/Impact Engine

About Impact Engine

Impact Engine is a 16-week accelerator program that supports for-profit businesses addressing today’s societal or environmental challenges. We empower entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors to make a collective impact on society by applying smart business principles to the world’s greatest problems.

Impact Engine: On­Ramps to Impact Investing

By |August 16, 2016|

The Next Generation of Social Entrepreneurs on the Rise in Chicago

It’s no secret that many young people are interested in directing their talent toward solving important social and environmental issues. But, what is not as well known is how much support there is for them to turn that interest into a new enterprise: we have seen tremendous growth of entrepreneurship programs for high school students over the last few years. In Illinois, many schools have implemented programs that combine mentoring from real-world entrepreneurs with education about ideation, market research, and business plan development. Some end up starting new ventures, others benefit from exposure to universal characteristics of entrepreneurship such as self-sufficiency, resiliency and creative problem solving. Here are three excellent examples of high school entrepreneurship programs in Chicagoland that are building the next generation of social entrepreneurs.

Incubatoredu is year-long course that gives high school students in the Chicago suburbs the opportunity to create and fully develop their own product or service with the help of entrepreneurs and business experts who serve as volunteer mentors, guiding student teams through the processes of ideation, market research, and business plan development. It originally started at Barrington High School and is now available to students in five high schools throughout District 211 in Illinois.

One stand out impact company that grew out of the Palatine High School program is ShoeMonkey. While making it easier for parents to buy healthy shoes for their children, ShoeMonkey also reduces waste in the shoe industry and provides access to shoes for those in need.

Eric Wasowicz, an Impact Engine investor, played the role of community champion Palatine High School’s launch of He gathered 30 outside business leaders, […]

By |July 22, 2016|

Seed 2 Growth Ventures Takes a Systems Approach to Food and Agriculture Investing

At Impact Engine, we’re fans of supporting and learning about the other impact investing opportunities that our investors are pursuing. Seed 2 Growth Ventures (S2G Ventures), a Chicago-based, multi-stage venture fund investing in transformative food and agriculture companies, has 3 partners Impact Engine Chairman, Chuck Templeton, along with Victor Friedberg and Sanjeev Krishnan. S2G Ventures has taken a systems approach to food and agriculture investing trying to help the industry be more sustainable, healthy and distributed. Recently, they held the first S2G CEO Summit bringing together entrepreneurs from 10 of their portfolio companies, active investors in food and agriculture, their advisory board, as well as notable speakers from the industry.

A few of Impact Engine’s team members spent the day at the summit to learn about S2G’s portfolio companies, emerging trends and patterns in food and agriculture innovation, and hear from large food organizations that are helping to rethink the existing culture of the industry. By bringing together portfolio companies, advisors, and strategic leaders, the summit providing for an amazing learning experience for all.

Here are some of the sectors in which S2G Ventures portfolio companies are tackling big opportunities to improve agriculture and food:

How we grow food. Within this sector, Midwestern BioAg is an industry leader in biological agriculture, creating an approach to farming that raises yields, lowers costs, and improves margins on the farm/ for the farmer. Indoor farming company. Shenandoah Growers is working to supply fresh herbs affordably and safely year-round through state-of-the-art organic greenhouses that increase flavor and nutrition while decreasing negative environmental impacts. Finally, Terramerra develops safer, more effective solutions for pest control by harnessing the […]

By |June 30, 2016|

An Open Letter From Our Partner + CEO, Jessica Droste Yagan

Dear Impact Engine Community:

This morning, we announced the launch of a new $10 million impact fund, which will work to support and scale early-stage technology companies dedicated to improving education, health, economic empowerment, and resource efficiency in Chicago and around the world.

From our earliest days as an accelerator, we have always believed that many big social and environmental challenges in the world are also big market opportunities, and that supporting the most promising early-stage impact entrepreneurs with our time and money is one of the best things we can do to leverage capital for social good.

We have also learned along the way that we can be a valuable partner to investors and mentors who are intrigued by the idea that every investment dollar has an impact on society, and who want to be more intentional about making those impacts positive.

Most importantly, we have been able to bring these talented and passionate impact entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors together, creating an incredibly special community which has become an anchor in the growing impact investing movement. Chicago, with its long history of civic engagement, has been the perfect place to grow from.

I personally invested in Impact Engine at the very beginning and joined full-time as CEO in 2014 because of this promise—that together this community could become the base of something even greater.

With your support and participation, we have taken the next step together toward a better form of capitalism, where solely getting a financial return is not good enough. Today’s challenges require us to seek positive social and environmental returns as well.

Thank you for helping us get here. I can’t wait to […]

By |June 29, 2016|

How Greg Lernihan Is Helping Build the Impact Investing Movement

Greg Lernihan discovered Impact Engine a few years ago, after a quick Google search on impact investing opportunities in Chicago. Since then he has been a valuable part of our growth as a fund, serving as a member of our Investment Committee, as well as a mentor, advisor, and investor to many of our portfolio companies. We connected with Greg to learn about the many ways he is involved in impact investing and social entrepreneurship, the value of the Impact Engine network, and ways impact focused investors can make investments.

You spent 30+ years as an entrepreneur in the security and building technology industries, how did you learn about impact investing and become active impact investor?

Throughout my career, I have always wanted to work for an organization that had a social purpose or mission.  Approximately five years ago, I read the book “How to Change the World” by David Bornstein.  It was my introduction to social entrepreneurship and the concept of creating a for profit company to help solve social problems. Around the same time, I led multiple company mission trips to Haiti to provide our colleagues the opportunity to experience extreme poverty first hand. Our focus was building centralized water houses and installing water purification systems in remote villages. The trips to Haiti impacted me greatly.

Shortly thereafter, we sold a majority interest in a company that I co-founded. I made the decision to leave day-to-day responsibilities and focus my life on trying to make a difference with the financial resources, leadership experiences and business acumen I was blessed to acquire. I reached out to Chuck Templeton and immediately became […]

By |June 28, 2016|

Lessons from Our Portfolio: Boards and Advisors

Earlier this month, we brought together our portfolio company CEOs for an informal discussion around the roles of advisors and board members, moderated by our CIO, Tasha Seitz. Building upon our portfolio founders’ insights and our management team’s experiences, we’ve outlined some of our key takeaways here.


Advisors who are able to provide expertise in your industry or product area, connect you to strategic partners, make introductions to prospective customers, or otherwise add value to your team can be invaluable to your early business success. In some industries, like education and health, having a credible group of experts in your field as formal advisors is an important signal to the market. That being said, it’s up to you as the leader of your company to decide whether it makes sense to formalize their involvement through an advisory board (which typically involves granting them options) and how to make the best use of their time and input.  

If you do decide to formalize your relationship with an advisor, it’s important to set clear expectations about how much time they will commit to the company and what value they expect to provide in terms of introductions and connections. You might also consider vesting their options over some period of time.  From a time perspective, try to strike a balance based on your needs and the availability and interest of the advisor. One danger is overusing them to the point they feel taken advantage of or they get burned out.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is the missed opportunity of leaving a highly valuable resource out of the loop for too long […]

By |June 27, 2016|

Impact Entrepreneurship is Thriving in Chicago

It was just a few years ago that a critical mass of people in Chicago were beginning to coalesce around the idea that a successful business could do well and do good, and that nonprofits could leverage business models for social benefit. Today, we’re seeing a full-fledge leading-edge movement in support of impact entrepreneurs in Chicago – using business as a way to address our world’s toughest challenges. Here’s just a sampling of the organizations driving this exciting and inspiring movement which we at Impact Engine are extremely proud to be a part of through our roles in funding and supporting impact entrepreneurs and building an engaged community of impact investors.  Please join us!

At a high level, there are a number of organizations bringing people together in this space.

Forefront has worked over the past year to build a Social Innovation Roundtable in order to drive a conversation about moving more capital into nonprofit and for profit social enterprises in the city.
The Chicago Community Trust (CCT), MacArthur Foundation, and Calvert Foundation announced Benefit Chicago, a collaboration that aims to deploy $100 million in impact investments into nonprofits and social enterprises in Chicago. Bringing together a private foundation, a community foundation and a non-profit financial institution has enabled a unique structure whereby anyone from an individual to a business to an institution can invest in the community.
The Social Enterprise Alliance Chicago hosts panels and seminars with industry leaders on topics in the space, pitch nights to showcase social entrepreneurs, and monthly happy hours to network.
Goodcity supports both nonprofit organizations and for-profit organizations creating or enhancing neighborhood programs.
Seed613 (formerly JCC […]

By |May 31, 2016|

Investing in Resource Efficiency

This month, as a part of our Investor Network Speaker Series, we hosted experts in the areas of clean energy, water, and waste to discuss investing trends in those fields. Resource efficiency is one of Impact Engine’s four impact target areas (the others are education, health, and economic empowerment). Here are some of our key takeaways:

Amy Francetic was our energy expert on the panel.  She is the Senior Vice President of Invenergy, the largest independently owned renewable energy developer in the world. Formerly, Amy was a co-founder and CEO of Clean Energy Trust.  Amy believes the movement to clean energy is being led by two main drivers: policy and innovation. The extension of tax credits for wind and solar, as well as the Paris Accords, have helped to level the playing field for generators. However, there is still a misperception that clean energy is not affordable. At current market prices and without subsidies, wind actually beats coal and nuclear, and solar is making progress. This is partially due to technology innovation. Some of the credit also goes to business model innovation. Startups are learning to work with incumbent players who have put in place billions of dollars worth of infrastructure. They are also finding funding from non-traditional clean energy funders, including family offices, foundations, and corporates who are willing to take early stage risk and long return horizons.  

Scott Mosley joined us from Milwaukee, where he is the Director of Investment Strategies at the Water Council.  He is responsible for developing and implementing an early stage investment and investment education program for water technology.  He explained how we’re now moving […]

By |May 26, 2016|

Announcing Our Seed Investment in Regroup Therapy

We are pleased to announce that Impact Engine has invested in Regroup Therapy, a leading provider of on-demand, virtual mental health teams to health entities. 1 in 5 Americans suffers from a diagnosable behavioral health condition, and yet over 55% of U.S. counties have a shortage of practicing psychiatrists, psychologists and/or social workers. The Chicago based company partners with health entities nationwide to provide state-of-the-art, video-based behavioral health integration, increasing access to critical behavioral health services, reducing total cost to treat, and enabling better outcomes for individuals and communities. Their seamless, full-spectrum behavioral health integration has allowed them to gain traction quickly with health organizations such as Metropolitan Family Services, KAM Alliance, Sinai Health System, Oak Street Health and OSF.

Regroup Therapy closed a $1.8M Series Seed round led by Hyde Park Angels with participation from Impact Engine, OCA Ventures, New Stack Ventures, the Harvard Business Angels of Chicago, MD Angels, Grubhub Co-Founder Mike Evans, Sandbox Ventures Managing Director Lon Chow, and Lou Malnati’s President Mark Agnew. The company will use the capital to build their platform, sales and implementation teams.

We have been extremely impressed by founder and CEO David Cohn, who brings deep expertise in implementing technology to scale solutions, as well as firsthand experience in creating impact and addressing global social challenges. He was previously a Director of the Latin America information technology practice at Corporate Executive Board, and served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. The team is rounded out by Justine Mitchell, Operations and Clinical Lead, who previously founded a mental health startup and is a licensed social worker; and Moon Lee, CTO, the founder and CTO […]

By |May 10, 2016|

When It Comes to Literacy Innovation, ThinkCERCA is Showing Positive Results

ThinkCERCA is an award-winning literacy platform that encourages students in grades 4 – 12 to build evidence-based arguments. Co-founded by Eileen Murphy and Abby Ross, the duo were apart of Impact Engine’s first cohort of companies in 2012. Today, they have grown ThinkCERCA into a successful edtech businesses recognized by Bill Gates as an innovative literacy tool that’s showing positive results for students! We connected with Eileen and Abby to hear more about the progress they have made over the last four years, how the edtech space has evolved (as continues to do so), and what advice they have for entrepreneurs who are just starting on their impact entrepreneurship journey.

ThinkCERCA was started to help all students achieve career and college readiness. Is this still your goal? What progress have you made?

Every student, regardless of socio-economic background or readiness level, should have access to quality, engaging curriculum that develops their critical thinking skills while meeting the demands of new career and college readiness standards. This is still our main focus and what drives our team every day. Helping students prepare for life outside of the classroom is not an easy task—they need to be able to evaluate and synthesize information and communicate their ideas effectively. They need strong reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.

When we started Impact Engine as part of the first cohort in 2012, major shifts were happening in education. States all over the country were adopting new standards that focused on rigor and student growth. In addition, districts started investing more heavily in hardware and infrastructure to make technology an integral part of classroom instruction. These external factors are […]

By |April 29, 2016|

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