Founders of Colorado Impact Days see it growing national audience

By Monica Mendoza  –  Reporter, Denver Business Journal

Nov 15, 2017, 11:15am

Colorado Impact Days is in its infancy. But founder Stephanie Gripne believes it has the legs to grow into an event like Denver Startup Week – gaining national exposure and attention.

In its second year, the downtown Denver event brings in businesses with a social mission and people and foundations with money and desire to fund them.

Gripne, founder of the Denver-based nonprofit Impact Finance Center, launched Colorado Impact Days last year and heads into the second year today with three days of events.

It’s designed as a high-level networking and educational event for social ventures and investors to meet and possibly make deals.

The panels and meetings culminate Nov. 17 at a marketplace with about 100 nonprofit and for-profit businesses with a social mission setting up booths in Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in hopes of attracting the attention of the expected 400 accredited investors who are on the hunt for new opportunities.

“We got about 20 investments done last year,” Gripne said. “Seventeen came from people who had never invested like that.”

Social impact investing across the country is on the rise. Sustainable, responsible and impact investing assets under management have expanded to $8.72 trillion in the U.S., a 33 percent increase from 2014, according to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment's recent report.

The Impact Finance Center in Denver works with foundations and others who want to invest in social venture opportunities – those investment opportunities include companies, organizations and funds with the intention of generating social and environmental impact with a financial return.

Gripne estimates there are Colorado investors with more than $1 billion looking for investments. Her goal is to get $100 million of that in the next three years into Colorado companies, projects and funds with a social mission.

Gripne says social impact investing is not just something nice to do. There is a return on investment.

“You could be investing with the money you are used [to] giving away or give to a company that makes positive impact,” she has said. “While people care about their heart — the reason I get traction on this idea is through return on investment.”

It’s attractive to investors who are independent thinkers, mavericks, Gripne said. And it’s a way to get money into businesses that have not received much attention from of venture capitalists, she said.

“Right now, of all the VC funding in the U.S., about seven percent has gone to women,” she said. “And about one percent to people of color — even though immigrants are more likely to start a business.”

“The people that need the money the most are locked out of where the money is invested,” she said.

This year, Gripne expands the social venture marketplace to online so investors can read the pitches in advance. It also is a way to connect the investors, now and into the future.

“This is like the first startup week of impact investing, we are the first shark tank for good," Gripne said. "We want to grow to a national impact investing marketplace."  

18 Impact Investing Trends You Haven't Seen Before and 1 You Have

Below are 19 trends in the impact investing world that are most likely unknown to you, because they are developing in pockets and corners of the arena where most people don’t have visibility. One or two of these may be familiar to readers who work in the space.

One thing is generally recognized. Impact investing is growing. Quickly.

The Global Impact Investing Network recently estimated that there are $228 billioninvested in impact, double the prior year estimate.

The trends observed below hint at opportunities for both impact investors and social entrepreneurs. They also suggest hope for the future.

  1.  

    Stephanie GripneCREDIT: IMPACT FINANCE CENTER

     

    “Zebras fix what unicorns break,” says Stephanie Gripne, founder and CEO of the Impact Finance Center, suggesting a shift to investing in real solutions rather than fictitious ones. “A new stable of investments: if angels invest in unicorns (10x), and heroes invest in racehorses (10%), what about the catalysts (0%) and champions (-65%)?” She is seeing roles for investors across a spectrum of returns—including negative financial returns for the most philanthropically minded investors.

  2.  

    Dave RichardsCREDIT: CAPRIA

    Dave Richards, managing partner at Capria, has placed investments around the developing world. He observes, “International ‘airplane investing’ is being replaced with investing via smart, professional, on-the-ground investment teams.”

  3.  

    Cecile BliliousCREDIT: IMPACT FIRST INVESTMENTS

    International impact investor Cecile Blilious, founder and managing partner at Impact First Investments, observed two parallel trends—one of which she doesn’t like. “Startups adopting business models serving society without saying the word ‘impact.’ Unwanted trend: funds misusing the word ‘impact’ as a marketing tool.”

  4.  

    Morgan SimonCREDIT: CANDIDE GROUP

    “People are becoming more conscious consumers of impact investing,” says Morgan Simon, the founding partner of Candide Group. They are now asking, “Is the impact truly transformative, or just making poverty a little more bearable?”

  5.  

    Thane KreinerCREDIT: THANE KREINER

    Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, sees “the mobilization of capital to address refugees, migrants, and human trafficking survivors.”

  6.  

    Candace SmithCREDIT: MICROVEST CAPITAL MANAGEMENT

    “Digital finance is making it cheaper and quicker to access financial services; key impact investors are ensuring that a deeply ethical approach will be part of any new delivery mechanism,” says Candace Smith, managing director of risk at MicroVest Capital Management.

  7.  

    Matt DavisCREDIT: RENEW LLC

    “Impact investing is cutting into philanthropic dollars earmarked for Africa,” notes Matthew Davis, CEO of Renew LLC. He says this is “appropriate for the African economic story that is unfolding.” Finally, he adds, “DAFs [donor advised funds] are becoming an enabling tool for impact investing.”

  8.  

    Daryl CarterCREDIT: AVANATH CAPITAL MANAGEMENT

    In the context of “more capital flows into the impact space,” Daryl J. Carter, CEO of Avanath Capital Management, sees three trends. First, increasing capital from “offshore investors,” second, “more focus on housing affordability,” and third, “increased emphasis on impact measurement.”

  9.  

    Ross BairdCREDIT: VILLAGE CAPITAL

    Ross Baird, president of Village Capital, notes that “81% of entrepreneurs raise neither venture capital nor get a bank loan.” He adds, “I'm excited to see investors innovating on alternative financing mechanisms for the vast majority of new businesses.”

  10.  

    Mara BolisCREDIT: OXFAM AMERICA

    “Principles to separate impact investing from conventional forms of finance are coming,” says Mara Bolis, a senior advisor at Oxfam America. “They are critical for establishing impact integrity, for building community and reforming how finance behaves.”

  11.  

    Alix LebecCREDIT: WATEREQUITY

    “Water and sanitation is gaining momentum among impact investors,” says Alix Lebec, executive vice president of investor relations at WaterEquity, which is affiliated with Water.org, famously supported by Matt Damon. “According to the Global Impact Investing Network, 42% of investors plan to increase their investments toward this global challenge.”

  12.  

    Samim AbediCREDIT: WAYVEMEDIA.COM

    “The previous sense that investors were OK sacrificing some return to invest in compliant channels has shifted to the expectation that SRI is expected to keep up with or outperform the broader market,” according to Samim Abedi, global head of portfolios at Wahed Invest, a halal investing platform.

  13.  

    Dave FangerCREDIT: SWELL INVESTING

    “Aligning impact investing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals is going to increase in the years ahead,” says Dave Fanger, CEO of Swell Investing. “The goals ensure investors’ dollars work towards solving the world’s greatest challenges.”

  14.  

    Nancy PfundCREDIT: DBL PARTNERS

    “Impact investing: do well by doing good while also protecting nature,” says Nancy Pfund, founder and managing partner of DBL Partners, an early investor in Tesla. “The Muse survey finds workers value access to healthy outdoors." DBL acted on this trend by investing in "America’s first memorial conservation forest."

  15.  

    Robert Kaplan, Circulate CapitalCREDIT: CLOSED LOOP FUND

    “As the world's attention has focused on plastic pollution and health of the ocean, I see huge impact investing opportunity in the solutions to the root causes,” says Robert Kaplan, CEO of Circulate Capital, which was recently formed to take advantage of this opportunity.

  16.  

    Robert RubinsteinCREDIT: TBLI

    Robert Rubinstein, founder and chairman of TBLI Group BV, says, “Public transport infrastructure, community banks, small-scale agriculture and hospitality are major trends.”

  17.  

    Joel SolomonCREDIT: RENEWAL FUNDS

    Joel Solomon, co-founding partner at Renewal Funds, sees a trend in “the rising push for funding focused specifically on underserved communities of color and women-led companies.”

  18.  

    Laura CallananCREDIT: UPSTART CO-LAB

    “The creative economy–food, fashion, media, entertainment—is what’s next,” according to Laura Callanan, founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab, which “identified 100 impact funds active in the creative economy.” She says, “We need a Creativity Lens to see what's there.”

  19.  

    Andrea Armeni,CREDIT: TRANSFORM FINANCE

    Andrea Armeni, executive director of Transform Finance, sees “a shift in focus from the what–the product or service itself–to the how: how you create impact via an investment’s structure, its effect on all stakeholders, and for whom wealth is created.”

Each of these trends suggests a profitable lesson for impact investors or social entrepreneurs along with guidance for solving the world’s biggest problems.