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All impact investing can be divided into primary or secondary impact and impact investors should understand the difference.  We define “primary impact” as impact that is caused by the company carrying out its mission.  Whenever a primary impact company sells its goods or services, there is social and/or environmental good that comes from it. Secondary impact companies, on the other hand, are measured by their practices rather than their business product.

We make the distinction between primary and secondary impact by noting that primary impact is created by “what” the does as opposed to “how” they do it. For-profit companies that have positive environmental impact by creating carbon-free energy, for example, create impact by the very act of carrying out their business and reducing carbon emissions. The more that the company grows and carries out its mission, the more positive impact there is in the world. 

Many impact investors focus on secondary impact, or “how” the company carries out its mission, than the mission itself. Certified B Corporations (B Corps) are a good example of this.  The qualifications to be a B Corp focus primarily on metrics surrounding business operations such as diversity, pay disparity, green business practices, etc.  These are laudable goals and are accompanied by rigid sets of metrics to assure compliance. 

Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) became popular in the 1970s and was known more for what investors did NOT want to invest in. An example of this is the elimination of investment dollars by SRI funds into the tobacco, alcohol and other industries perceived as negative by SRI practitioners.  ESG, or Environmental and Social Governance strategies, are more sophisticated and believe that companies that intentionally measure and act with environmental and social outcomes will do well in the long run.  Many practitioners however have found ways to meet the standardized ESG metrics while not passing the “sniff test” of more discerning impact investors.  Examples include British Petroleum, Slumberger, Clorox, Coca Cola, Conoco Phillips, Nestle and XCEL Energy. Clearly, there’s something that could be improved with ESG metrics and the companies that can manipulate the data to fit them while potentially harming society and the environment.  This practice of using metrics and certifications to make carbon generating companies like British Petroleum and Conoco Phillips is called “greenwashing” and impact investors should keep their eyes out for true impact vs. greenwashed impact.  By distinguishing between primary and secondary impact, we eliminate much of the opportunity for greenwashing.

Measurement of primary impact,  tells us what the company does and how it impacts communities, economies and the environment.  Take, for example, PharmaJet.  This is a company that makes a needle free injection system for vaccines.  The PharmaJet injector is small, requires no batteries or electricity to run, can be operated with minimal training and can be used thousands of times before replacement is needed.  The PharmaJet capsules that hold the vaccine have no needles, so every time one is used, there is a diminished likelihood of needle pricks suffered by health care practitioners.  They also cannot be reused by drug abusers or reused by healthcare practitioners in undeveloped countries.  Other benefits include PharmaJet’s more efficient delivery which cuts the amount of Polio vaccine needed by up to 30% for each injection.  Given the world-wide shortage of Polio vaccine, the impact of being able to inoculate 30% more people with a given amount of vaccine is significant.  The time to administer a shot with PharmaJet’s system is almost half of that of using needles, so healthcare workers can provide twice as many vaccinations in a community in a given period of time.  Additionally, many people are needle-phobic and they fail to get regular vaccinations for influenza and other diseases, leading to global health vulnerabilities when significant populations are unvaccinated.  The pain free, needle free PharmaJet system eliminates the excuses for these people to avoid vaccinations and can have massive impacts in global health outcomes. 

These are all Primary impacts that come from using PharmaJet’s system.  The company is not B Corporation, SRI or ESG certified, but it does more good with each unit sold than BP does in a year.  If we are going to understand what we mean by impact, we will need to distinguish between Primary and Secondary Impact, because they are clearly very different metrics and will have very different impact outcomes.

To be clear, ESG, SRI and B Corporations have done good things to raise the bar for business practices in many companies but impact investors should understand the risks or relying too heavily on these metrics.  But a company can do both primary and secondary impact – Just because a company creates primary impact through carrying out its mission does not mean that it cannot also carry out secondary impact by following best practices for sustainable practices within its organization.

 By focusing on primary impact, impact investors could avoid the challenges of ESG metrics systems and the potential for greenwashing that they enable.  Investing in companies whose primary mission entails doing social and environmental good avoids the greenwashing and self-justification that dated metrics systems could allow. 

Rockies Impact Fund - Venture Capital Fund focusing on full market-rate returns on early stage Primary impact companies.

If you’re interested in learning more about impact investing in your portfolio, are an accredited investor, fund, foundation, family office or CSR investor, please contact us about becoming a Limited Partner in the Rockies Impact Fund.  The Rockies Impact Fund is a full market-rate return targeted Primary Impact Venture Capital fund that targets early stage private impact companies in the UN SDGs focusing on healthcare, education, agtech, economic development and sustainable cities.

Peter Adams is co-author of Venture Capital for Dummies and serves as the Executive Director of the Rockies Venture Club, the longest running angel investing group in the U.S. 

Peter serves as an Officer on the Board of the Angel Capital Association, the North American association of professional angel investing groups.

He also runs the Rockies Venture Fund, an early stage venture capital fund and Rockies Impact Fund, investing in social and environmentally oriented companies. 

Peter is also the founder of The Rockies Venture Institute, the Women’s Investor Network, and BizGirls.org, a non-profit CEO Development Program for young women.

When you think of entrepreneurship, innovation and startups – what words first come to mind? I bet it’s not “government,” but in Colorado, maybe it should be on the list. Read more

 

Impact Investing Metrics

Rockies Venture Club Impact Investing

Impact Investing is a term that has a wide range of interpretations. In order to have credibility, consistency and clear understanding about what constitutes success in impact investing it’s important to have a clear set of metrics to understand the social, environmental and economic impacts of impact investments.

Impact is Big Business

The impact investing industry is growing fast with over a trillion dollars of investment over the next decade according to JP Morgan research reported in Business Ethics magazine.   Funds that are investing for others find more and more reasons that they need to have clear metrics to demonstrate that they are carrying out the mission of the investors.   While each fund may develop their own metrics individually, there are huge benefits to utilizing an agreed upon set of metrics across the industry to allow for apples-to-apples comparisons among funds.

Using standardized metrics provides a framework in which larger and larger amounts of investment can be made by sophisticated funds.  The result of this is that impact investing funds can eclipse philanthropic efforts in improving health, education, environment and quality of life for underserved markets.  There will always be a place for philanthropy, but research has shown many for-profit organizations have been able to bring greater impact with greater long term sustainability than those non-profits that provide one-time support.

While individual impact investors don’t have concerns about accountability or credibility, they should also be using metrics to help them understand and evaluate the deals that they are considering and to be able to hone their investing strategies to balance financial and social/environmental outcomes.  Individuals will want to understand their investing goals, but will also want to be able to select impact investments that match and support their own values.

Global Impact Investing Ratings

In 2011 B Labs worked with over 200 impact investing funds to create GIIRS (pronounced “gears”), the Global Impact Investing Ratings System and its IRIS Registry for impact funds.  Since then, GIIRS has become the defacto standard for measuring social and environmental impact on investments that are clear and verifiable by third parties.  Impact companies that want to know how they’re doing can take a free impact assessment provided by B Labs that will let them know how they are doing and to test their future strategies against industry benchmarks.  The ability to compare each company’s results based on standardized measures opens up huge new opportunities for B Corporations and for funds alike.  Just as having standardized GAAP accounting guidelines makes investment analysis for public companies efficient, having the GIIRS standard opens the door for large scale investment in impact companies.

Rockies Venture Club Impact Investing

To learn more about B corporations and hear pitches from active impact companies, , consider attending the RVC Impact Investing event Tuesday, December 10th 5:00-7:30PM at the Colorado State University Denver Center Event Atrium 475 17th Street, Suite 200 Denver, CO. Click Here to Register

http://rockiesventureclub.wildapricot.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1349467&eventId=698729&EventViewMode=EventDetails

Impact Investing is not new and has been around since the 1960’s, if not before.  Since that time we’ve seen a lot of success stories coming from impact investments.  With these successes we’re also seeing significant amounts of dollars under management by impact investing funds with returns of 25% and up PLUS social and environmental impact.

Given the lack of early stage startup funding for impact companies, uncertainties with cleantech technologies, lack of governance in developing countries, lack of structured capital markets and exit opportunities in third world countries and the need to provide social and/or environmental impact, it’s a wonder that impact companies can return anything at all to investors.

In our research we’ve found many funds and foundations that have achieved financial success in making impact investments, but it’s sometimes difficult to find specific impact investments that have hit it big.  What is the next “Instagram” of Impact Investing?

Here is a story of a company that hit it big.  The good news is that they are not alone and that impact companies are doing well all the time.

dlight S300-Product-Thumbnaild.light (http://www.dlightdesign.com)  has created a product line of solar powered lanterns that bring light and power to third world communities where community electricity is not available.  D.light makes high quality, affordable solar lanterns that are distributed world-wide with over half a million units delivered each month, delivering light to over 20 million individuals and families.  The users pay less for solar lighting than traditional kerosene lanterns, plus  the lighting allows for greater productivity and income generation when people can work beyond daylight hours.  Students benefit from better study environments and homes are safer and healthier without kerosene fumes.  Finally, the reduction in carbon emissions is significant.  The statistics below show the social and environmental impacts of this company that is turning a good profit at the same time.

25,315,130 lives empowered

6,328,782 school-aged children reached with solar lighting

$767,644,065 saved in energy-related expenses

7,219,013,138 productive hours created for working and studying

1,794,878 tons of CO2 offset

30,807,967 kWh generated from renewable energy source

 

d.light has won numerous certifications and awards and is backed by an impressive collection of venture funds and foundations – all expecting to turn a profit on their investments.  D.light is a “B Corporation” which means that it is a for profit corporation, but that it must meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

 

At Rockies Venture Club we hope to find companies like this each December at our Impact Investing Event and support local companies that are doing good all over the world.

To learn more about impact investing and to meet the founders of four great impact companies, consider attending the RVC Impact Investing event Tuesday, December 10th 5:00-7:30PM at the Colorado State University Denver Center Event Atrium 475 17th Street, Suite 200 Denver, CO. Click Here to Register

http://rockiesventureclub.wildapricot.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1349467&eventId=698729&EventViewMode=EventDetails

 

 

Impact-Investing1December is the month in which 25% of American philanthropic dollars are donated.

December is also a month in which investors are making investments, balancing

portfolios and taking profits and losses for tax purposes.

This is a time for investors to be asking themselves whether they can accomplish their

philanthropic and investing goals at the same time.

 

Impact investing has become increasingly popular not only for foundations and family

offices, but also now for individuals.

 

What is “Impact Investing?”

 

The term Impact Investing has been coined to describe investments that have social or

environmental impacts in addition to the economic impacts for the investor’s portfolio.

There has been much debate about what constitutes an Impact Investment though,

since even the most profit minded investment may help communities with job growth

and possible environmental benefits. Sophisticated impact investors typically use

metrics to evaluate the potential social or environmental impacts, and individuals have

access to these as well, though individuals more often rely on a gut feeling to tell them

which investments they prefer.

 

Another debate in Impact Investing circles is how much, if any, reduced profit

expectations should the investor have when making impact investments. Corporate

investors and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs have developed

sophisticated guidelines for balancing the costs of social and environmental impact with

expected financial costs or returns. They use a “Triple Bottom Line” system to measure

social, environmental and economic impacts of their decisions. Individuals may use

their own guidelines that may apply to all impact investments they make or which may

be applied on a case by case basis. I have seen everything from “I’m just hoping to get

my money back some day” to those who show preference for impact investments, but

who also expect the same types of returns relative to risk that they would see on the

rest of their investment portfolio.

 

At Rockies Venture Club, we hold an impact investing event on the second Tuesday

of every December. We recruit expert speakers on the topic as well as four impact

companies seeking early stage investment. The criteria we use are very close to those

that we use every month when evaluating venture companies for investment. The

companies should have experienced and capable teams, a disruptive technology,

product or service, and a substantial market demand. The outcomes we’re looking for

include an “exit” for investors within about five years with a potential return of up to ten

times the original investment.

 

Rockies Venture Club also supports EFCO (the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado)

Which helps start ups to donate one percent of their founders stock to community

organizations. In this way every company that achieves a successful exit can be an

impact company.

 

To learn more about impact investing and to meet the founders of four great impact

companies, consider attending the RVC Impact Investing event Tuesday, December 10th 5:00-7:30PM at the Colorado State University Denver Center Event Atrium 475 17th Street, Suite 200 Denver, CO. Click Here to Register

http://rockiesventureclub.wildapricot.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1349467&eventId=698729&EventViewMode=EventDetails

 

imact investing returnsOne of the main questions we get regarding impact investing is whether impact investing should be considered to be philanthropy with little or no returns or whether impact investing can be expected to have the same kind of returns that other investment opportunities on the market can offer. We like to think that with a good amount of deal-flow, we can provide a number of impact companies that are also great investments. Research from the Global Impact Investing Netowrk and J.P. Morgan corroborate this, with fully 65% of investors expecting market rate returns.
It’s interesting to note that 36% of those who indicated that their impact investments should return market rates also said that they would consider impact investments at below market rates. I think this is the general opinion of most Rockies Venture Club investors. They’re looking for market rate returns, but for impact companies with a great mission and an ability to demonstrate significant social or environmental impact, they are willing to consider a slightly lower return.
This attitude reflects the “triple bottom line” analysis that corporate CSR departments have implemented in which economic returns may be balanced with social environmental returns when proper metrics are in place to ensure a balanced return to the organization.
An interesting aside to this flexibility in returns for impact companies is an article in the November 25th Wall Street Journal citing a higher degree of happiness among those who regularly donated to philanthropic organizations. We hope that RVC investors who invest in impact companies have a quadruple bottom line return with economic, social, environmental and happiness impacts!

To learn more about Impact Investing and to hear speakers and pitches from Colorado Impact Companies, consider attending the RVC Impact Investing event Tuesday, December 10th 5:00-7:30PM at the Colorado State University Denver Center Event Atrium 475 17th Street, Suite 200 Denver, CO. Click Here to Register

http://rockiesventureclub.wildapricot.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1349467&eventId=698729&EventViewMode=EventDetails

impact investing
When we talk about Impact Investing, we’re talking about investments that make an impact on our communities. There are many ways that this can happen, but the two most common categories are social and environmental impact. My intuitive guess was that environmental impact investing would comprise the greatest portion of investment, but what The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and, J.P. Morgan found in their study “Perspectives on Progress: Impact Investor Survey” January, 2013, was that environmental and social impact investing were almost equal, with slightly more investing going to social impacts.
It’s interesting to note that these two areas have typically NOT been addressed by business interests and therefore must be dealt with by governmental or philanthropic organizations. (In fact Rockies Venture Club gets a lot of applications for “Impact Companies” who “create jobs” or further economic development through their capitalistic activities. While it’s great that these companies do impact their communities, we’re looking for the companies that do something materially different than the normal day-to-day companies out there.
Environmental impact companies are often “clean tech” or “green tech” in their approach. They’re addressing environmental needs in many ways such as wind and solar, energy storage and delivery systems, biofuels, alternative energy sources such as generating energy from waste dumps. These companies are now becoming successful at both returning a profit to investors as well as reducing our carbon footprint, reducing energy costs, and furthering energy independence. That’s a big impact that our big oil and gas companies have not been able to effectively deliver in the past – primarily because there was so much money to be made in traditional energy delivery. Environmental impact companies are making a difference by making alternative energy sources economical, often without government subsidies.
Social impact investments are often more difficult to quantify the returns, yet they account for fully 50% of impact investments according to GIIN, J.P. Morgan. Social impact investments that can provide a return often take the form of jobs programs, education with immediate returns in productivity, water and sanitation systems that create jobs and health benefits for communities, healthcare delivery in remote areas and more. Rockies Venture Club has seen tremendous creativity and energy spent in addressing global community needs by companies that are innovating and finding lower costs of delivery and sustainable income that returns profits to investors while benefitting communities.
To learn more about Impact Investing and to hear speakers and pitches from Colorado Impact Companies, consider attending the RVC Impact Investing event Tuesday, December 10th 5:00-7:30PM at the Colorado State University Denver Center Event Atrium 475 17th Street, Suite 200 Denver, CO. Click Here to Register

http://rockiesventureclub.wildapricot.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1349467&eventId=698729&EventViewMode=EventDetails