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."