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Can Financial Advisors Embrace Impact?

Impact Engine has been fortunate to work with a lot of first-time impact investors. While we may be their first introduction to impact investing, we very much want to support them in doing more, and often share content or host events meant to introduce them to the range of possibilities across asset classes and impacts.

Unfortunately, because impact investing is not (yet) broadly embraced, investors can find it challenging to get started by working with their financial advisors. While some advisors are strong advocates for impact investing and very knowledgeable, many are not jumping up and down to help, either because they don’t know what to do or don’t want to do it, or both. If you’re not one of the lucky few who has great support from your advisor, here are three approaches that we’ve seen work.

Convince your advisor to learn.

While not all financial advisors understand or offer impact investing options, some of them will put in the effort to learn if you push hard enough. If they are willing to make the effort, you may want to be patient and be a partner in exploring with them: you could learn together and perhaps create even more impact by supporting the development of expertise and products that could then be offered to other clients, thus moving even more assets in the direction of positive impact. If you want to go this route, try showing them why it’s in their interest or that it’s been around long enough to demonstrate competitive financial returns. Once they’ve indicated they might try, you could share articles like “How Wealth Advisors Can Facilitate Impact Investments” […]

By |February 28, 2017|
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The Future of Term Sheets

For those of you less familiar with the venture capital world, a term sheet is a document detailing agreed-upon terms under which an individual or firm will invest in a startup. Traditionally, this document describes the economics of the deal, control provisions, information rights and provisions for investor liquidity. Today, as investors and entrepreneurs are increasingly interested in the social and environmental impacts of their businesses, we are seeing the term sheet evolve in parallel. In particular, we are starting to see investors requiring alignment of values or commitment to specific impacts.

In January, Obvious Ventures announced its “World Positive Term Sheet”, a concerted effort to help entrepreneurs articulate their values so entrepreneurs and investors are aligned and those values can drive business decisions. This term sheet challenges entrepreneurs to describe their companies’ policies in four main categories: core values; diversity, equity & inclusion; sustainability; and pledging & giving. While each term sheet will be tailored to the individual company, Obvious Ventures emphasizes the need for companies to outline specific statements for each category. For example, will your company create an equitable corporate structure or become a B Corp? Can your product or service be manufactured more sustainably? What are your company’s policies on recruiting for diversity or equitable benefits for maternity/paternity leave? The World Positive Term Sheet is an important anchor for companies, and a way to root business practices in values and ethics that can serve as a litmus test for both entrepreneurs and investors down the road.

A year ago, Kapor Capital launched the Founder’s Commitment, a “road map for startups to create a culture of diversity and inclusion […]

By |February 27, 2017|
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2016 In Review

On behalf of everyone at Impact Engine, we want to wish you happy holidays! Before we look ahead to the new year, we paused for a moment to reflect on 2016. From announcing our first seed fund and investing in a growing portfolio of impact-driven companies to engaging with our expanding community of impact investors, mentors, and supporters, Impact Engine has had a strong year of growth and evolution. Below we’ve recapped a few of the highlights from this year for you to enjoy.

In a Letter from our CEO, we announced the closing of a new $10 million impact fund backed by a community of 80 individual impact investors. We shared our plan to invest between $25,000 and $250,000 in early-stage technology companies making a significant impact in education, health, resource efficiency and economic empowerment. We’re excited to be evolving from an accelerator to managing the Midwest’s first early-stage impact fund and have already seen tremendous progress from our new portfolio companies. Throughout the year we focused on finding and vetting new investments and were excited to invest in Regroup Therapy, Workit Health, Full Harvest, Pangea (also part of Impact Engine’s first accelerator portfolio from 2012), and ReUp Education.

We kicked off 2016 with a Community Demo Day, featuring pitch presentations from our first investees in this new fund: Develop Link, Fletch, Skill Scout, ClassroomIQ and Luna Lights. In March, we settled into our new office space on the thirteenth floor of 1871, where we enjoy sharing a hallway with other members of the Chicago investor community: Chicago Venture Partners, MATH Venture Partners & Hyde Park Angels.

In October, we were […]

By |December 21, 2016|
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Looking for Jobs with Impact?

At Impact Engine, we get lots of inquiries about where to look for and apply to social impact jobs. While we always direct people to our Social Impact Jobs Board and post #impinv and #socent #jobs on Twitter (@theimpactengine), we’ve also decided to round up some of our favorite organizations and search engines that post job listings in the social impact or impact investing sector. Whether you’re a recent college grad seeking an entry-level position or a senior-level executive looking to transition towards more meaningful, impactful work, these resources have something to offer for job seekers in every step of their career.

National

Net Impact is a global community of students and professionals committed to developing social impact careers. If you’re looking for US-based jobs, Net Impact’s Jobs and Internships Board is a great resource for finding open positions in the social impact sector. They have a free monthly newsletter, which includes resources for finding impact jobs and the most recently posted job listings on their site. Be sure to check out their Job Search Tools page for additional resources on the search process, as well as field overviews of different impact sectors including impact investing. We especially recommend their Impact Investing career guide, a step by step toolkit for searching, applying, interviewing and landing a job in impact investing.

Back in March, we wrote about the B Corps movement, a group of for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. B Corps has its own Jobs Board for openings at certified B Corps companies in the community. This comprehensive […]

By |December 20, 2016|
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Impact Engine Fall Portfolio Showcase

On Thursday, December 1st, Impact Engine hosted a Fall Portfolio Showcase at ContextMedia (hosted by Shradha Agarwal, one of our investors). We gathered for a night of networking with our investors, their families, and several of our portfolio companies across our four funds.  The companies shared updates about their progress since joining the Impact Engine community, their plans for 2017 and beyond, and how our network can continue to provide support. In case you missed it, we’ve drafted some key takeaways from each presentation. If you’d like to connect with any of these companies, please email Maggie Stohler (maggie@theimpactengine.com).

Impact Engine I

ThinkCERCA is an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines. ThinkCERCA helps whole school teams differentiate for engaging learning in classrooms of diverse learners. Since joining our first accelerator, they have engaged 102K students at 416 schools in 36 states. On average, students using the platform gained an extra year’s worth of academic growth, equivalent to closing the achievement gap by 264%  for low-income students. They are currently growing their team and are looking for key hires, including a Lead Product Designer and Sales Leadership.

Impact Engine III

Infiniteach develops innovative digital apps to to help children with autism build skills, learn and grow. Infiniteach has recently expanded to the B2B market, connecting their digital platform with businesses and museums that want to support autism accessibility within the community. They’ve secured partnerships with the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Autism Speaks, and are looking for leads in the travel, retail and healthcare fields.

Prana Diabetes – Prana Diabetes is tackling the growth of diabetes through HabitNu, a scalable, […]

By |December 8, 2016|
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State of the Art: Impact Investing’s Evolution & Future

State of the Art: Impact Investing’s Evolution & Future

Fireside Chat with The Case Foundation’s Jean Case & Impact Engine’s Jessica Droste Yagan

On Tuesday, November 15th, the University of Chicago Polsky Center, Social Enterprise Initiative and Impact Engine hosted Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, for a lunchtime discussion on the evolution and future of impact investing with Impact Engine CEO, Jessica Droste Yagan. Together they discussed philanthropy’s role as a catalyst for social change, how millennials will shape the sector moving forward, and the Case Foundation’s new impact investing visualization tool that provides both investors and entrepreneurs with more knowledge on this growing marketplace. Each attendee received the Case Foundation’s concise and informative A Short Guide to Impact Investing, which outlines impact investing for both new and seasoned investors.  You can check out a video of the entire session or read below for some key takeaways.

The Importance of Impact Investing

Jean Case and her husband Steve founded the Case Foundation in 1997 to reflect their family’s commitment to giving back. The foundation is committed to creating programs and investing in people and organizations that use entrepreneurship, innovation, technology and collaboration to have an exponential social impact. While all investment has an impact, the Case Foundation believes impact investments should be intentional, transparent, measurable and used as a tool to align capital investment with one’s values. The Case Foundation has become a national leader of the impact investing movement, creating pathways to impact investing through “educating, inspiring and activating” current investors to think critically about their investments. For those new to the field, Jean challenged investors to analyze the impact of […]

By |November 29, 2016|
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Bruce Taylor on Impact Investments & the Impact Engine Community

Bruce Taylor is an investor in Impact Engine IV. He currently serves as the Vice Chairman of MB Financial Bank and as member of the governing commission of the Hillels of Illinois, board of governors of the Metropolitan Planning Council, Midwest trustees of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and is a director of MTL Insurance Company. Read more about what Bruce looks for in his impact investments and why he finds value in being a part of the Impact Engine community.

Tell us about how you first became involved with impact investing.

After we merged Cole Taylor Bank into MB Financial in 2014, I began the second chapter of my career. One of the interests I wanted to pursue was investing in closely held businesses through venture capital and private equity opportunities. I was introduced to Impact Engine by a longtime friend who knew about my passions for giving back and entrepreneurship in Chicago. It was the quality of the leadership and fellow investors that sealed the deal.

As an investor in Impact Engine’s portfolio companies, can you tell us about the strategies you use when evaluating investments? What are some of the key qualities you look for in the companies you invest in?

A few key questions I ask are:

Is the idea interesting?
Is the potential market, in terms of numbers of customers, large?
Most important, the quality of the people behind the venture. Are they passionate about what they are doing? Do they evidence high energy, willingness to persevere through inevitable obstacles and challenges, and are they resourceful?

I also seek the opportunity to collaborate with other […]

By |November 28, 2016|
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Zero Percent Launches SnackPass to Reduce Food Waste

Zero Percent is an online food donation marketplace that helps businesses move surplus, edible food to nearby soup kitchens and shelters, reducing both hunger and waste. They were part of our second accelerator class in 2014.  Zero Percent recently launched SnackPass, an app that provides delicious, nutritious snacks from a variety of local restaurants. We recently caught up with Rajesh Karmani, CEO and Founder, to learn more about SnackPass and the future of the company.

Tell us the story behind Zero Percent.

In 2012, I was a graduate student in computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I frequently visited a bagel shop between my home and my grad school office, where they baked everything fresh each morning. I learned that the shop could never perfectly predict how much food they would sell each day and always ended up with excess bagels. The shop owner Marc wanted to donate the extra food to a local nonprofit, but it was difficult for him to find out which nonprofit would need the food and how he could deliver it. I knew that technology marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist could effectively match supply and demand, so I thought, “Why wasn’t there an online food donation marketplace?” During a hackathon event hosted by the UIUC computer science department, I created Zero Percent.

What are some of the challenges you face building a food tech business and how have you overcome them?

The first big challenge was to understand the variables involved in matching excess food with a need in the community. Secondly, we needed to figure out how to rescue food in a large city like […]

By |November 18, 2016|
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Newest Players in the Chicago Impact Scene

In past blog posts, we’ve written about the next generation of social entrepreneurs in Chicago and why impact entrepreneurship is thriving in Chicago. We’re excited to highlight a few of the newest players in the field; we couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the growing community of Chicago impact entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, and champions of impact!

Ekistic Ventures

In September, David Spielfogel and Brett Goldstein announced the launch of Ekistic Ventures, a VC firm that plans to invest in startups that make cities more equitable and efficient. Spielfogel is one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former top advisors and Goldstein the ex-chief data officer for the city of Chicago. While working for the city, they noticed that young entrepreneurs building technology often lacked the urban strategy knowledge to turn their small scale ideas into big picture solutions. Ekistic Ventures has launched a $15 million fund that will invest in seed-stage companies bringing new solutions to critical urban problems. Ekistic takes a holistic approach to problem-solving, partnering with research institutions, big businesses, mayors, city government officials and entrepreneurs to tackle the most significant urban challenges.

INVEST Chicago

Launched in 2016 by Good City, INVEST Chicago is an initiative aimed at mobilizing individuals to give their time, talents and finances to social entrepreneurs and nonprofits making a difference in Chicago. They provide philanthropic grants and impact investment opportunities to nonprofits and social entrepreneurs to support strategic and sustainable ideas with strong leadership. INVEST Chicago works with foundations, corporate partners and the city of Chicago to identify and invest in projects serving the most under-resourced communities in Chicago. Their first portfolio, the Women’s Innovation Fund, […]

By |October 28, 2016|
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How ClassroomIQ improves grading

ClassroomIQ bridges the gap between pencil-and-paper assessments and the cloud by enabling teachers to grade assessments on any web-connected device. This platform automatically grades hand-written short answer and multiple-choice answers and also allows teachers to self-grade more complex open responses. We caught up with Steve Dillinger, founder of ClassroomIQ, to hear more about the platform and the future of the organization.

Tell us the story behind ClassroomIQ.

In 2010, I organized a grassroots movement to improve the low-performing elementary school in my Chicago neighborhood. Through my work with the school, I was exposed to education at all levels- from teachers in their classrooms to administrators in the central office. I was struck by the lack of technology available to teachers for improving their own workflow. I found that too much time was spent on administrative tasks, time that could be better spent helping students. I believed I could leverage my experience developing productivity tools for the financial industry to develop productivity tools for teachers, so I started developing ClassroomIQ.

Besides faster grading, what other aspects of your platform have led to teacher and student satisfaction?

Ask a non-teacher to explain what grading is and they will typically describe scoring- assigning a point value to a student answer. While teachers using our platform report much faster scoring times (up to 100% faster when using our auto-scoring technology), the real benefit comes from the other component of grading – student feedback.

Classroom-level assessment is not an end in itself. There is tremendous value in providing feedback to students addressing the concepts they do not grasp.  Unfortunately, due to time constraints, feedback is often terse and returned to […]

By |October 26, 2016|

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