Nov 11 2017

CO Impact Days: Unicorns, Zebras, Ponies, and Donkeys

VCs love to talk about Unicorns, where a giant return is possible. Some friends in the impact investing world have recently started talking about generating giant returns by investing in Zebras (such as a nonprofit building in rural Colorado) and Ponies (an immigrant restaurant in Seattle currently using payday lending at 35% for their working capital). While these returns have an economic component, they can also have dramatic impact on our society.

If you are interested in impact investing, I encourage you to join the Impact Finance Center (IFC) and presenting funders The Anschutz Foundation, Zoma Foundation, The MacArthur Foundation, Colorado Health Foundation, and Gary Community Investments at CO Impact Days 2017, Nov 15-17, in Denver, Colorado.

CO Impact Days is a three-day experiential executive education conference that teaches investors and philanthropists how to make their investments more effective and their philanthropy more efficient. It also will connect attendees to one hundred of the Rocky Mountains’ most exciting social ventures – projects, nonprofits, for profits, and funds.

CO Impact Days’ Founder Dr. Stephanie Gripne (recently written up in Forbes, Is This Wildlife Conservation PhD The Steve Jobs Of Impact Investing) points out that we need to stop bifurcating our philanthropy from our investing and start treating our philanthropy as an investment.

Gripne and a growing number of her colleagues are taking Emerson’s quote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” to heart. They are working on figuring out a new investment model where we can start investing in the companies, nonprofits, projects, and funds that society needs.

Another voice in the movement is Ross Baird in his new book, The Innovation Blind Spot: Why We Back the Wrong Ideas―and What to Do About It. Ross makes a strong case that we are missing many of our innovations because of an outdated, obscure, misaligned investment model. According to Baird,

“While most communities across the US think in two pockets – the business and philanthropy communities don’t intersect – Colorado is leading the country in one-pocket thinkers. From the way we invest and support startups, to how employees can own and build wealth in companies, to how finance can be used to reshape traditionally philanthropic sectors such as the environment and early childhood education, Colorado is leading the way.”

An article by Jennifer Brandel, Mara Zepeda, Astrid Scholz & Aniyia Williams, Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break, introduces Zebras as an alternative to to Unicorns. And Gripne’s paper, Laying the Groundwork for the National Impact Investing Marketplace, makes the case that the reason we do not have $1B impact funds for nonprofits, immigrants, and women, is not because we do not have $50M of institutional quality of deal flow. Rather, it’s because there is no incentive to create the infrastructure to do the necessary capacity building to find and scale up these investments. Gripne and her team are also working on a new paper to be introduced at CO Impact Days, inspired by the Zebras article mentioned above, “If Angels Invest in Unicorns, do Heroes Invest in Zebras and What About Ponies and Donkeys?”

This conference is not just about Coloradans. CO Impact Days was designed to expand regionally and replicate to up to five other regions throughout the U.S. creating the National Impact Investing Marketplace. Indiana is bringing a cohort of ten community leaders, Washington is bringing five, and Maryland is bringing three. CO Impact Days is the first statewide marketplace for direct investing, and is just Phase 1 of the national model. Gripne and her team (which Andrew Currie, Kathy Merchant, who led Greater Cincinnati Foundation for 20 years and wrote the book on Community Foundations and Impact Investing, and Nicole Bagley, trustee on Arca Foundation, Brenn Foundation, and Sapelo Foundation) have their sights set on a national marketplace, and they want to invite you in on the ground floor.

Last year’s inaugural CO Impact Days led to over 20 impact investments from first-time, direct investors. They included Nicole Bagley’s investment in Silvernest (a tech platform that provides a matchmaking service for the aging population to find housemates and additional income, companionship, or help around the house) and the Kenneth King Foundation’s investment in Colorado Lending Source’s Main Street Character Loan Fund (providing up to $50K loans to Colorado for those of who have a good idea and good character), among others.

In addition to producing CO Impact Days, IFC is also rolling out a new tool, impact investing giving circles, to catalyze new investors and source Zebras, Ponies, and Donkeys. Impact investing giving circles will provide philanthropists and investors with a low-cost, low risk, first safe investment opportunity by using a donation in a pooled donor advised fund (to be hosted by a community foundation, thus supporting their work as well).

IFC plans to pilot these impact investing giving circles in Colorado in the areas of Conservation & Water, Women, Rural Community Investment. Its Food Impact Investing Giving Circle will be piloted in multiple cities including Chicago, Boston, and Denver, with Chef’s Collaborative and an Immigrant & Minority Impact Investing Giving Circle is being launched in Seattle in partnership with Ethnic Business Coalition to refinancing payday loans for restaurants.

To Get involved in CO Impact Days 2017

Register as an Investor: http://bit.ly/2vMVtFb

Register as Community Attendee: http://bit.ly/2gIgQSf

Volunteer to be a Social Venture Judge: http://bit.ly/2gN41tO

Donate to support CO Impact Days & Initiative: https://goo.gl/3282Tg

Join CO Impact Days & Initiative Mailing List: http://tinyurl.com/y76n29ma


Also published on Medium.