Greetings, Agents of Impact!
Thank you to the hundreds of Agents of Impact who joined Call No. 29 yesterday to take up the challenge of rewriting rules and designing policies for the stakeholder economy, and thank you to Omidyar Network for sponsoring our Capitalism Reimagined coverage. Listen for soundbites on Friday’s Impact Briefing podcast and watch for a full writeup next week.
Featured: Walking the Talk
Lisette Cooper: Shareholder activism for our daughters’ daughters. The 2016 election, as well as the Me Too movement, spurred Athena Capital Advisors founder Lisette Cooper and friend Linda Wisnewski to action in support of women. “I know we have made gender-lens investments, but what more can we do?” asked Wisnewski. The friends mobilized women investors, asset managers and academics and aligned themselves with the West Coast-based Women’s Inclusion Project to engage more than two dozen companies on issues including gender diversity on boards, workplace equity, and ending online sexual exploitation and violence against children. “Our thinking was to unite women around gender empowerment through all forms of capital,” Cooper writes in the latest edition of Walking the Talk, ImpactAlpha’s series with Confluence Philanthropy on how impact investors invest their own portfolios. A resolution on child sexual exploitation that Cooper helped file at Verizon garnered approval from 34% of shareholders and spurred management to improve child safety on its Yahoo search engine.
Cooper’s shareholder activism is a culmination of a journey. Over 20 years, she grew Athena to $5.5 billion in assets under management and built a robust ESG and impact investing practice. Last year, she sold Athena to Fiduciary Trust International, a subsidiary of Franklin Templeton. Her personal portfolio includes an ESG-aligned equities portfolio through Aperio; mutual funds and ETFs, such as Just Capital; and Breckenridge’s ESG municipal bond strategy. Her cash is in treasury-bills in a company with a female CEO, and her deposits in a bank with a history of strong female leadership. Cooper says Reach Capital, a venture capital firm with a diverse leadership team focused on ed tech and workforce development, is generating impact at scale alongside market-rate returns. Cooper looks to shareholder engagement in public markets to drive some of the most significant impact. Her latest child-safety resolution, at Facebook, received 56% of the non-management vote – and again spurred executives to open a dialogue about how to protect children on the social network.
Keep reading, “Shareholder activism for our daughters’ daughters,” by Lisette Cooper on ImpactAlpha. Catch up on past editions of Walking the Talk, including from Ivy Jack, Nick Flores and Patricia Farrar-Rivas.
Dealflow: Impact Acquisition
J.P. Morgan acquires OpenInvest to customize clients’ ESG portfolios. San Francisco-based robo-investment platform OpenInvest launched in 2015 with the ambitious goal of democratizing impact investing, and attracted investment from QED, Y Combinator, Andreeseen Horowitz and others. The challenging retail market for ethical investing led to a shakeout; Swell closed its doors in 2019, and Motif was carved up last year (see, “Retail platforms for sustainable investing struggle to differentiate themselves – and to attract customers“). OpenInvest pivoted from its direct-to-consumer approach and toward technology partnerships with wealth advisors. J.P. Morgan manages more than $4 trillion in client assets, of which it says $2.4 trillion are “ESG-integrated.” The acquisition gives OpenInvest “the ability to reach nearly half of all American households,” said co-founder Joshua Levin.
- ESG+. J.P. Morgan’s wealth advisors can use OpenInvest to help clients personalize their portfolios. The bank late last year acquired the fintech company 55ip, which helps advisors optimize tax strategies. J.P. Morgan’s Private Bank and Wealth Management plans to combine the offerings to help advisors deliver combined ESG and tax-smart investment strategies. Terms were not disclosed.
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Niramai scores funding from CDC Group for COVID-screening technology. India is emerging from a catastrophic COVID wave that, at its peak in early May, saw more than 400,000 cases per day (numbers are presumed to be underreported in the country of 1.4 billion.) Bangalore-based medtech startup Niramai adapted its AI-powered, low-cost thermal imaging tech, developed to look for breast cancer, for COVID screening. The method is proving to be more effective at detecting the virus than infrared thermometers, wrote the U.K.’s CDC Group. “It has great potential to reduce the risk of transmission and enable faster treatment for positive cases – both vital in slowing the spread of the virus.” The development finance institution provided pilot funding from its technical assistance facility, CDC Plus.
- Affordable diagnostics. Niramai’s breast cancer screening technology has been used by 24,000 women. The women-led venture says its approach is 95% cheaper than standard methods and up to 30% more accurate (see, “Niramai raises $6 million for affordable breast cancer screening”). Niramai is backed by early-stage impact investor Ankur Capital, Pi Ventures, BEENEXT and others.
- Pandemic response. Separately, two Indian health tech ventures secured funding from The Trinity Challenge to prepare for future pandemics: Khushi Health provides digital tools for community health workers, while StaTwig makes a vaccine supply chain and logistics tracing tool.
- Read on.
ANDE’s Advancing Women’s Empowerment Fund awards $450,000 to three organizations in Africa. The funding, provided by USAID, was awarded to Aequalitas Capital Partners for innovative financing for women-led ventures in Nigeria; Property Point Venture Catalyst for working capital for South Africa’s women entrepreneurs in real estate and construction; and African Entrepreneur Collective for low-cost loans and grants to women-led small businesses in Rwanda and Kenya.
- Gender gap. The Advancing Women’s Empowerment Fund was set up to pilot financing solutions to bridge the estimated $320 billion annual finance gap for women-led businesses in emerging and frontier markets. It awarded $1.2 million to eight initiatives last June (see, “ANDE’s Advancing Women’s Empowerment Fund awards $1.2 million”).
- Check it out.
Aquagenuity closes $1.7 million seed round to prevent water-related crises. The Flint, Mich. water crisis was a wake-up call that safe drinking water is not a given, especially in underserved communities. Some 3,500 U.S. communities have more lead in their water than Flint did, says Aquagenuity’s Doll Avant, a data scientist. Avant started the company as a Harvard undergraduate to bring transparency to the opaque world of water data and prevent future Flints. “We want to make it as easy to check your water as it is to check the weather,” she told ImpactAlpha.
- What’s in your water? Atlanta-based Aquagneuity aggregates government water data into a public database. Individuals can enter a zip code and get a local water score and information about contaminants. The company’s water test kits supply more data. Softbank led the seed round, with participation by Google, Amazon, BMW Mini’s Urban X Fund, CerraCap and two family offices.
- Dive in.
Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:
- ZeroAvia raises $13 million to build hydrogen-electric powertrains for a 50+ seat zero-carbon aircraft.
- A partnership that includes Mirova, Blue Finance and Belize’s Ministry of Blue Economy secures a $1.2 million blended-finance facility to protect marine life in Belize.
- Incofin extends a $2 million loan to Bina Artha to make microloans to Indonesia’s female entrepreneurs.
- Vaccine alliance GAVI commits $60 million to RBC Global Asset Management’s Impact Bond fund.
Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent
Jehan Velji, ex- of Blue Meridian, is named director of Hewlett Foundation’s Effective Philanthropy Group… Antony Bugg-Levine joins the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as a visiting scholar (see, “Agents of Impact: Antony Bugg-Levine and Jed Emerson”)… Alexis Goldstein, ex- of Americans for Financial Reform, is named financial policy director at Open Markets Institute, while Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler joins the institute’s board… Prosperity Now’s Gary Cunningham joins the board of Community Reinvestment Fund… CNote is hiring an operations and finance manager in Oakland… MaRS Discovery District is looking for a manager of impact measurement and management in Toronto… JPMorgan Chase seeks an associate for its sustainability and ESG strategies growth equity fund in New York.
Thank you for your impact.
– June 30, 2021