The Brief | May 1, 2019

Women ‘makers’ in Pittsburgh, scaling Indian agtech, digital skills in the UK, wearables for newborns, locals meet markets in Philadelphia

The team at


Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Series: New Revivalists

A prototype for diversity in Pittsburgh’s tech scene. Erin Gatz has a novel idea for promoting equity in tech: Priming female ‘makers’ for entrepreneurship in Pittsburgh’s buzzing startup sector. Gatz grew up in the ‘Steel City’, a product of the city’s public school system, before attending college and graduate school in Canada. She arrived back in Pittsburgh during a tech boom that was helping the former industrial city reinvent itself. But she saw little diversity of race, gender or class in the new cohort of founders. And in a manufacturing hub, she noted that coding and software got all the love, leaving people interested in physical products and hardware with fewer opportunities. “There is a lack of women-run hardware companies generally,” Gatz says in a Q&A that is part of ImpactAlpha’s New Revivalist series.

Gatz’s women-centered “makerspace,” Prototype PGH, is the latest chapter in her six-year effort to broaden access to tech skills and opportunities in Pittsburgh. Prototype strives to be an on-ramp for women makers, offering training and access to 3D printers and heavy woodworking and metal machinery. She’s seeking to correct the impression that the underrepresentation of women and people of color in tech is because they aren’t interested in the sector. “What’s not talked about enough is the bias that exists,” Gatz says. “Women are expected to do less. They’re taken less seriously. They’re given less funding. Yet, they’re doing more with what they’re given.”

Keeping reading, “A prototype for diversity in Pittsburgh’s tech scene,” by Jessica Pothering on ImpactAlpha.

Dealflow: Follow the Money

Agtech startups connect Indian farmers to customers. India’s economy is still largely agricultural. The income of smallholder farmers can be depressed by middlemen who can control pricing and inflate margins. Investors are backing agtech startups to help farmers sell directly to hotels, restaurants, cafes, hostels, retailers and other food businesses. Bengaluru-based Ninjacart recently raised $89 million (6.3 billion rupees) from U.S.-based venture capital firm Tiger Global. The platform, valued at $350 million, connects more than 12,000 farmers to businesses in seven cities. FreshoKartz, based in Rajasthan, raised an undisclosed seed round from Chennai-based investor Sunil Kumar Singhvi and other angel and high-net worth investors. The fruit and vegetable delivery startup, which claims to work with more than 15,000 farmers, helps users buy directly from farmers and municipal vegetable and fruit markets. In January, Chennai-based fresh food distributor WayCool raised $16.9 million.

  • Growth market. Investment in India food and agriculture startups jumped 280% last year to $2.4 billion, including a $1 billion raise by restaurant marketplace Swiggyaccording to AgFunder. That makes India the world’s third-largest market for food and agtech investment. Dig in.

We Are Digital raises £1.5 million to bridge digital and financial skill gaps in the U.K. Almost 13 million people in the U.K. lack basic digital skills. Another 40% are ‘living on the edge’ financially. We Are Digital, with a head office in England’s midlands, provides digital and financial training to more than 100 housing associations, councils, corporates and central government. A £1.5 million ($2 million) financing round was led by U.K. venture capital firms Si2 FundTriplepoint and Ascension VenturesWayra UK and ClearlySoalso participated. More.

Neopenda raises seed round to produce wearable neonatal monitors.About 80% of the roughly three million newborn deaths in developing countries are preventable, according to the World Health Organization. Neopenda’s wearable device monitors a newborn’s vital signs, including pulse rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen saturation and temperature and alerts nurses and doctors if something is wrong. The Chicago-based startup raised$1 million to manufacture and commercialize the product, and expand on its clinical pilot in Uganda. Seed financing came from New York-based Axel Johnson and East Africa-based venture firm Sunu Capital. Check it out.

Signals: Ahead of the Curve

Capital markets meet local stakeholders in Philadelphia. Capital markets are waking up to impact investments, while local champions are tapping capital markets to drive resilience, job and wealth creation, and inclusive growth. That convergence will be on display as Good Capital Project’s Total Impact conference series returns to Philly.

  • ESG alpha. Growing awareness in public markets that environmental, social and governance considerations can reduce investors’ exposure to climate change, supply-chain disruptions, management scandals and other material risks has investors and advisors turning to ESG investing strategies. Big wins around gender pay, climate action and private prisons have given shareholder advocacy fresh momentum, and new respect within impact investing. At Total Impact, Geeta Aiyerof Boston Common Asset Management and Sister Nora Nash of St. Francis of Philadelphia will recount successful engagement strategies.

  • Local capital. Philly’s local champions are hungry for proven investment vehicles and blended financing that can mobilize capital for local businesses, infrastructure and real estate. At Total Impact, the Beeck Center’s Lisa Hall will talk Opportunity Zones. Ben Franklin Tech’s Scott Nissenbaum will dish on the firm’s new $15 million GO Philly venture fund. And Dave Shaffer of First Step Staffing will share how he tapped multiple local investors to bring his staffing company for the homeless and formerly incarcerated to the City of Brotherly Live (see, Philadelphia’s impact investors step up to finance local job-creation and a storefront revival.)

  • Total impact.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Jennifer Grancio, who helped launch iShares ETFs, joins the advisory board of sustainable investment firm Ethic… Mortar’s Derrick Braziel‏ is an Obama Foundation fellow (see, Breaking down barriers for Cincinnati’s entrepreneurs of color)… The Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator is hiring a startup programs coordinator in L.A.… Ocean Unite is looking for an outreach and engagement specialist for the Caribbean.

— May 1, 2019.