By: Lisa Calhoun

September 30, 2019

If you’ve ever thought about spending your money with one brand instead of another because one of them had a better reputation, you’re an impact investor. Investors who want to scale their impact know every dollar under their influence can be part of their strategy to transform the world in a positive way. I care passionately that my “imprint” on this world is a positive one, from my lifestyle (vegan), to my conversation style (direct), to my car (electric), and to my work (venture capitalist).

The area I’m most passionate about is making sure investments I make have every opportunity to optimize ROI. One tool I use to do that is understanding the inclusion premium, a word we invented and invite you to use.

The inclusion premium is what happens when you manage the risks of group-think proactively instead of reactively. Everyone has experienced an episode of group-think. Maybe it’s a board you’re on, a sports team, a charitable organization, or a company you know well—but group-think is when everyone is so sure they’re right they do not seek to entertain contrary opinions.

Groups with different perspectives have inherently contrary opinions. They have to work through disagreements to wind up at a consensus. This tough process contributes to dramatically better financial outcomes.

Here are some of the financial statistics associated with using the inclusion premium to manage downside risk and optimize upside potential:

  • Racially and ethnically diverse startups outperform industry norms by 35%. (McKinsey, Why Diversity Matters)
  • In testing the performance of 2,360 public companies globally over the last 6 years, companies with one or more women on the board have delivered higher average returns on equity, lower gearing, better average growth and higher price/book value multiples. Racially and ethnically diverse startups outperform industry norms by 35%. (Credit Suisse, Gender Impact)
  • Among top quartile managers, there’s actually an overrepresentation of diverse managers, with 39% of diverse managers falling in the top quartile of performance, vs. 25% for non-diverse managers. And so it’s particularly interesting to note that you actually have a better chance of outperforming the benchmark by investing with diverse managers. (SuperReturn 2019, “Expansive viewpoints for better results: why you should consider diversity when choosing managers”)
  • Along all dimensions measured, the more similar the investment partners, the lower their investments’ performance. For example, the success rate of acquisitions and IPOs was 11.5% lower, on average, for investments by partners with shared school backgrounds than for those by partners from different schools. The effect of shared ethnicity was even stronger, reducing an investment’s comparative success rate by 26.4% to 32.2%. (Harvard Business Review, 2018, The Other Diversity Dividend)
  • This research utilized the Morningstar database to gather information on 5,000 US mutual funds to compare net alpha and value added between male funds and female funds. The present research found that female managers have statistically significantly higher net alpha and higher value added, compared to male managers, likely indicating that females are not allocated enough capital but have higher skill, as they are able to extract high value added even without proper capital allocation. (Natalie Borowski, Ph.D., “The Impact of Mutual Fund Manager Gender on Investor Capital Allocations”)

Research like this makes the reality of an “inclusion premium” for investors quite clear. At Valor, we’re actively using inclusion premium analysis as an additional layer of investment risk management and returns optimization.

Here are three ways we do it:

  • Sourcing Inclusion: We use industry benchmarks to make sure our funds source investments from across the full spectrum of founders seeking venture capital today. The end result is that Valor’s portfolio is led by 60% under-represented founders in a venture capital environment when the average is that less than 5% of venture capital is invested in under-represented founders. One of the ways we succeed at creating such clear alpha is through the nonprofit Foundation we started, Startup Runway. It is the largest pitch event for under-represented founders in the country. It has sourced many of our most interesting and innovative investment opportunities precisely because it sources from a group (startups led by women and people of color) that is historically under-invested in. See it for yourself—join us at the next Startup Runway Showcase and see the inclusion premium in action.
  • Recruiting Inclusion: When Valor makes an investment, the journey is just beginning. That team we invested in will be scaling quickly, and as they do that, we want them to be able to “see around corners.” That means making sure the next hires not only are exceptionally skilled, but also have exceptional perceptions and understandings not inherent in the core team’s DNA. We know more perspectives earlier in a company’s journey create an inclusive culture that is not only more effective in terms of financial performance, but also more attractive to acquirers.
  • Governing Inclusion: I was recently speaking with a successful Atlanta software company founder who walked away from a $100 million valuation and large investment at the 11th hour. He shared that when the final board composition was revealed, it “looked like a picture I didn’t want to be a part of”—all one race, all one gender. Smart founders—and investors—know that the board composition also has to also be informed by multiple perspectives, which is why when Valor takes a board seat, we pay attention not only to talents, skills and chemistry, but also to inclusion.

Inclusion is one of the risks controllable by investors and it is also one of the few risks that, if well managed, has a strong positive outcome for the investment. If topics like these get you going, and you want to join forces with us on the journey of inclusive innovation, please check out one of Valor’s upcoming events for investors at


Lisa Calhoun is founding general partner at Valor.VC, the first female-led venture capital firm in Georgia. Valor.VC is based in Atlanta, Georgia. The investment firm’s second fund invests in financial inclusion platforms outside of Silicon Valley at the first institutional round. Find out more at

The Georgia Social Impact Collaborative (GSIC) provides resources to connect, educate and inspire stakeholders for the purpose of accelerating the development of Georgia’s impact investing ecosystem. Recently, GSIC announced the launch of the Georgia Social Impact Map (the “Map”), an interactive platform designed to connect and educate stakeholders interested in accelerating impact investing for social outcomes. Intended as a resource for communities around the state, the Map connects new forms of capital to sustaining and scaling solutions to social challenges. GSIC also provides workshops and programming for training specific groups of stakeholders on ways to leverage impact investing to achieve their impact goals.

Originally posted on Invest Atlanta

September 24, 2019

Four Atlanta social ventures have been awarded a total of $200,000 by the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation and Atlanta Emerging Markets, Inc. (AEMI) through the Civic Impact Loan Fund. This loan fund is an effort created in partnership with the Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) to support early-stage civic entrepreneurs in scaling their businesses and expanding their community impact in Atlanta.

The Civic Impact Loan Fund, created in December 2016 by Atlanta Emerging Markets, Inc. in partnership with the Center for Civic Innovation, is an innovative investment tool that provides flexible, zero-interest loans to entrepreneurs who have early-stage businesses that are making a difference in their local communities.

“We are proud to continue supporting civic-minded businesses and those working on the front lines to make a positive impact on other people’s lives,” said Stephen McRae, President of AEMI. “These outstanding entrepreneurs are not only bringing new business ideas to life, but they are also showing their commitment to creating equity in our underserved communities. I wish each of these entrepreneurs continued success and admire their dedication to making Atlanta a greater city for all.”

The Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation was founded in 2006 with a mission to support and empower women through education, entrepreneurship, and the arts. The contribution from the Sara Blakely Foundation ensured that at least $100,000 of the fund went to women-led ventures.

“For me, this is about investing in the person, not just the business,” said Sara Blakely, Founder and CEO of Spanx and the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation. “Not only do I believe we need to close the gap in women’s access to capital, I believe we need to give these women the holistic support that will enable them to soar. After providing them with a year of mentorship and training in partnership with CCI, we are celebrating their success and excited to invest in their businesses so they can grow and scale their impact.”

AEMI and the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation each contributed $100,000 to fund early-stage civic entrepreneurs. The applicants selected to receive the $200,000 in total funding are Civic Dinners, The Showcase Group, Brown Toy Box, and SwemKids (The William Pleshette Company). All four of the entrepreneurs leading these organizations are recent graduates of CCI’s Civic Innovation Residency program, a one-year intensive leadership, business development, and coaching program for civic entrepreneurs in the greater Atlanta-area that was sponsored by the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation. CCI also provided deal sourcing, underwriting, mentorship, and programmatic support, with loan servicing and back office support provided by Invest Atlanta.

“These civic problem solvers represent the greatest assets of our economy,” said Rohit Malhotra, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Civic Innovation. “Each of their businesses exists to solve a specific systemic challenge, and their success will create ripple effects for generations. Civic Entrepreneurship is in Atlanta’s DNA. We’re just shining a light on the people who are on the ground, doing the work.”

The 2019 recipients are:

  • Jenn Graham | Civic Dinners aims to help create a more inclusive world where everyone feels invited and engaged in co-creating a better future by bringing people together over food for conversations that matter.
  • John Kennebrew | The Showcase Group works to strengthen justice-involved youth and families through psychological and personal development services inside and out of juvenile detention centers. Showcase Group provides support to incarcerated youth and their families by implementing psychosocial services such as advocacy and family and individual therapy by trained professionals.
  • Terri Nichelle-Bradley | Brown Toy Box produces children’s products and exposure experiences designed to encourage and prepare black children to pursue interests and careers in STEAM.
  • Trish Miller | SwemKids (The William Pleshette Company) is a 501(c)(3) school-based program that teaches children introductory swimming lessons and water safety skills as a part of their school’s curriculum. The William Pleshette Company, Swem Kids’ for-profit entity, is designing and testing a fully waterproof swimming cap to keep thick and curly hair dry in the water and address a cultural obstacle to swimming.

“This contribution is really going to take The Showcase Group to the next level,” said John Kennebrew, Executive Director and Founder of The Showcase Group. “We’ve grown from working with two youth out of the detention center to working with one hundred youth this year. Now, we’re able to put a Program Director in place to manage the logistics of working with the clinical social workers, advocates, and other community members who help to strengthen the youth we work with. It’s a great relief to now have someone who can manage the day to day relationships, while I can focus on taking the organization to the next level.”

Now in its third year of operation, the Civic Impact Loan Fund has provided $455,000 to a diverse group of early-stage businesses in many different impact areas, including community development, the arts, wellness, and education.

Originally posted on

September 17, 2019

The U.S. is struggling with mounting social issues, such as the growing wealth gap and an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness. To combat these problems, foundation leaders and trustees throughout the country are looking for new investment opportunities that yield both social and financial return. The potential of this impact is enormous, as over 86,000 U.S. foundations currently possess $890 billion in assets.

Private foundations are ideally suited to drive social change through “mission-aligned” or “impact” investments. Such investments, such as Ford’s $1 billion committment in 2017, are on the rise. Foundations such as The Patricia Kind Family Foundation in Pennsylvania have even mission-aligned 100% of their endowment portfolios.

Foundations have powerful potential, not only for their experience with initiating social impact, but also because they possess more risk-tolerant capital than most other investors. By making initial investments of patient capital, foundations can de-risk opportunities for private and government investors with even greater resources. By assuming this initial risk, foundations can onboard other more risk-averse investors to make meaningful, measurable impact on issues they care about.

Forbes Nonprofit Council member Amelia Nickerson is Vice President of Development and Community Relations at First Step Staffing, an alternative staffing organization employing men and women experiencing homelessness. Founded in Atlanta in 2007, First Step is one of the first workforce development organizations to use impact and mission-related investment dollars to support its growth. Nickerson attributes First Step’s success to those early lenders who were willing to assume some risk to support social good. “With that success, we have been invited to bring the model to two additional cities, allowing us to continue expanding our impact and directly hire more men and women with barriers to employment,” she says.

First Step epitomizes the financial return that can accompany social change. In 2015, the organization purchased an existing for-profit staffing agency and converted it into a social enterprise with a mission-driven employment strategy. The same acquisition strategy allowed First Step to open a Philadelphia location, with a third acquisition underway. “Both opportunities were nearly 100% debt financed with impact investment dollars,” Nickerson says. “This model has allowed First Step to grow from 100 employees working each week and $2 million in revenue, to nearly 1,800 employees working weekly and a projected $42 million in revenue in 2019.”

According to Nickerson, First Step is now nearly 95% self-sustaining, relying on limited philanthropic dollars to support services like additional job coaching and transportation for clients, which helps increase job placement and retention rates. “In addition to providing jobs to those otherwise disenfranchised from the workforce, First Step is able to save the community millions of dollars each year,” she says. As the leader of the organization’s traditional fundraising efforts, Nickerson hopes to see an even greater increase in social impact investing, which she believes will be the driving force for expansion into more U.S. cities within the next five years.

Nickerson says impact investments from the foundation community will continue to fund new and diverse projects – from large affordable housing developments to research on environmental sustainability – throughout the country. She says the ensuing benefits to communities could be life-changing for many Americans. For example, First Step has been able to translate over $10 million in loans from community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and private foundations into more than $34 million in annual wages for the individuals it employs. “To fund this level of dramatic growth with traditional grant dollars would have taken years; however, by partnering with lenders and foundations in this way, we are able to move much faster,” she says.

Nickerson advises nonprofit leaders interested in attracting impact investments to begin talking with local foundations that are already doing mission-aligned investing about their current and future goals. For those whose communities are not yet active in the impact investment sector, she recommends initiating a conversation with foundation leaders and community experts about the potential risks and societal rewards of funding community initiatives with impact investments. “Review your current programs to understand the potential for scale and what collateral would be necessary to secure these types of loans,” she says.

Ultimately, Nickerson emphasizes the enormous potential of billions of untapped U.S. foundation dollars: “To drive long-lasting positive change in our society, philanthropic leaders need to begin looking at their entire portfolio of potential impact dollars. Nonprofit leaders and foundations need to work in partnership to better understand the risks and rewards of such investments, removing any concerns or perceived barriers that may exist based off more traditional investment strategies. The promise of the good work that can be accomplished and the transformational opportunities at hand are well worth the work.”