The Brief | June 26, 2019

Tracking impact in Opportunity Zones, nurturing neighborhoods, guaranteeing solar systems, matching Colombia farmers, Bill Nye on AI and climate

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Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Featured: Impact Voices

How and why to measure the impact of investments in Opportunity Zones. A decade from now, how will we know if Opportunity Zones actually helped people? “Even if new private investments flow to Opportunity Zones and result in significant positive impact for those communities, if we don’t measure it, we’ll never know for sure,” write Columbia University’s Howard W. Buffett, Rob Lalka of Tulane University, and Mark Newberg of Georgetown’s Beeck Center. We already have tools to measure and analyze the impact of Opportunity Zone investments, the trio write in a guest post on ImpactAlpha. “For decades, impact and community investors have tried and tested methods for identifying, tracking, and reporting the impact of private sector real estate and business projects.”

Get a head start, say Buffett, Lalka and Newberg, who are convening experts to discuss impact tracking for Opportunity Zones in a symposium series on behalf of Columbia, Tulane and Georgetown. A reporting framework from the Beeck Center and the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance provides guiding principles and a template for impact tracking across Opportunity Zones. Rigorous impact tracking need not be onerous, say the trio. Policymakers and fund managers should tap universities to test measures, survey communities, build case studies and analyze data. The Opportunity Zones marketplace is built on long-term ownership, say Buffett, Lalka and Newberg, so it’s critical to apply sound principles of impact measurement from inception. With funds already looking to raise and deploy more than $28 billion, it’s time for market participants to create a clear path towards measurable community benefits. Declare the trio: “The opportunity cost of doing anything less is far too high.”

Read, “How and why to measure the impact of investments in Opportunity Zones,” by Howard W. Buffett, Rob Lalka, and Mark Newberg on ImpactAlpha.

Dealflow: Follow the Money

Israeli tech venture Venn secures $40 million to strengthen urban communities. Venn launched in 2016 to foster happier, more inclusive city-living through technology. The Tel Aviv-based startup’s “neighborhood platform” connects residents to co-living and public spaces, social resources, classes, and events. On the back-end, it develops partnerships to ensure fairly-priced housing, foster intergenerational interactions, combat senior loneliness, and engage with musicians and artists. Venn reports that members in its Shapira neighborhood site in Tel Aviv volunteer more, feel less lonely and tend to believe their housing is fairly priced, relative to the city’s average. Venn raised $40 million from Israel’s Pitango Venture Capital and Hamilton Lane, which invested on behalf of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, and prior investor Bridges Israel. Take a look.

Omnidian closes $15 million for solar performance guarantees. Seattle-based Omnidian is de-risking solar power with performance guarantees for homeowners and asset managers. The company’s monitoring software estimates a system’s baseline production and tracks changes. Omnidian guarantees 100% of the baseline energy or it reimburses customers, relieving homeowners and asset owners of the pressure to “maintain these complicated assets,” Omnidian’s Mark Liffmann says. The company says it manages more than 75,000 residential systems. Omnidian’s $15 million Series A financing was led by insurance-focused venture capital firm IA Capital. National Grid Partners, an early investor, and two other utility company venture funds, Evergy and Avista, also participated alongside Blue Bear Capital, Congruent Ventures and City Light Capital. Read more.

Frubana raises $10 million to connect Colombian farmers to markets. Farmer-friendly online marketplaces are proliferating in India. But the trend is visible elsewhere too. Colombia-based Frubana raised $10 million in seed funding to link small farmers to restaurants. Founder Fabián Gómez, an industrial engineer from a farming family, wanted to help farmers like his father secure better prices by selling their produce directly. Frubana handles the logistics of getting online orders from farmers to restaurants. Investors included Y Combinator and impact-focused Brazilian venture fund Monashees. Check it out.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Artificial intelligence startup Hypergiant brings on the Planetary Society’s Bill Nye (the science guy) as an advisor on climate change and space exploration… Prodigy Finance is looking for a senior associate of business development in New York or London… ImpactAssets is hiring a senior product manager and other roles… Submit solutions for restoring degraded landscapes in Least Developed Countries to MIT’s Climate CoLab by July 1… Also looming is the deadline to propose solutions to MIT’s Solve’s 2019 challenges: circular economy, community-driven innovation, early childhood development, and healthy cities… Applications are open for SE Greenhouse’s health and wellness accelerator.

— June 26, 2019.