The Brief | May 26, 2021

The Brief: Legacy of Black Wall Street, LISC’s catalytic capital, power-grid sensors, Exxon’s endgame, a retirement plan for Jeff Bezos

The team at


Greetings, Agents of Impact! 

Featured: The Reconstruction

How the legacy of Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre is shaping a more just future (podcast). The Greenwood District of Tulsa, Okla., was once one of the most prosperous Black communities in the U.S. On Black Wall Street, Black residents built and frequented shops, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and movie theaters. The district had its own library, hospital, two newspapers and a bank. A hundred years ago, a white mob burnt it to the ground after a report in the Tulsa Tribune falsely accused Dick Rowland, a Black teenager, of assaulting a white teen, Sarah Page. Over 48 hours, white terrorists pillaged and burned Greenwood and murdered more than 300 Black residents (worth a view: “What the Tulsa Massacre Destroyed,” from The New York Times). “What was it like being just in the middle of sheer terror – racial terror, violence – and having to leave everything that you once owned – your business, your home – just so you could survive?” wonders Tiffany Crutcher, founder of the Terence Crutcher Foundation, whose great-grandmother witnessed the massacre as a teenager. On a special edition of The Reconstruction podcast, Crutcher and Greg Robinson of Tulsa’s Met Cares Foundation join host Monique Aiken to reflect on the impact of the massacre on survivors and descendants.

The past is not past. Crutcher’s twin brother, Terence, who was unarmed, was shot and killed by a Tulsa police officer in 2016 with his hands in the air (officer Betty Shelby was found not guilty and received restitution). Crutcher and Robinson are helping organize the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival, a counterpoint to Tulsa’s official Centennial Commemoration event. Among the city’s long list of accountability failures, they say, is its refusal to provide restitution to the survivors and their descendants. A just Reconstruction requires an understanding of how the country’s past shapes its present, and how the Tulsa Race Massacre and the systemic injustices surrounding it undermined wealth creation across generations. “The same culture that burned down my great grandmother’s community is the same culture that killed Terence Crutcher,” his sister says. “And they still, to this day, tell us to ‘get over it.’ We decided to create our own table and truly show honor in an authentic way.”

Keep reading, “How the legacy of Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre is shaping a more just future,” by Anjali Deshmukh and Monique Aiken on ImpactAlpha.

  • Podcast series. The Reconstruction features engaging conversations with leaders of this reconstruction. Meet Patience Marime-Ball, Kelli Saulny, Rey Ramsey, Melissa Bradley, Rodney Foxworth, Carmen Rojas, Daryn Dodson and others who are moving capital toward justice. Catch up on Spotify, Apple or Anchor.
  • The beat. The Reconstruction’s landing page on ImpactAlpha has summaries of all of the podcast episodes, as well as original coverage, dealflow, features and Agents of Impact.

Dealflow: Racial Equity

LISC closes $250 million Black Economic Development Fund to catalyze capital for racial equity. The vehicle’s objectives: Increasing access to capital for businesses that support economic growth in Black communities. Strengthening local Black institutions. And proving out the thesis that “there’s performance to be had in Black communities,” thereby attracting other investors, Local Initiatives Support Corp.’s George Ashton told ImpactAlpha. The fund has made a $4 million deposit in Columbia, S.C.-based CDFI Optus Bank, which aims to build $100 million in local Black wealth in a decade, and a $3 million deposit in Unity National Bank, the only Black-owned bank in Texas. A $5 million loan to Dantes Partners will help preserve 3,000 affordable and workforce housing units in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Dantes’ Buwa Binitie said the investment “represents freedom for us to be who we want to be and own our projects.” The fund is looking to make an additional 20 investments by the end of 2021.

  • Catalytic capital. The raw injustice and the social protests that followed George Floyd’s murder last year pushed investors, corporate executives and policymakers to recognize the risk of systemic racism (see, “Seven ways finance has changed in the year since George Floyd’s murder”). Commitments to the Black Economic Development Fund have come from Netflix, Paypal, Costco, Square, Inc., Aflac, Wayfair, DuPont, McKinsey and Co., ThermoFisher, HubSpot and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
  • 10x challenge. The Black Economic Development Fund is part of LISC’s Project 10x, which also includes an Emerging Minority Developers Fund to connect developers with capital to build affordable housing. LISC has so far raised more than $400 million for the combined effort to address persistent disparities in wealth, health and economic opportunity (see, “LISC looks to 10x investment in closing racial wealth gaps”).
  • Onward

Gridware aims to monitor the power grid to prevent power failures and wildfires. More than four million acres burned during California’s wildfire season last year, which included the first “gigafire” of more than a million acres (see, “Wildfires bring to the fore financing for forest resilience”). Sacramento, Calif.-based Gridware’s monitoring hardware, mounted on utility poles, uses sensors and software to detect anomalies that could affect the grid’s performance or ignite wildfires. “Gridware’s technology has the potential to be hugely impactful in reducing rampant wildfires,” said Pricilla Tyler of True Ventures, which co-led $5.3 million seed financing round with impact tech VC firm Fifty Years.

  • Ounce of prevention. The company will use the funding to pilot its wildfire prevention partnerships with utilities. Investors include Y-Combinator, Liquid 2 Ventures, Wireframe Ventures, SOMA Capital and Anorak Ventures.
  • Plug in

Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • Invaio Sciences secures $88.9 million from Flagship Pioneering, Stage 1 Ventures, Bluwave Capital and Alexandria Venture Investments to improve crop health through agriculture science.
  • San Francisco’s Canvas, formerly Jumpstart, scores $20 million to diversify recruitment for Airbnb, Bloomberg, Lyft, Coinbase, Plaid and other customers.
  • Indigo Technologies raises an undisclosed amount of funding to develop electric vehicles for ride-hailing, delivery and other services. The Boston-based company has raised $110 million to date.

Signals: Big Oil’s Future 

Exxon’s shareholder drama is only the beginning of the endgame for the oil giant. It’s showtime. ExxonMobil faces restive investors today in a test for CEO Darren Woods and his strategy for the sagging oil giant. Shareholders at Exxon’s (online) annual general meeting will vote to reelect – or not – Woods as chairman of the company’s board. Also on the ballot: an insurgent slate of directors promoted by an activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1, that appears to have gotten a big boost from BlackRock, Exxon’s second-largest institutional shareholder, which is expected to vote for three of the four nominees. Regardless of the outcome, the months-long campaign to shake up Exxon, and the accelerating momentum toward a net-zero future, have shifted the ground beneath the largest U.S. oil company.

  • Playing defense. Exxon this week committed to add two board members of its own choosing. The company says it will invest $3 billion in the coming years in carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and biofuels – a fraction of its own fossil fuel spending as well as the investment being made by rivals BP and Shell in transition technologies. It has floated the idea of a $100 billion carbon capture and storage “innovation zone” in Houston – if it gets government subsidies.
  • Cash cow. The largest U.S. oil company is facing “an existential business risk” yet “still has no credible plan to protect value in an energy transition,” argues Engine No. 1 in an investor presentation. The firm, which holds just a $50 million stake in Exxon, calls for “gradually but purposefully” repositioning Exxon to succeed in a decarbonizing world.” Another path open to fossil fuel producers who resist change: wind the company down over time while returning profits to shareholders.
  • Shareholder revolt. In addition to Exxon, BlackRock, Amazon, Chevron and the Southern Company face contentious votes at annual meetings today. At Amazon, Zevin Asset Management is leading the charge with a shareholder proposal to bring new oversight to Amazon, including the removal of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as chair. In his final letter to investors before stepping down as CEO later this year, Bezos declared he will helm an attempt to make Amazon “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.” In a guest post on ImpactAlpha, Zevin’s Pat Miguel Tomaino argues that, “for the sake of Amazon and its workers, Jeff Bezos should fully retire.” Read Tomaino’s full post.
  • Keep reading, ”Exxon’s shareholder drama is only the beginning of the endgame for the oil giant,” by Amy Cortese on ImpactAlpha.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Anita Umarji, ex- of Bardin Hill Investment Partners, is named managing director/partner and head of investor relations and business development at Sandbox Industries… Danielle Harris is promoted to managing director of engagement and innovation at Elemental Excelerator… The Kapor Center seeks a chief executive office for its Purpose Pipeline in Oakland… Synthesis Capital is hiring a senior associate… Mercy Corps Ventures is looking for a fintech innovation and operations lead… Arlan Hamilton’s ArlanWasHere is hiring a chief operating officer… Ashoka and HSBC are accepting entries for their Green Skills Innovation Challenge to equip people with green skills… The Institute of the Americas is convening a virtual forum to examine the economic challenges and opportunities in Central America’s Northern Triangle, June 2-3.

Thank you for your impact.

– May 26, 2021