The Brief | January 21, 2022

The Brief: The Week in impact investing: Abundance

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! 

The Week in Impact Investing: Abundance

🗣 Abundance agenda. Deploying clean energy faster. Building more affordable homes. Developing ​​sustainable sources of protein and other foods. Bringing migrants into the financial system. Upskilling caregivers for an aging society. Impact, community and sustainability investors have long been practitioners of what is coming to be known as “supply-side progressivism.” The policy focus recognizes that subsidizing the costs of scarce social goods and services drives up costs, says journalist Ezra Klein. Creating and deploying more renewable energy, housing, education and healthcare through an “abundance agenda,” writes The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, may be “the best means to achieve the ends that we care about: more comfortable lives, with more power to do what we want, with more time devoted to what we love.” 

Agents of Impact may say, “Welcome aboard.” In Kenya, reports Jessica Pothering, local investors are increasing the supply of clean water with pre-construction financing for small-scale water infrastructure projects. Brooklyn-based BlocPower is expanding the supply of renewable electricity and broadband in city buildings in Ithaca and Oakland. Fund manager Marcus Whitney of Jumpstart Nova is nurturing health innovation by backing Black healthcare founders (see Agents of Impact, below). Getting to net zero requires re-engineering every industry and every company, Equilibrium Capital’s Dave Chen said on ImpactAlpha’s Agents of Impact podcast. Helping to increase the supply of goods and services that improve lives and ecosystems is what impact investors do. The tectonic shift towards sustainable investing is still accelerating, as BlackRock’s Larry Fink wrote this week. There should be abundant support for the abundance agenda. – Dennis Price

🎧 Impact Briefing. Podcast host Monique Aiken and ImpactAlpha’s David Bank riff on Larry Fink’s letter, BlocPower’s expansion and systemic approaches to income inequality. And David catches up with Martin Whittaker about Just Capital’s “Just 100” rankings, stakeholder primacy and “Davos Man.” Plus, the headlines. Listen to this week’s episode, and follow all of ImpactAlpha’s podcasts on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen.

✎ Sign your team up for ImpactAlpha. A warm Agents of Impact welcome to the teams at Trident, ReFED and GenderSmart. You can raise your team’s game and save with substantial team discounts. We’ll help onboard your colleagues with a customized welcome page. Get started with ImpactAlpha for Teams by dropping us a note – or just hit ‘reply.’

The Week’s Agent of Impact

Marcus Whitney, Jumpstart Nova: Investing in Black healthcare innovators. For years, Marcus Whitney has been the only Black healthcare venture capital partner in Nashville, a city awash in healthcare VC funds. Since 2015, Jumpstart Health Investors has backed more than 150 early-stage healthcare companies. Whitney has long seen a major capital gap for Black healthcare founders, for whom his latest project, Jumpstart Nova, will invest exclusively. This week the fund closed on $55 million from health industry heavyweights like Eli Lilly, HCA Healthcare, Cardinal Health, Atrium Health and Henry Ford Health System. What changed? The movement of capital to Black fund managers as a result of the murder of George Floyd. “It’s terrible that it required the murder of a human being to move people to recognize a problem that was there before the person was murdered,” says Whitney. “Change agents have to always be ready to move when the movement presents itself.”

Whitney moved to Nashville in September 2000 as a college dropout with a one-year-old son and another on the way. He recalls working double shifts waiting tables, six days a week, and studying to become a programmer. “My children were the motivation for me,” he told ImpactAlpha. He got his first job as a programmer at HealthStream, which helps healthcare companies upskill their employees and, in 2007, launched his own company to build software for other startups. That led him two years later to launch Jumpstart with partner, Vic Gatto, first as a tech accelerator and then as a pre-seed investor. Along the way, Whitney wrote a book about entrepreneurship and helped bring major league soccer to town as an owner of Nashville SC. With Kathryne Cooper, Whitney secured backing for Jumpstart Nova in about 18 months. The thesis: invest in Black healthcare founders and connect them with industry leaders. Early portfolio companies are working on equitable access to clinical trials, novel cell and gene therapies, support for families with autistic children, and responses to food allergy attacks. Whitney resists suggestions that the fund should focus only on racial health disparities. “This fund is investing in Black-founded and led companies,” he says. “We want to build an institution to lead the way for more equitable distribution of power, with capital being a form of power in the healthcare industry.” – Roodgally Senatus

The Week’s Dealflow

Deal spotlight: Sustainability evolution. It may be too early to declare climate tech’s early-stage funding gap solved. But investors clearly have a growing appetite for innovative approaches. Even Energy Impact Partners, which has focused on commercially-proven, growth-stage decarbonization technologies, is raising capital for an early-stage “frontier” fund. 

  • Alt-everything. Redwood City, Calif.-based Ubiquitous Energy closed on $30 million this week to develop solar windows that let buildings and vehicles generate solar energy over greater surface areas. “The long-term goal is transparent solar everywhere, not just windows,” Ubiquitous’ Susan Stone said. St. Louis-based Rebundle is capitalizing on investor interest in plant-based everything with a $1.4 million raise for biodegradable hair extensions made of banana fiber. (Bonus: both Ubiquitous and Rebundle are women-led.) And San Pablo, Calif.-based Polycarbin raised $2 million to mitigate single-use plastic waste in science and medicine with recycled lab products. 

Financial inclusion. Elevar backs Fairplay’s revenue-based financing for online businesses in Mexico… Lendable closes a $10 million loan to Vietnam’s F88 to provide loans and insurance to unbanked and underbanked people and businesses… SeABank secures $70 million from the International Finance Corp., responsAbility and BlueOrchard to finance climate projects and small and women-led businesses in Vietnam… Kampala-based Asaak, which finances the purchase of motorcycle taxis for Uganda’s “boda boda” drivers, raises $30 million.

Fund news. Silicon Valley’s The Westly Group raises $300 million to invest in “the digitization and sustainability of energy, mobility, buildings, industrial technology and cybersecurity”… BMW i Ventures, the venture capital arm of BMW Group, is standing up a $300 million fund to invest in early to mid-stage companies in sustainability, transportation, manufacturing and supply chains.

Impact tech. Arya raises $60 million to expand agri-commerce for India’s smallholder farmers… Engine No. 1 backs Taiwanese electric scooter maker Gogoro… Lyra Health raises $235 million to help employers provide mental health benefits… French e-waste startup Back Market, which manages an online marketplace for electronic devices, raises $335 million in Series D funding.

Inclusive communities. BlocPower secures $30 million from Microsoft to retrofit old city buildings… Woodforest National Bank invests $500,000 in Austin Housing Conservancy Fund to purchase and preserve affordable housing for essential workers… Copia Global secures $50 million to deliver goods to rural African consumers… Nairobi-based Poa Internet raises $28 million to improve Internet access for underserved communities in Africa. 

Low-carbon transition. Colossus raises $36 million in Series A funding to help solar service companies digitize installations and business operations… Tado, which sells smart home energy management software and devices, aims to go public via a Luxembourg-based SPAC… Swedish climate tech startup Doconomy raises $19 million in equity to help companies, institutions and consumers reduce their carbon footprints.

The Week’s Talent

Natalie Blyth is named global head of commercial banking sustainability at HSBC. The British bank also appoints Christian Deseglise as group head of sustainable infrastructure and innovation, and Chris Webb, ex- of The Nature Conservancy, as group head of carbon markets… Carmen Correa succeeds Maria Cavalcanti as CEO of Pro Mujer… Rob Tashima, ex- of Village Capital, joins Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation as senior director… Egypt names foreign minister Sameh Shoukry to lead the COP27 climate talks… Holly Gordon, Participant Media’s chief impact officer, is named to JUST Capital’s board of directors.

Cassie Bowe is promoted to partner at Energy Impact Partners… Joanna Kuang is promoted to vice president at Illumen Capital… Andy Knapp, ex- of Energy Workforce and Technology Council, joins Invenergy as executive vice president of public affairs… Ignia’s Alvaro Rodriguez-Arregui joins Harvard Business School as a senior lecturer of entrepreneurial management… Austin Blackmon, ex- of TerraVerde Energy, joins Earthshot Ventures as a senior associate.

The Week’s Jobs

USAID is looking for a senior climate finance advisor… The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is hiring for its new Climate Change Professionals program… Social Finance seeks an associate director of partnerships in Boston… The California Endowment is recruiting an impact investing analyst in Los Angeles… Infosys Consulting seeks a senior consultant of sustainable investing (location flexible)… PayPal is hiring a director of impact measurement in New York… The Schmidt Family Foundation is hiring an impact investment portfolio director in Los Angeles of Menlo Park, Calif.

That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend. 

– Jan 21, 2022