In late April, the Social Innovation Forum hosted more than 40 people at our One Congress Street offices for lunch and an interactive panel conversation about impact investing. This event accompanied the release of our report, Insights into Impact Investing, which highlights our accomplishments and the opportunities in this exciting, emerging field. Panelists included Mitch Rosenberg, CEO of KinderLab Robotics, and Jessie Banhazl, CEO of Green City Growers, both alumni of SIF’s Social Business Accelerator, as well as Michael Gilligan, founder of Urban Catalyst, and Bob Leahy, an SIF mentor with more than 30 years of experience in business management and finance.
In 2012, SIF began expanding beyond philanthropy to work with those interested in investing for both social and financial return, and it has been an amazing experience to be involved in this work over the past five years.
Through our Social Business Accelerator, SIF has worked with 24 social enterprises, connecting them with capital and mentorship needed to fuel their growth. To date, our entrepreneurs have raised approximately $8.4 million – $2 million of which has come directly through connections to the SIF community.*
To date, our entrepreneurs have raised approximately $8.4 million – $2 million of which has come directly through connections to the SIF community.
Mitch Rosenberg (2016 Impact Entrepreneur cohort), who recently raised a significant round of funding, talked about how the SIF Accelerator helped him to effectively incorporate social mission into his investor story. Bob Leahy, who served as mentor to Mitch and the KinderLab Robotics team during, and after, the accelerator, reflected on the positive experience of bringing his skills to a growing, socially focused company. Mitch noted that Bob and other mentors were essential to KinderLab’s success, coming in to fill critical gaps in their leadership team at key points in their development.
Jessie Banhazl (2013 Impact Entrepreneur cohort) talked about the value to Green City Growers, and to her as an entrepreneur, in participating in accelerator programs like SIF. She said that SIF was “a wonderful catalyst,” and that the experience enabled many subsequent successes, including selection to participate in MassChallenge. Jessie, who has raised capital through a range of vehicles, including a direct public offering, offered this tip for other entrepreneurs: learn as much as you can about the different ways to finance your company, and be sure that you are asking the right source for money at the right time.
Alongside these accomplishments, we discussed the opportunities still ahead of us in this emerging field. Michael Gilligan, founder of Urban Catalyst, joined our other panelists to talk about the high level of excitement in the field, yet noted the seemingly slow pace of the market to develop. Michael cited investors’ need to take time to sort out what “impact investing” means to them.
Bob also mentioned that addressing the challenge of measuring the social impact in investments is key to advancing the field. Michael agreed and offered an additional challenge – the frequent assumption that investments with social return require concessions on financial return. While this is not always true, the dual-return aspect of impact investing complicates investors’ evaluation of options and slows the decision making process.
During the question and answer session, one attendee asked the panelists what would be helpful to move the impact investing field forward in Boston. All agreed that we in Boston have great potential to continue being leaders in this field. In addition to improved measurement tools for social impact, panelists suggested that the field would move forward when we can provide potential investors with more information and examples of how impact investing can work, including case studies. It will take individual and family investors to lead the way, they said, pushing the conversations forward and taking the risks needed to create a catalog of success (and failure) stories that will pave the way for future investments. When that happens, institutional investors will follow, and we will have an opportunity to deploy unprecedented amounts of capital toward social good.
To learn more about SIF's work in impact investing, download a copy of the Insights into Impact Investing report.
* Numbers reflect additional funds raised since the production of the report.
About the Author
Katie began as a consultant with Root Cause and the Social Innovation Forum in 2006 and became the SIF Lead Consultant in 2008. She led SIF’s spin-off from Root Cause in 2015, alongside Executive Director Susan Musinsky, and brought her experience from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to her role as Associate Director from 2014 to 2017.