The Brief | April 11, 2023

The Brief: Suzanne Biegel heads for change, blockable housing, Tesla’s master plan, the SDG second half, preserving ‘Green Book’ businesses

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Greetings, Agents of Impact! A special shout out to all of you Agents and ImpactAlpha for Teams members that took to heart last week’s word – renewal – and re-upped your subscriptions for another year of impact. Thank you! 

Featured: Gender Smart

With climate + gender fund, Suzanne Biegel is heading for change. If and when we meet the climate challenge, a key success factor will become clear: women. Making it easier for you to invest at the intersection of gender and climate could be Suzanne Biegel’s legacy. With a $1 million grant, Biegel is seeding Heading for Change, a donor-advised fund launching today that will invest in fund managers with crisp strategies for addressing climate challenges with a gender lens. “Women are coming up with half the good ideas,” Biegel says. “Women are not just disproportionately impacted by climate disasters. They are also entrepreneurs, leaders, creators and disseminators of vital climate solutions.” The co-founder of GenderSmart (now 2X Global), Biegel has spent three years building out the thesis, as well as the network, the dealflow, the partners and the investors for what she calls gender-smart climate investing (see “Making markets work for women and the world”). Her gender and climate investment working group essentially is the field. She’s welcoming other donors to the philanthropic fund, which she hopes to grow into an endowment of $10 million or more. “There’s money sitting on the sidelines that hasn’t come in to really make these kinds of commitments,” she says.

Donors to Heading for Change will get to share Biegel’s front-row seat as she advances the investment approach – while she’s able. “I’m directing the capital while I’m still alive,” Biegel tells ImpactAlpha. “The reality is that I have stage-four metastatic lung cancer and I’m not going to be here. This is my legacy project.” Biegel has assembled an investment committee and advisory board to steward the capital, which will be managed by nonprofit asset manager ImpactAssets. Biegel says the team is working through a list of about three dozen funds that meet its criteria. Investing in women entrepreneurs working broadly on climate issues is not enough. “When we talk to fund managers, we’re looking for a tight thesis,” Biegel says. Heading for Change will make its portfolio and processes transparent in the hopes that others will donate their philanthropic funds, co-invest their commercial funds, or just plain copy its playbook for deal criteria, due diligence and storytelling. Biegel says she wants to leave an open-source template that others can build on. “And then if I’m lucky enough to be around for a much longer time period, I get to be part of it,” she says. “And so it can still be a legacy project, even though I’m still around.”

Dealflow: Affordable Housing

Blokable scores $5.5 million to build affordable modular housing units. New housing stock is needed to alleviate the housing affordability crisis in the U.S.. Sacramento-based Blokable claims its solution optimizes square footage for new developments along with environmental sustainability. The company spent $30 million to develop and build its modular development platform. Blokable says it can stack modular housing units, or “bloks”, up to five stories tall. The bloks are 95% complete when they leave Blokable’s factories for assembly onsite, reducing building time and costs. Deploying Blokable’s model could help contribute to a 60% of greenhouse gas emissions and 91% reduction of material waste in construction by 2030.

  • Energy-efficient housing. At Phoenix Rising, a $1.5 million pilot project with the state of Washington, Blokable built a one-story, 12-unit building that provides permanent housing for low-income families. Located in the Seattle suburb of Auburn, each all-electric unit is ventilated to mitigate bacteria, molds and other unhealthy particles. Blokable says heating, cooling and other utility costs for the units are cheaper than traditional units.
  • California dreaming. The investment from Kapor Capital and Cercano Management (formerly Vulcan Capital) will help Blokable scale manufacturing to meet demand from low-income renters in California. An estimated 3.5 million new housing units are needed in California by 2025, said Blokable’s Aaron Holm. At full-scale, Blokable hopes to produce enough modular units to build more than 2,000 apartments annually.
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AGRI3 Fund secures $13.5 million to catalyze capital for sustainable agriculture and forestry. By providing guarantees and subordinated loans to commercial banks and other financial institutions, AGRI3 aims to catalyze $1 billion for reforestation and climate-smart agriculture projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The Global Environment Facility, a multilateral trust fund, provided the equity investment to expand the fund’s “capacity to mobilize further financing for sustainable agriculture and forest conservation,” said AGRI3 Fund’s Nick Moss. A partnership between the U.N. Environment Programme and Dutch bank Rabobank launched AGRI3 at the Davos gathering in January 2020. Dutch development bank FMO and Rabobank anchored the fund with $40 million each. Mirova, FOUNT and Cardano Development manage the fund. Check it out.

Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • Autodesk Foundation backed L.A.-based ChargerHelp, a Black women-owned company that provides EV-charging repair services. (Autodesk Foundation)
  • S2G Ventures invested in Houston-based plastic waste upcycling company Circulus via its new Special Opportunities Fund, which has a $300 million target. (AgFunder News)
  • South African earned wage access venture Paymenow raised 250 million rand ($14 million) in debt funding from Rand Merchant Bank. (Disrupt Africa)

Six Short Signals: What We’re Reading

🌎 The SDG second half. Reframing media coverage. Elevating the role of the private sector. Better risk taking. Brookings Institution scholars share ideas for doing things differently in the global sprint to 2030. (Brookings Institution)

☀️ Tesla’s master plan, Part 3. The EV giant estimates that building the manufacturing infrastructure for a sustainable energy economy will cost $10 trillion over 20 years, compared to the $14 trillion projected 20-year spend on fossil fuels. (Tesla)

🌱 Mitigating climate-tech moonshot risk. Among strategies for mitigating potential negative impacts of climate-related technologies: bring more people from front-line communities into the workforces, C-suites and boardrooms of climate tech companies. (Inside Philanthropy)

🤖 Where climate tech meets AI. Floodbase. Weavegrid. Climate tech VC firm Climatic overlapped general artificial intelligence capabilities such as workflow, monitoring and robotics with major climate tech verticals to see which startups are addressing each intersection. (Climatic)

📜 Preserving Virginia’s ‘Green Book’ businesses. A new state law will designate as historic the hotels, restaurants and other establishments that accepted Black patrons in the racially-segregated South. (Bloomberg)

👩🏽‍🦱🧑🏼‍🦱👨🏾‍🦲👩🏻‍ Unlocking mission-related investments. Most existing racial equity mission-related investments from foundations tend to focus on investing in fund managers of color. Federal policy could incentivize community-level outcomes and engagement in decision-making. (Urban Institute)

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Don’t miss these upcoming ImpactAlpha partner events:

  • May 1-2: ImpactPHL’s Total Impact summit in Philadelphia, Pa. (use the code IMPACTALPHA for $500 off).
  • May 1-5: The AVCA’s annual conference in Cairo. 

Varshini Prakash will step down from her role as executive director of Sunrise Movement in the fall… Kiva is looking for a remote manager of strategic partnerships… Stripe is hiring a finance associate for its carbon removal advance purchase initiative, Frontier… The Surdna Foundation has an opening for a program officer for inclusive economies… The Global Impact Investing Network seeks a global head of IRIS+ standards in New York.

The World Economic Forum is recruiting a metaverse governance lead in New York… The International Finance Corp. seeks a senior climate economist in Washington, D.C… The UNDP is on the hunt for a sustainability and climate specialist in Singapore… Triodos Investment Management seeks a customer due diligence expert in the Netherlands. 

Thank you for your impact.

– April 11, 2023