The Brief | August 31, 2021

The Brief: Sunwealth’s Jessica Brooks walks the talk, ride-hailing in West Africa, gravity energy storage, affordable California

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Greetings, Agents of Impact! 

Agents of Impact Call No. 30: Capitalism Reimagined. If you thought this spring’s ExxonMobil proxy fight was dramatic, just wait ’til next year. Join Engine No. 1’s Michael O’Leary, The Shareholder Commons’ Sara Murphy, Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs and other Agents of Impact to talk long-term stewardship, investment guardrails and shareholder democracy with ImpactAlpha and Omidyar Network, Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm London. RSVP today.

Featured: Walking the Talk

Sunwealth’s Jessica Brooks: Investing in a better world for all of our kids. Investing isn’t just what you do with your stock and bond portfolio. “It’s also what you do with your time, your energy and your attention,” says Sunwealth’s Jessica Brooks. The clean energy investment firm in Cambridge, Mass. backs solar projects (like this and this) in communities underserved by renewables financing. In the latest edition of Walking the Talk, ImpactAlpha’s series with Confluence Philanthropy, Brooks unpacks her own family’s investment portfolio. Talking about money is often taboo, says Brooks. “But conversations about how we invest our resources – our time, our energy, our attention and our money – get to the heart of what we care about and how we’re going to change the world.”

  • Asset allocation. Equities comprise 94% of Brooks’ investable assets. The “positive screen” Reynders, McVeigh’s Core Equity Fund (ESGEX) is her largest holding. Other issues include Tesla, Danaher, Apple, MarketAxess Holdings and Mastercard. The rest is in fixed-income investments, including community development financial institutions and other low-risk, high-impact investments.
  • Hidden value. Not surprisingly, Brooks is keen on Sunwealth’s Solar Impact Bonds, which pool Sunwealth’s projects into socially diverse tranches. Other favorites include Hope Credit Union, which banks the unbanked, primarily in the U.S. South; the Capital Good Fund, which makes small loans to individuals; funds from BlueHub for affordable housing and foreclosure relief; and bond offerings from Calvert Impact Capital, Capital Impact, LISC and Self-Help Credit Union. “After two decades in CDFIs and at Sunwealth, I know there’s hidden value in this sector,” she writes.
  • Resilience portfolio. Volunteering at her son’s school or at a local community farm strengthens Brooks’ community and pays dividends in relationships and connectedness close to home. Her note with the Boston Ujima Project is an “evolutionary investment” that pays interest while putting decision-making authority in the hands of Boston residents. In both cases, Brooks says, “I’m investing in a better world – the world where I want all our kids to grow up.”
  • Keep reading, “Investing in a better world for all of our kids,” by Sunwealth’s Jessica Brooks. Are you walking the talk? Drop us a note (or just hit ‘reply’) to share your story.

Dealflow: Climate Tech

Energy Vault secures $100 million for gravity energy storage. The California and Switzerland-based developer works with utility and energy companies on energy storage solutions to complement solar and wind power. Its EVx platform uses a gravitational- and kinetic energy-based crane to stack 35-ton blocks made out of recycled waste materials, such as coal ash, tailings from mining operations and old wind turbine blades. The bricks can be lowered to discharge kinetic energy to the grid. Energy Vault’s solution “is designed to fulfill clean energy demand 24/7 with a more efficient, durable and environmentally sustainable approach than other options,” said Zia Huque of Prime Movers Lab, which led the Series C round.

  • Global demand. Energy Vault said its pipeline covers the U.S., Middle East, Europe and Australia. Returning investors included SoftBank Vision Fund, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, Helena and Idealab X. New investors include SailingStone Global Energy Transition, Pickering Energy Partners, Crexa Capital Advisors and Green Storage Solutions.
  • Storage solutions. Separately, Somerville, Mass.-based Helix Power launched an equity crowdfunding campaign on SeedInvest for its flywheel-based kinetic energy storage system.
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Plentywaka and Kai Senegal raise funds to shake up West African transport. Communal ride-hailing service Plentywaka helps bridge gaps in Nigerians’ daily commute with transport to and from bus stations. The company secured seed funding of $1.2 million and acquired Stabus, a similar service based in Accra, to expand into Ghana. The round was backed by Techstars, SOSV, The Xchange in Toronto and others. Plentywaka’s pre-seed round last year helped it add a logistics service when COVID impacted its ride-hailing business.

  • Digital upgrade. Kai Senegal, launched in 2018, offers a ride-hailing app for taxi drivers and fleet operators, as well as vehicle financing for drivers. Kai raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Toyota Tshusho’s Africa-focused venture fund Mobility 54. The fund has backed more than 50 African mobility companies, including Uganda’s Tugende and Kenya’s Data Integrated.
  • Beyond Africa. Shared-ride hailing service Swvl, which launched in Cairo in 2017, has acquired Barcelona-based Shotl, which provides on-demand bus and van services in Europe, Latin America and Asia. Swvl, now based in Dubai, plans to go public on Nasdaq via the special purpose acquisition company Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital.
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Silicon Valley Bank backs National Equity Fund to create affordable rental housing in California. California has eight of the 10 most expensive cities for rental housing in the U.S. A $110 million commitment from Silicon Valley Bank will help National Equity Fund launch an Opportunity Zone fund to “create affordable housing where it’s needed most and for who needs it the most — including units reserved specifically for people experiencing homelessness and local farm workers,” said Silicon Valley Bank’s Fiona Hsu. The fund will invest the capital in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit deals in Opportunity Zones in Los Angeles, Santa Rosa, San Jose and the rest of the Bay Area.

Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • Western Alliance Bancorp. invests $9 million in Clearinghouse CDFI’s targeted $250 million FVLCRUM Fund to invest in minority-owned enterprises, primarily in government contracting, healthcare and franchising. 
  • The International Finance Corp. commits $50 million to Letshego to finance affordable housing in Namibia. 

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

The Nature Conservancy is recruiting a deputy managing director of forest and carbon investing… The U.S. International Development Finance Corp. is hiring senior impact management and monitoring specialists in climate and infrastructure and financial institutionsVillgro Innovations Foundation is looking for a manager of climate action in Bangalore… Aidentifi seeks a head of sustainability and impact in Singapore… Future Nexus is hosting “What a Federal Development Bank Could Do for Americans,” with John Cochrane of the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, Douglas Sims of National Resources Defense Council, Stephany Griffith-Jones of Columbia University, and Future Nexus’ Aaron Cantrell, Wednesday, Sept. 8.

Thank you for your impact.

– Aug 31, 2021