net worth families, foundations and endowments. Fiduciary Trust, a subsidiary of Franklin Templetontouted Athena’s experience in impact investing and geographic footprint in New England. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. In 2017, Tiedemann Wealth ManagementacquiredThreshold Group to bolster its impact investing offerings for clients. 

FMO backs Acumen’s climate resilience fund for Africa’s farmers. The Acumen Resilient Agriculture Fund is a targeted $50 million fund that will invest in early-stage agribusinesses helping African farmers weather and adapt to climate change. The Dutch development finance institution invested $7.5 million via two managed funds.

Signals: Ahead of the Curve

Senegal’s Startup Act eases the way for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is critical to economic vitality, especially in Africa, where small and growing businesses are tackling challenges from financial inclusion to farming and food distribution for the continent’s growing middle class. A number of African nations are formalizing policies to support local entrepreneurs, especially in digital technologies. The policies are being shaped by local entrepreneurial ecosystems and i4Policy, an African group that helped create an African Innovation Policy Manifesto in 2018.

  • Startup funding. The Senegal Startup Act, passed at the end of December, creates a legal framework, incentives and a dedicated resource center. The law is part of its broader “Digital Senegal 2025” strategy to leverage digital technology and create jobs. The Senegalese government invested the equivalent of $2 million in 40 startups in November.
  • Removing barriers. Tunisia set up a legal framework with its 2018’s Tunisia Startup Act, which exempts startups from corporate taxes for up to eight years. Public and private sector workers can take a year off to start a company with the right to return. The act even funds the salaries of up to three founders for their first year. 
  • More to come. Mali and Ghana are among at least 10 other African nations working on startup acts. 
  • Check it out.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Kim-Andrée Potvin joins Bamboo Capital Partners as head of operations from Landolt & Cie… Arabesque S-Ray adds Todd Arthur Bridges as global head of sustainable investing and ESG research and Manuel Piñuela as CTO… Annie Olszewski, previously of The Wing and the Global Impact Investing Network, joins Impact Capital Managers as director of programs… Liquidnet seeks an impact investing graduate associate in New York to support its Capital for Good project… Boundless Impact Investing is looking for an expert in sustainable working forest management.

Thank you for reading.

– Jan. 8, 2020