One of Mi3/ORFL’s Investee companies, Thread International, is launching its own line of products. It is starting with a “A Better Packpack” and is introducing it via a kickstarter campaign which opened last week. The campaign is already busting through its goals! The prototype has been produced, tested and refined. They are now setting up manufacturing as I write.
What is Thread’s impact? We first invested because of its commitment to build and maintain an equitable, sustainable supply chain of recycled plastic (PET flake) sourced in Haiti and providing income to “collectors” seeking to provide for their families. The supply chain of collectors and franchise collection posts were set up with Engineers without Borders. The recycler is a local Haitian family-owned business. Now Thread has expanded its impact by setting up a facility in the Homewood area of Pittsburgh and employing locals in this impoverished neighborhood. Serious impact!!
This summer, Professor Mudd and 5 Mi3 students on campus for the summer ventured out on another Mi3 journey to keep up with our local impact investing landscape, this time both to Kensington and to South Philadelphia! We visited three organizations: Shift Capital, Juggarnaut Studios and GlassHaus, and ConnectDER. Participating Fords were Ken Ruto ’20, Jeremy Evans ’18, Nathan Sokolic ’19, recent alum Ian Andolsek ’17, and myself, Wanyi Yang ’20.
Kensington was our first stop where we met up with our friends Stuart Hean HC’ 13, a leasing & media agent at Shift Capital and Qwajarik Sims ’19 who has an internship with Shift this summer. Stuart, who spoke at Mi3’s urban redevelopment panel last spring, gave a comprehensive overview of his firm’s impact investing-based business model and the initiatives it has taken to revitalize Kensington, often portrayed in media as the center for the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia. Shift Capital sees value in Kensington’s great location and its access to public transportation – a 15 minute SEPTA ride from Center City – and purchased a large number of light industrial, commercial and residential properties within walking distance of bus stops, trolley stops, and train stops. Stuart describes Shift Capital strategy to help neighborhood families stay in the neighborhood by bringing in jobs and providing rental properties that are affordable for low-income Kensington residents. In additional to its real estate development business, Shift Capital also creates local initiatives, such as the “Kensington Storefront Challenge”, to attract innovative businesses to Kensington’s commercial corridor. Working with multiple asset classes, SC really takes a holistic approach to transform Kensington.
One of the winners from Shift Capital’s “Kensington Storefront Challenge,” Genevieve Geer, founder of Juggarnaut Studios & GlassHaus, also joined the group for lunch. The student group HMFC had already been a supporter of Genevieve’s business using bake sale funds to participate in a zero interest loan to her through KivaUS. Now as a winner from the competition, Genevieve will receive one year of free lease in Shift Capital’s MaKen Studios North for her startup. Coming from an artistic background, Genevieve started a stained glass company Le Puppet Regime in 2013 (https://www.genevievegeer.com/), and her new start-up Juggarnaut Studios & GlassHaus is taking the business to another level with multiple revenue channels. The storefront will include an incubator, an affordable studio space for artists, a retail space and an art destination. A passionate community organizer, Genevieve also wishes to use her studio as a place to bring members of the community together and revive Kensington. We can’t wait for Juggarnaut’s launch in fall 2018!
Our last stop was to one of the Mi3 portfolio firms, ConnectDER, located in South Philadelphia. COO Jonathan Knauer introduced the basics of their product to the group (a “collar” that fits between an electric meter and the meter socket to make the process of installing distributed energy devices a lot simpler) and talked about the prospects for growth as the utility sector evolves. Two of our delegation, Ken Ruto ’20 and Ian Andolsek ’17 are entrepreneurs themselves and involved in a start up called Flux which has designed a smart water meter for use in Kenya. They had specific questions about contract manufacturing which Jonathan was very helpful in answering. Jonathan also talked about how his liberal arts education and passion for the environment equipped him to continually educate himself, be forward looking and have the flexibility to pivot from task to task, all necessary for working in the start up world.
Enjoy the rest of your summer and stay posted for more Mi3 field trips coming up during the school year!
Haverford Microfinance Consulting (HMFC) is a student-run organization here at Haverford College. It provides opportunities for students to engage in microfinance and impact investing projects outside of class. Wonder what HMFC did last year? Let’s find out!
I’m Wanyi Yang HC ’20, one of the leaders of HMFC. Every semester at HMFC has been a different experience. We kicked off the 2017-2018 school year with a project for Quaker Bolivia Link (http://qbl.org/), an NGO working on water irrigation, food and agriculture projects in rural Bolivia. We designed an impact survey that QBL could use to directly measure their project success with concrete data. Fun fact: Ed Dunlop, one of their USA directors, teaches people how to fly during his free time!
HMFC also welcomed many incredible speakers this year. Back in February, three Haverford alumni, Kae Anderson ’13, Stuart Hean ’14 and Travis West ’13 spoke about their organizations’ different approaches to ethical urban redevelopment. Kae and Stuart also shared with us a project they had both been working on – the “Kensington Avenue Storefront Challenge” that aimed to transform Kensington into a safe and innovative neighborhood.
Panel on Ethical Urban Development. Photo By Holden Blanco ’17
Kae Anderson ’13 (New Kensington CDC), Stuart Hean ’14 (Shift Capital) and Travis West ’13 (ReBuild Metro) speak on a panel about different approaches to urban redevelopment. Photo by Holden Blanco ’17
This was arguably the most well-attended HMFC event during my time here!
Attendees gather in the VCAM Presentation Lounge and Community kitchen for a reception after the conclusion of the Ethical Urban Redevelopment and Gentrification Alumni Panel. Photo by Holden Blanco ’17
And we made good use of the new VCAM space for a reception afterwards.
We also welcomed Tim Ogden to speak about the “US Financial Diaries” project. The project documented detailed financial data from more than 230 US low-income households for a year and has had a major impact on anti-poverty policy.
Our next speaker – Fabrizio Cometto from MCE Social Capital – introduced his organization’s innovative financing model – using guarantees from high net worth individuals to secure low-interest loans from banks for microfinance organizations (and more recently, social enterprises directly).
In April, HMFC took a field trip to The 12th Annual Penn Microfinance Conference. This year’s theme was “Financing the Future.” Speakers touched upon how microfinance was used to promote green technology, and discussed the complicated subject matter of sustainability in microfinance.
Our bake sale fundraiser each semester has long been a tradition at HMFC. The organizations we raise funds for differ every semester. During Fall 2017, in the light of the natural disasters that hit multiple parts of the world, we raised funds for three organizations dedicated to disaster relief in Haiti, Puerto Rico and Mexico. During the spring semester, we made loans to 3 borrowers on Kiva (www.kiva.org). The donors chose what causes they wanted their money go towards and in the end, women and education won the popular votes. Two semesters combined, we have raised more than $350 for these organizations and individuals!
Along with the delicious cookies, the donors also received catchy financial literacy tips that we prepared.
Make sure to pay your credit card off and track your expenditures every month!
Pay your IRA before buying your IPA!
In fact, this summer, Mi3 is actively planning on developing a financial literacy program for Haverford students.
Also this summer, one of our Kiva borrowers, a startup which won funding from the “Kensington Avenue Storefront Challenge” saw our participation in her Kiva loan and contacted Mi3 asking for advice. I have been working with Professor Mudd during the summer preparing some background memos for her as she seeks additional funding for her Juggarnaut Studios and GlassHaus business.
Stay tuned for more updates on our Mi3 blog and Facebook pages!
In Brest and Born’s excellent article (SSIR 2013) on what constitutes impact they focus a lot of attention on “additionality.” One question in particular caught my attention. Would the investment be made if the impact investor did not participate?
Impact investors sometimes view their role as being catalytic. By investing in areas that may not have been on the radar for-profit investors they can draw attention to them bringing for-profit investors in with them. Sometimes they are catalytic by taking on first risks.
However, it appears that some limited partnerships (these are investment organizations that raise money from others) view the presence of impact investors as indicating below market returns given the risk and may actually scare away for-profit investors. A recent post here on ImpactAlpha made this point.
“A growing number of limited partners allocate a portion of funds for impact investments. But the concepts of impact investing often get conflated with philanthropy or donative capital. In an ironic twist, “impact” allocations designed to seed funds have the opposite effect: traditional, fiduciary investors frequently view the presence of impact investors as a signal that financial returns will suffer. Investments from foundations or NGOs often signal greater risk or lower returns — deterring the very market rate investors that they hope to draw into impact funds.”
The author, Daniel Pianko, argues that terminology needs to change, that we should call concessionary finance “donative” to distinguish it from market-return seeking investments that also produce a positive social and/or environmental benefit. The author notes this distinction is important because impact investing funds are demontrating “better than market” returns.
“We are at an inflection point in a growing number of areas where an impact orientation is fueling better-than-market returns. As Anne Field reported in Forbes, studies show impact funds can and do outperform non-impact funds in certain market segments, such as emerging markets funds or sub-$100 million funds in the U.S..
So, lets be clear what we are talking about when we say “impact investing.” Mi3 Impact Investing program seeks returns to insure sustainability. We are doing high-risk early stage equity investing. Are we seeking market returns? Yes, because we are limiting our screening only to firms who have the potential to scale. It means we sometimes pass on some potentially very worthy investments.
Which is better for redeveloping a neighborhood that is suffering from increased crime, drugs, unemployment, disinvestment, etc., a for profit real estate developer or a community centered NGO? Can a for-profit real estate developer help in a way that preserves the neighborhood and its community?
Shift Capital, a place-based real estate impact investing fund thinks it can. And it is working with NGO New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) with its emphasis on community-led strategic planning, development of the local cooperative movement and ensuring a community voice to bring it about.
Mi3, the Microfinance and Impact Investing Initiative is sponsoring a trip to Kensington in North Philadelphia to meet with staff of these organizations to understand their visions and methods for accomplishing a revitalization of an area that faces significant problems. Recently in the news as ground zero for Philadelphia’s opiate crisis, Kensington has a lot of positives as well, including great transportation links and building infrastructure that could be harnessed to generate jobs for community members.
Led by Professor Mudd, Professors Owens and Lambie-Hansen and selected students will travel to Kensington, a neighborhood roughly bounded by Temple University to the west, the Delaware River to the east and including Fishtown on its southern border.
After an initial meeting with Shift Capital’s staff, including Stuart Hean HC ’14, we will tour Shift Capital’s buildings and share a catered dinner with NKCDC staff Kae Anderson HC ’13. Students can then head back to campus on the van or catch SEPTA after enjoying the festive energy of the last First Friday of the year.
Where: Kensington offices of Shift Capital and NKCDC
Date: Friday, 3 November
Time: 3:30 to 7:30 (including catered dinner with alums Stuart Hean HC ’14 of Shift Capital)
Interested students should complete the short application (1 question) here. If you have any questions, please contact Professor Mudd.
Bonnie Moellenbrock has led Investors’ Circle, the national impact angel investing network, for the last six years. She along with IC Philly President John Moore, supported Mi3 as a full IC member enabling me to bring Haverford students in as participants in Mi3/ORFL’s investing activities. IC will miss her guidance and vision. Below are notes of encouragement for the road ahead.
Dear IC members,
Thank you for six wonderful years! Together, we have made significant progress – increasing the membership by 50%, growing to six local networks, supporting the growth of our PCC fund initiative, developing our strategy with the SEAD and SOURCE initiatives, and most importantly, investing over $50 million in impact enterprises.
IC is now on the cusp of its second quarter-century and poised to move to a new stage of impact in an incredibly dynamic industry. We have a great team and solid resources to build on all that we have learned and accomplished. So as you and the team carry this critical work forward, I’d like to share some parting thoughts for you to keep in mind:
The importance of community – Community is where our real power lies. The magic happens when we come together to support an entrepreneur or inspire new members to make their first investment. The investment in UltraCell Insulation last fall is a perfect example. It was a collaboration of members from across the country, the PCC fund, and five local networks. Our community forged trusting relationships that activated significant capital for the company and a provided a rewarding experience for the investors. So, commit to building relationships and supporting fellow members and entrepreneurs – that’s where the joy and impact of this work is found!
The importance of inclusivity and diversity – This is a hot topic in entrepreneurship and venture capital right now, as it should be. I encourage IC and its members to actively engage in this work. We’ve been a leader in gender diversity but lag with the rest of the field in the ethnic and racial diversity of our members and #FundedbyIC entrepreneurs. As our once-pioneering impact investing concepts become more mainstream, it is IC’s responsibility as a mission-driven organization to continue to push the envelope. It’s not only the right thing to do, but the most impactful thing to do. Diversity of perspectives and experience is critical for identifying the best innovations and making the best decisions. If people are systematically missing from the room, so are the solutions.
The importance of broad-based economic opportunity – The essence of our Good Companies, Good Jobs initiative is to ensure that human capital considerations are an inherent element of impact investing. Regardless of our respective impact interests, we should all be committed to increasing economic opportunity, too. IC will be providing tools on how to incorporate human capital into your due diligence and investing, and I encourage everyone to commit to this effort. Also, please consider making a commitment to invest in a company that is addressing the needs of the underserved or that is located in a region that has not benefited from economic recovery. As a passionate environmentalist, I know that in the end, all things are connected. We cannot solve climate change or other significant challenges without addressing economic opportunity and generating political will – change cannot happen in a sector vacuum.
My sincere thanks to each of you for the opportunity to serve you and our mission. A special thanks to those who have gone above and beyond to support IC and me by serving on the board, leading local networks, supporting the PCC, and engaging in SEAD and other programs. And finally, I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to IC’s super team. Day in and day out they’ve made this work both fun and rewarding. I know that you all will continue to support them, and Alex as Interim Executive Director, as you do this important work together.
With deep gratitude,
ORFL/Mi3 invested in Thread International in June of 2015 after initial due diligence in the first impact investing class in 2013. At that time we decided to hold off until they had achieved a large contract with an apparel manufacturer. When that was achieved, we looked at them again. Our review was very positive. The team continued to make progress in strengthening the supply chain and developing their pipeline. We were confident with the prospect for landing another large client (Timberland) and we became more convinced that Thread’s impact would grow with the business when it expanded is sourcing of recycled plastic to include Honduras.
Thread continues to make great progress and its latest Impact Report (impact page and report link are here) demonstrate Thread’s commitment to its mission of providing a transparent, ethical supply chain for fabric made with recycled plastic sources from low income collectors. And, its not just about the business. Thread is clearly committed to the people who are the foundation of its supply chain as demonstrated by the volunteer efforts and training they are providing in Haiti.
MI3 is sponsoring a field study of entrepreneurship and access to finance in SE Europe in May following graduation. Professor Mudd will lead a group of 10-12 students selected from applicants to travel to Bulgaria, Macedonia and Montenegro. Applications will be review beginning 30 January. Deadline Saturday, 4 February. For more information, look at the “Project” tab above or to the left or click here.
As part of Fords on Friday, Jacob Zlotoff ’00, VP at Citi Community Capital will be speaking on his work providing financing for projects in low income neighborhoods. These are often complex deal that involve government programs like New Markets Tax Credits and bringing together a host of different players and stakeholder to make it happen. Its finance that focuses on areas that are often excluded and need access to finance. CCA has been involved in some interesting, innovative projects. Check out their website and go see his talk.
Azavea has been doing a lot of work in the Philadelphia community using data and mapping tools to help Philadelphia citizens learn, think more clearly and support their opinions about issues we are facing. But Azavea is a for-profit and these activities can be a drain on limited resources. What to do?
One solution – set up a separate non-profit that can seek grant funding to support such activities. But its not a solution without drawbacks. Tony Abraham of Generocity provides great incite into the problem in his article here.
In the article, Azavea’s founder Robert Cheetham notes the costs that are involved that make this a decision that must be carefully considered:
Oversaturation — “Do I want to be the one responsible for creating one more nonprofit?” asked Cheetham. “Is this really necessary?”
Management — There’s always the chance a separate nonprofit will be more trouble to manage than it is worth in terms of the benefits it will bring. Taxes, accounting, overhead costs — that all takes time and capacity.
Fundraising — Fundraising also takes time and capacity. “Will we be able to raise enough funds to make it worthwhile?” he asked.
Azavea is not the first to face this choice. Embrace, a start up that developed a safer alternative to expensive incubators for babies born prematurely who need to be kept warm, struggled with this issue as well.