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The Bot Ate My Homework: How Technology is Changing Education and Work

By Elizabeth Coston McCluskey

It has been a busy couple of months on conference circuit, in particular on the topics of edtech and workforce development. I recently attended the Lumina Foundation’s LIFTed Convening, ASU/GSV’s annual Summit, and Axios’“Future of Work” panel. The crowd at each event was slightly different, enabling me to get perspectives and have conversations with educators, investors, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and economists — not to mention John Legend and former president George W. Bush.

One of the prevailing themes was the rise of automation and AI, and whether it presents a threat or an opportunity. Numerous speakers and panelists cited a report from Oxford University that posited 47% of US employment is at risk due to “computerization.” While the report came out in 2013, it seems that conversation about the reality of this possibility is reaching a fever pitch in 2018. One of the report’s conclusions is that lower wage jobs that require less education will be the most susceptible to tech outsourcing.

However, the message of many was that all is not lost. Vanguard’s chief economist made an important distinction between tasks and jobs. He suggested that while up to half of a given person’s tasks may be automated, it will not eliminate their job but rather change the nature of it. Reducing mundane tasks should enable them shift to more “uniquely human” ones that involve skills like creativity and empathy. This thought was repeated by an ASU/GSV panelist who talked about the increasing importance of “human literacy”: being competent in communication, teamwork, empathy, and cultural agility. I also heard this message […]

By |April 30, 2018|

Impact Investing is Growing in Chicago — Here’s Why It Matters

By Jessica Droste Yagan

On Tuesday, January 30th, Impact Engine hosted the Chicago Impact Investing Showcase sponsored by MacArthur Foundation. We gathered to highlight our work and the work of Benefit Chicago, a fund that invests for both financial and social return, as well as a handful of investments that demonstrate this focus on dual return. We were happy to welcome over 300 people who are learning about, celebrating, and advancing impact investing in Chicago. This rising tide of interest in impact investing is incredibly exciting. In case you missed it, we’ve drafted some key takeaways about how impact investing is growing in Chicago and why that matters.

There is a lot of variation on how to execute impact investing, all with great potential to achieve different types of impact and different levels of financial return. At our showcase, the presenting companies represented an amazing range of examples of impact investing, everything from low-interest loans through LISC to market-leading telehealth providers like Regroup. We did a quick survey of impact investing funds in Chicago and found 21 funds which are all based here, intentionally investing for both financial and social return, and measuring both.  Some of these have been around for decades, doing impact investing before impact investing was a thing. Others are very new, and there are still more in formation that will be added to our growing list.

The growth of the impact investing ecosystem in Chicago is so exciting because it matters. When we make progress as a society, it’s because we question the status quo. In January, over 1 million people across the country attended the women’s march. Some […]

By |February 28, 2018|

2017 In Review

By Maggie Stohler

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 2017. Impact Engine has had a strong year of growth and evolution as we continue to invest in companies driving social and financial returns. Below we’ve recapped a few of the highlights from the year.

We kicked off 2017 with our Community Showcase in January which featured Chicago funds that invest for both financial and social return, as well as presentations from their investees. The event brought together over 275 people to hear about the inspiring work happening at Benefit Chicago, Clean Energy Trust, Energy Foundry, Ekistic Ventures, Furthur Fund and SLoFIG. In his Forbes write up of our event, John Carpenter remarked, “Not only do companies keep popping up with the dual aim of fixing some social ill while at the same time banking cash, but the pool of investor money willing to stake them seems to be growing.” It’s no surprise to us that Chicago was named the social entrepreneurship capital of the world, and this event was a testament to the exciting energy surrounding impact investing in the city. (Our next showcase is coming up January 30, 2018 – hope to see you there!)

Throughout the year we stayed busy, adding seven new investments to our portfolio (ConsejoSano, Kaizen Health, CoInspect, First Access, Book Nook, Measurabl, and Viridis), as well as three follow-on investments (Regroup Therapy, ThinkCERCA and Edovo). We explained why we made some of these investments and what we look for across our impact focus […]

By |December 21, 2017|

The Rise of Impact Seed Funds

By Tasha Seitz

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending SOCAP (Social Capital Markets), the world’s largest conference on social enterprise and impact investing, at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, California. As a veteran attendee (this is my sixth SOCAP conference), I am always energized to be around smart people who are passionate about the potential of the intersection of impact and markets. At the conference, I spoke on a panel called “The Rise of Impact Seed Funds” with Wes Selke from Better Ventures, Shauntel Poulson from Reach Capital, Brian Dixon from Kapor Capital and Julie Lein from the Urban Innovation Fund. We discussed the evolution of seed-stage funds and talked about specific investment strategies, and how our focus on impact boosts performance. Below, I’ve recapped some of the key takeaways from our panel discussion (feel free to check out a video recording here).

Defining and measuring impact as an impact fund

Social impact is a loaded word and means different things to different people. While each fund on the panel considers themselves an impact fund, we each define it very differently. Brian Dixon from Kapor Capital shared that, “when we’re making an investment we’re not only thinking about whether this investment will get us a 3x return of the fund, but also how does this actually make a difference.” At Reach Capital, “we invest in missionaries, not mercenaries” said Shauntel Poulson. When it comes to impact, they focus on three things: a user base that targets underserved and under-resourced populations, usage penetration in terms of depth of usage and user satisfaction, and long-term improvement in student outcomes and achievement. […]

By |November 16, 2017|

5 Questions You Need to Ask Before You Start Hiring

By Lindsay Verstegen

Last month at Impact Engine, we celebrated our five-year anniversary with a celebration and showcase event with our investors, mentors, and portfolio companies. The following day, we continued the celebration with a gathering of our portfolio company CEOs. We were grateful to have Lindsay Verstegen, VP of Talent at ShopRunner, speak to our CEOs about recruiting and hiring, including the five questions to ask before hiring, below.

Hiring is a highly personal process, one that should be very specific to you and your company. It’s important to approach the hiring process with enough of a game plan that you’re organized, but also with agility that allows for feedback to shape the process as it plays out. I’ve outlined five key questions that get at guidelines to the hiring process that every organization should consider when expanding their team. (Keep in mind, these are not hard-and-fast rules, but rather tips that should guide you!)

1. Who are you?

Before you begin the hiring process, it is important to go inward and answer some crucial questions to understand who you are as a company. This is a time for self-reflection. Ask yourself who you are and what you value. Remember that Sigmund Freud once said: “Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” It’s an especially good exercise when hiring. You should also ask customers and existing employees how they see you, and synthesize that information to determine your “true north.” If you’re not headed in the direction you want to be, this is the […]

By |October 26, 2017|

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|

The Rise of the Impact Entrepreneur

When I was taking the ‘L” home a few nights ago, pondering on what I would say today, I thought about the last 12 weeks and what I witnessed firsthand. Watching these eight entrepreneurs grow, change, and test the bounds of what business could be, I realized that I had a front row seat to something special: The Rise of the Impact Entrepreneur.

So who is this Impact Entrepreneur?

Are they an entrepreneur that went through Impact Engine? Well, yeah, but they are also the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of entrepreneurs that have not ONLY decided it’s no longer enough just to make money, it is ALSO no longer enough just to address an environmental or societal issue. They must do both.

The Impact Entrepreneur talks about building a sustainable company, but not purely in the green sense. They know they need to build companies that are long lasting, that will be financially sustainable through time.

They see it’s not just that government and NGO’s aren’t big enough to tackle all of the challenges we face, but that they can make money while solving these challenges using new and innovative business models.

They understand that to be sustainable means that they need to be competitive today, and being competitive today means they will need to hire the best talent, and increasingly that talent wants to work in companies that have a mission they can align with.

To be competitive today, they need to build companies that are moving away from dependence on the carbon-based fuels that traditionally powers businesses.

To be competitive today, they need to make products that improve the health of their customers, instead of making them obese or sick […]

By |December 7, 2012|

Chuck’s Signature Goatee

A guest blog post from the team at Raise5:

Since our first encounter with Chuck Templeton, we took note of his unique goatee. Along with his entrepreneurial success, his beard is a very defining feature of who he is. This is what made him a great candidate for a “hair portrait,” a unique style of portrait art pioneered by Stephanie Barstow where only the subject’s hairline and facial hair is drawn. When asked why Stephanie goes out of her way to provide her work on Raise5 she said:

“I was an art major. And one thing my professor reiterated to me over and over again is to never stop making art, despite how busy you get… I’m always striving to make new art, despite my busy schedule.”

Stephanie is the essence of Raise5, she is a talented person who refuses to give up on her love of art, and with the Raise5 community buying her services with a charity donation, she has a reason to keep on doing what she loves. Raise5 takes her raw talents and turns it into a valuable service for the buyer, money for charity, and revenues for Raise5. Now that’s an arrangement that has everyone smiling.

By |October 8, 2012|

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