Foundations and community lenders scaling outcomes through capital

October 9, 2019

Last week, the Georgia Social Impact Collaborative (GSIC) hosted leaders from nearly 40 GA-based foundations and 15 community development financial institutions (CDFIs) to gain insights on how to advance their common goals around social outcomes. After an immersive session to understand how CDFIs drive impact in Georgia, the event – Leveraging CDFIs for Mission – was highlighted by a series of breakout groups, each focused on ways to enhance sustainable solutions through collaborative investment. The small group settings provided a unique opportunity to workshop specific initiatives that need greater levels of capital to truly scale.

“Foundations and CDFIs often work on very similar issues in the same communities, yet investment capital for both capacity and projects has always move slow in Georgia. This is changing quickly as these discussions proved,” said Sam Moss, chair of GSIC and senior director of finance at the Cousins Foundation. “Foundations are realizing the incredible leverage they can gain by using their balance sheet, as well as their grant dollars, to drive impact through community development lenders.”

CDFIs, usually nonprofits, are financial intermediaries that are certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury, which they can then apply to for grants and low-cost capital for purposes of providing cost-effective, flexible financing in underinvested communities, which are often ignored by commercial banks and other mainstream financial institutions. CDFIs are adept at underwriting loans, and providing technical support to ensure repayment, for both low-income and low-wealth individuals and businesses.

While CDFIs receive some federal support, their primary source of capital is from larger commercial banks, which rely on CDFIs to satisfy regulatory commitments to provide loans to low income populations. A rapidly growing and very positive trend since the great recession is for foundations and other place-based funders to support CDFIs through both grants and low-cost loans (often with program-related investments, PRIs). In this way, local funders can work closely with CDFIs on the unique issues and challenges of communities of common concern. PRIs, grants and other forms of local assistance allow CDFIs to provide even more advantageous terms on loans and valuable technical assistance to individuals and businesses with the greatest needs.

Leveraging CDFIs for Mission featured three executives with considerable experience working with CDFIs:

  • Sameera Fazili, director of engagement at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, opened the program with a landscape analysis of community development investment in the South.
  • Sandra Mikush, former deputy director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, which has already aligned its assets 100% with impact, shared the opportunities and challenges they found in realigning their investment strategy.
  • Courtney Smith, senior vice present at PNC and experienced board member and investor in several CDFIs, gave an overview of the CDFIs working in Georgia and their specific competencies.

The program concluded with foundation and CDFI leaders meeting in small groups to workshop specific place-based issues, including affordable homeownership, financial inclusion, rural economic development, minority-owned businesses and social entrepreneurship and transit-oriented development of affordable housing. Post-event, GSIC is committed to continuing to provide connections and learning opportunities to impact investors and social enterprises of all types throughout Georgia.

###

Media contact: Jonny Newburgh, [email protected]

Notes from the event’s breakout session: Leveraging CDFIs for Mission – Breakout Notes

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 www.valor.vc.

###

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 www.valor.vc

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 Forbes.com

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.”

August 29, 2019

By: Pavan Iyer, founder of eightvillage and Backyard ATL

Backyard ATL is an affordable housing initiative that provides Atlanta homeowners with backyard space a platform to earn additional income with their property. We are a turnkey solution that takes care of the design, financing and construction of a rental unit in a homeowner’s backyard. A homeowner signs a lease agreement for Backyard ATL to construct an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU). After building and renting out the unit, the homeowner receives a percentage of the revenue as part of the land lease agreement while we continue to manage the rental.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*interior image from AIR Serenbe artist homes

The concept seeks to create a mechanism for homeowner preservation. The homeowner receives a new income stream that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. Homeowners can use this passive income to offset various rising costs from gentrification to preserve their existing homeownership. Backyard ATL’s scalability tangibly impacts density, providing housing choice via incremental, scattered development. This found density and housing choice helps keep market rates in neighborhoods down while integrating new residents into the community.

We are currently in a pilot phase. Generator, Ryan Gravel’s non-profit dedicated to the catalyzation of innovative ideas for cities, helped spark the beginnings of our pilot by connecting us to communities where the issues and opportunities related to Backyard ATL were most relevant. From that we were able to secure a partnership with Focused Community Strategies (FCS), a non-profit community developer in South Atlanta, to build out our program in their community. FCS helped us secure contracts to develop three sites in the South Atlanta neighborhood, which is in an early phase of gentrification and is presently home to a predominantly African-American working-class community. We have also obtained preliminary commitments from investors willing to fund the construction of the pilot projects. Our customers are proud to participate because it helps with their own housing and financial security and adds an affordable unit that integrates new residents into the community while preserving the existing character of the neighborhood.

Backyard ATL is a capital intensive business, and the model inherently has to be a for-profit, social venture. The reasons being that:

1) The market for our business only exists if we do our best to benefit the homeowner’s interests (i.e. homeowner preservation/cutting homeowner costs of living through passive income), and because our market is mostly lower-middle income homeowners, we have to be intentional to create a business model that benefits homeowners.

2) For this to be impactful on any sort of meaningful level socially, we need scale. Philanthropy is not an option as it does not offer a mechanism to scale the operations of this business. A for-profit model allows for the potential scale of Backyard ATL through access to a larger pool of capital. Ideally, the scale results in attracting political capital, resulting in philanthropic capital to layer our investment pool.

3) The idea for the business was conceived out of a social need. Affordable housing is a large issue across all cities, and not many solutions are attempting to create a model that hits on “gentrification without displacement” like we are.

The challenge to all this is that this type of capital has been very difficult to find, especially in the fiscally conservative South. For Backyard ATL to be successful, there needs to be some sort of financial value put into the social value that we are generating. In other words, investors can take a reduced return with the knowledge that for each basis point they give up, they can create that much more affordable housing and reduce the socioeconomic and racial gap that much more.

Most investors’ expectations are that it is achievable to create the same meaningful social impact while maintaining traditional returns, which is practically and unfortunately untenable.

If Backyard ATL scales, we can help to keep thousands of low-middle income homeowners in place while accommodating Atlanta’s skyrocketing population growth. However, it can’t scale unless the social value of what we are bringing is not only accepted but also embraced by its investors. If we hope to provide market solutions that are actually solving social issues, we will need to find capital that is more conscience of the realities of the problems we are trying to solve.

 

Profile Summary:

  • Entrepreneur Name: Jack Griffin
  • Venture Name: FoodFinder
  • Impact Focus Area(s): Food Insecurity
  • Business Stage (Ideation, Startup, Early, Later, Mature): Early
  • Year Venture Established: 2014
  • Business Type: Nonprofit

The Issue

Social entrepreneurship is about solving problems. Tell us about the challenge you are focused on addressing and why it is critical that we make progress.

“FoodFinder addresses the massive issue of childhood hunger in America and the information gap that exists between families looking for free food assistance and the providers of that assistance. Inaccurate information found online and the stigma surrounding poverty are the two greatest obstacles to learning about and receiving help from a food pantry or similar program. Despite how pervasive food insecurity is in the United States, very little has been done to modernize or streamline efforts to feed the 40 million people who are food insecure. This is especially true for the local pantries and shelters that are on the front lines of feeding those in need – not all of them have an online presence. While websites that compile information on these free food providers exist, they often include incomplete or outdated information that offers little value to a person looking for a place where they can receive food. We’re already at full employment in America, so if we want to move the needle on hunger, we’re going to need bigger and more innovative solutions so that families can always put food on the table.”

Your Journey

Entrepreneurship is a journey that requires connections and support from a wide array of stakeholders across the ecosystem to help successfully identify, start, and grow a social enterprise.

“Coalitions, partnerships, and collaborative efforts have propelled my work to where it is today. The education system is arguably our biggest ally since public schools house food insecure students, play a tremendous role in supporting those students through breakfast and free/reduced lunch, and are home to the first responders to hunger that FoodFinder also wants to reach. Community-building for FoodFinder can enable possibilities that are impossible for us to achieve by ourselves. Partnerships can result in things like our efforts with the Georgia Department of Education who has contacted every teacher and administrator of every public school in the state with information and a call to action regarding FoodFinder – 8 times now. Especially in the nonprofit world, competition and cynicism can creep into those trying to help others. But we’re all trying to help the same people, so that’s why I’m excited for FoodFinder’s ability to help everyone from individuals to state/federal entities.”  

Why Georgia’s Social Impact Ecosystem Matters

Being an entrepreneur is hard and it’s even more challenging when you are a social entrepreneur as your business model and / or structure doesn’t follow the same path as traditional start-ups.

“FoodFinder is extremely grateful to be part of a new generation of social enterprises, one that innovates and develops new ways to help others without ever forgetting why we do it. For us, we don’t see being a highly efficient and effective startup as being mutually exclusive with being a kind, caring, and compassionate nonprofit. We strive to be both. As a result, our revenue mix should reflect that philosophy by having varied sources of income, ranging from large institutional partners like corporate foundations to unique opportunities for earned revenue where we can monetize our services while still fulfilling our mission. We’ll always have to fundraise. We’ll always have to raise more awareness of our work. But we’ll never get tired of doing so because we know better than anyone how much of a transformative impact our work can have.”

Interested in learning more about FoodFinder, please visit:

  • Instagram: @foodfinderus
  • Twitter: @FoodFinderUS
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FoodFinderUS/ 
  • Website: https://foodfinder.us/ 
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/10326829/admin/

Profile Summary:

  • Entrepreneur Name: Nedra Deadwyler
  • Venture Name: Civil Bikes
  • Impact Focus Area(s): Historic Preservation, Community Identity, Culture Work
  • Business Stage (Ideation, Startup, Early, Later, Mature): Early
  • Year Venture Established: 2013 / 2014
  • Business Type: Social Impact / LLC

The Issue

Social entrepreneurship is about solving problems. Tell us about the challenge you are focused on addressing and why it is critical that we make progress.

“Civil Bikes brings attention to unseen and under-recognized stories of Atlanta. We emphasize the importance of having someone who resembles or is from that particular community. We want to be as authentic as possible. This allows for those outside (and inside) to gain a deeper understanding of the lived experiences and have a nuanced view of the history. The Guide serves as a literal guide through the highs and lows of the historical narrative. The 1.5 to 2 hours is not enough time to tell the full story, so we pair the history up to sites that are critical to the telling of the narrative that we may have lost to demolition, at risk of losing because of neglect, or it has been adapted to some other use and we have no idea what purpose it once served. In a changing city, remembering is a challenge because sometimes people prefer to forget and move on.” 

Your Journey

Entrepreneurship is a journey that requires connections and support from a wide array of stakeholders across the ecosystem to help successfully identify, start, and grow a social enterprise.

“My entrance into culture work came in an unassuming way and has multiple threads. It is an extension of my love of riding a bicycle and having the thought while touring Alabama- a largely rural state- that exploring history on a bicycle would be more interesting than riding in the back of a car! Another thread is while growing up, I constantly asked questions to understand why issues like racism, genderism, and nationalism existed, not using those words of course, but sought to understand these things that did not align with my beliefs or what my parents and family taught me. I became a social worker, lived in other cities and the practice of listening, examining society and embracing cultures were choices I sought in my professional, religious, and social life. The final thread was coming to terms with the fact that relationship and lifestyle choices were not enough to create equity for myself and others, that goodwill didn’t go far and wide. I was compelled to take action and find more intentional ways to address issues that are of concern and work to impact society. Today, I believe that the only way to have a future is to seek a just society.”

Why Georgia’s Social Impact Ecosystem Matters

Being an entrepreneur is hard and it’s even more challenging when you are a social entrepreneur as your business model and / or structure doesn’t follow the same path as traditional start-ups.

“There are entrepreneurs on both sides of my family and both are traditional in structure. I come from a non-profit/service mindset, and learning how to create a sustainable business model is one of my biggest challenges. Civil Bikes’ current business model takes money from admissions tickets and reinvests those profits into locally-owned businesses, cultural and historical spaces and artists, which changes our profit margins. 

Additionally, this direct exchange into the tour community supports spaces at-risk of being gentrified, harkens use to the identity and character of the neighborhoods, and are either Black, women, immigrant, or LGBTQAI/ Queer-owned. Other sources of revenue are a list of services: tours for our audiences, developing tours as an economic development tool for groups (municipalities, cultural groups, businesses, etc.), sponsorships and grants, and merchandise. 

Finally, I am thankful to my last employer for not seeing any conflict with me running Civil Bikes and appreciate Clay, my family, a few close friends and now my CCI [Center for Civic Innovation] family for that felt and necessary emotional, hands-on, and technical support. I’ve experienced burnout before and thankfully, it is not on the horizon!”

Interested in learning more about Civil Bikes, please visit:

  • Instagram: @civil_bikes
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/civilbikestours/ 
  • Website: https://civilbikes.com/
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nedra-deadwyler-7a793122/ 

Profile Summary:

  • Entrepreneur Name: Erin Croom
  • Venture Name: Small Bites Adventure Club
  • Impact Focus Area(s): Health & Wellness, Food
  • Business Stage (Ideation, Startup, Early, Later, Mature): Startup
  • Year Venture Established: 2018
  • Business Type: For-Profit Social Enterprise
  • Headquarters: Atlanta, Georgia

The Issue

Social entrepreneurship is about solving problems. Tell us about the challenge you are focused on addressing and why it is critical that we make progress.

“Nine out of ten U.S. children aren’t eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Many children go days without eating a single vegetable. This is critical because we know that young children with poor eating habits are on the road to continued poor nutrition into adulthood, making them susceptible to health-related diseases (e.g. obesity, heart disease, hypertension, cancer).

Teaching children about healthy eating should be fun, effective and easy for educators– and that is what Small Bites Adventure Club is focused on doing.

The mission of Small Bites Adventure Club is to help children discover, love and eat their vegetables. Our product, Taste Test Box, is a subscription farm-to-table cooking kit delivered directly to school classrooms and after school programs. The Taste Test Boxes include all of the fresh, pre-measured fresh ingredients and step-by-step picture instructions for students to create and try a healthy, delicious recipe. The ingredients are sourced from local, sustainable farmers.

We ship kits to after school clubs, preschool programs, summer camps and K-12th grade schools. We’ve reached over 8,000 students in the last year in Georgia – that’s over 30,000 bites of fruits and veggies!”

Your Journey

Entrepreneurship is a journey that requires connections and support from a wide array of stakeholders across the ecosystem to help successfully identify, start, and grow a social enterprise.

“I draw a lot of support from three key communities: the farm to school community, the public health community and the social impact community.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve been obsessed with the field of farm to school – getting kids to develop a healthy relationship with good food and the farmers that grow it. I wrote my graduate thesis on it, and spent a decade working with Georgia Organics to establish the state’s farm to school programming. Through this work, I have gotten to know the local food, nutrition and agricultural players in business, school districts,  academic institutions, government agencies, schools and nonprofits. It’s a very tight-knit and supportive community, and I know someone in every state doing great work.

In 2017, I worked out my idea to develop the Taste Test Box kit through a fellowship with Center for Civic Innovation. I wanted to figure out how to leverage technology and the meal kit industry to make it easier for teachers to lead hands-on cooking and nutrition education with their students — and support local farmers.  

Last year, I gave a pitch on the Taste Test Box concept and received our first order that very night. PeachDish was immediately signed on as our fulfillment partner, and we were off to the races!  

Since then, I’ve sent kits to almost everyone that I have ever worked with (teachers, farmers, school nutrition and public health and nonprofit leaders) to get their feedback, and we have made several good adjustments.

Also, I am always looking to the brilliant folks at CDC, academic institutions, and other public health agencies who are figuring out how to move the needle on child nutrition and physical health. It’s very important to me that our product be an effective tool to ultimately increase student preference and consumption of fruits and veggies.

Earlier this year, I participated in the James Beard Association Owning It workshop and pitch. It was incredibly rewarding to spend time with other women food business owners.”

Why Georgia’s Social Impact Ecosystem Matters

Being an entrepreneur is hard and it’s even more challenging when you are a social entrepreneur as your business model and / or structure doesn’t follow the same path as traditional start-ups.

“A lot of people are surprised that we are a for-profit company, since we have what seems to be a non-profit mission: helping children discover, love and eat their fruits and vegetables. I believe that there is and should be space for companies to address critical public health issues, and the social impact community makes this possible.

There are many companies out there that are marketing stuff to supposedly make us healthy or lose weight. The wellness industry is a $4.2 trillion industry – and most of it has nothing to do with actual health. (Gwyneth Paltrow will sell you a $66 egg, if you don’t believe me).  

When I saw that, I wanted to create a company that addressed a real public health problem while selling a product that focused on a real solution. On top of that, this work allows us to support and promote some amazing local farmers.”

Interested in learning more about Small Bites Adventure Club, please visit:

  • Instagram: @smallbitesclub
  • Facebook: @smallbitesclub
  • Website: www.smallbites.club (check back in the fall for website launch)
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/erin-croom-0a50736/ 

Profile Summary:

  • Entrepreneur Name: Terri-Nichelle Bradley
  • Venture Name: Brown Toy Box
  • Impact Focus Area(s): Education, Black Children, STE(A)M, Cultural Representation
  • Business Stage (Ideation, Startup, Early, Later, Mature): Startup
  • Year Venture Established: 2018
  • Business Type: For-Profit Social Enterprise
  • Headquarters: Atlanta, Georgia

The Issue

Social entrepreneurship is about solving problems. Tell us about the challenge you are focused on addressing and why it is critical that we make progress.

“The projected net worth for Blacks in 2053 is $0. That is not for you and for me but that is for the children we are creating solutions for today. Brown Toy Box produces STEAM-themed subscription boxes, children’s products and in-class experiences all designed to not only change the way Black children see themselves and what is possible for their futures, but to also disrupt, dismantle and destroy that abysmal forecast.

We are working to create a new narrative through early exposure, positive cultural representation, and access. We are using all the data we have around the science of play to counteract a systemic social crisis.”

Your Journey

Entrepreneurship is a journey that requires connections and support from a wide array of stakeholders across the ecosystem to help successfully identify, start, and grow a social enterprise.

“My journey has been a long one with a lot of significant challenges. Creating this business has been and continues to be an uphill battle, but I know that if it were easy everyone would do it. In fact, when I first launched as a direct-to-consumer subscription box, I knew I was only reaching a portion of my market- affluent Black moms who understood the importance of preparing their children to explore STEM. The problem was, when I created this business, I knew that I wanted to touch high-potential children born into in high-poverty communities. Until I figured out a way to do this, spiritually the work felt a bit disconnected. So, it really wasn’t until we expanded our business model from solely being direct-to-consumer to also working with corporate partners to get our products into the hands of young scholars in Title 1 schools that we started seeing real traction and I felt like I was really working in my mission.

One of the things that makes Atlanta so special is that once I was clear on what Brown Toy Box was going to be and how we were going to implement our solution, it feels as though Atlanta just rallied behind me in a lot of ways. I was selected as a Center for Civic Innovation Fellow, then a Civic Innovation resident funded by The Sara Blakely Foundation, and finally, I was chosen to be a part of the City of Atlanta’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. Because my work is so centered in improving the lives and futures of Black children, I am excited to be selected as one of the companies asked to join the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Founding 100, which starts this month. Emory has also been supportive in many ways. Just last month, I received a small but meaningful investment from Emory Impact Investment Group. The school’s social impact students worked with me to create an impact measurement tool, because one of the most important aspects of my work’s success is to collect data and quantify impact.”

Why Georgia’s Social Impact Ecosystem Matters

Being an entrepreneur is hard and it’s even more challenging when you are a social entrepreneur as your business model and / or structure doesn’t follow the same path as traditional start-ups.

“What is interesting about the social impact space is people still assume that if you are running a mission-driven business that you should be nonprofit. I have always been clear that while I support and respect so many nonprofits both locally and nationally, I didn’t want to structure my business that way. My focus is growing a sustainable and impactful business with capacity to create jobs while procuring from black and brown makers, toy designers, and self-published authors for our boxes. The more we can grow and scale, the more impact we can make. Therefore, for me, the work that folks like Conscious Capitalism, Center for Civic Innovation and others are doing around amplifying the work of for-profit social enterprises is important.

The elephant in the room is that as a Black female founder and CEO it is still difficult to gain access to the room. Luckily for me, I have worked hard to build my network, but I am very clear that I still don’t have access to all the rooms that need to hear about the work and impact of the work we are doing with Brown Toy Box. I, along with others on the front lines actually doing the work, still need to be endorsed by Atlanta’s kingmakers and that is a very small and exclusive group of who’s who. That needs to change and there needs to be more space at the table- to be clearer- more Black business social impact business leaders need to have unfiltered access to the room. I think this will do a lot to open pathways to funding, more significant corporate sponsorships, and deeper understanding.

The current conversation around innovation in Georgia is squarely centered on tech. The truth is that the social impact space is not only driving innovation in key areas such as education, sustainability, health, food justice and public health, but it is the impact and outcomes from this work that will ultimately make communities more livable, attractive to prospective companies, and will play a major role in the economic development of our state.”

Interested in learning more about Brown Toy Box, please visit:

Profile Summary:

The Issue

Social entrepreneurship is about solving problems. Tell us about the challenge you are focused on addressing and why it is critical that we make progress.

We seek to close capital gaps in metro Atlanta on two levels: 1) Strategically investing capital through the GoATL Fund; and 2) Ecosystem development through the Georgia Social Impact Collaborative

The GoATL Fund was established as the Community Foundation’s first immersion into the impact investing space. The fund provides cost-effective loan capital to address critical needs in the community, from healthy, safe housing for every family to new schools for 21st century learners and more equitable access to living-wage careers. GoATL is based on the idea that strategically invested capital can achieve both a positive social impact and a financial return. Our investments focus on the same five Impact Areas that the Foundation supports through grants and other services: Arts, Community Development, Education, Nonprofit Effectiveness, and Well-being. These five areas cover a diverse array of impacts, but our investments all seek to minimize the opportunity gap. That gap could be in Education, the quality of schooling available in one zip code versus another; GoATL invests in opportunities to close that gap. It could be in access to healthy food, so GoATL would invest in creative solutions to increase the availability of healthy food in areas with limited access. Wherever a gap exists, we’re determined to find creative solutions to minimize, if not close, it.

The Georgia Social Impact Collaborative (GSIC) was established to connect and educate stakeholders in order to advance impact investing in Georgia. As a founding member and investor in GSIC, we seek to provide opportunities for social entrepreneurs, enablers, intermediaries, and investors to connect. We develop programs to learn about progressive financing mechanisms. Ultimately, we hope to expand and cultivate the pipeline of investable opportunities for all types of investors and accelerate the deployment of capital from private sector, philanthropic and public sources.

Your Journey

Entrepreneurship is a journey that requires connections and support from a wide array of stakeholders across the ecosystem to help successfully identify, start, and grow a social enterprise.

In 2015-16, while working with a team at Points of Light to grow their Civic Accelerator, a social venture accelerator, we developed an impact fund to make seed-level debt and equity investments in graduates from around the US. As I learned more about the practice, it became very apparent that the market for impact investing in Georgia was way behind and much less developed than other regions of the country. While attending the Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference in 2016 with others from Atlanta, we began to talk about ways to foster a more robust impact capital market in our home state. So, with a group of about a dozen others that recognized the same issue, we established the Georgia Social Impact Collaborative to help build the ecosystem for impacting investing in Georgia (more below).

Soon after, in late 2016, I began working with the leadership team of the Community Foundation on their hopes to start Atlanta’s first impact fund that would connect Foundation assets and donors with place-based investments. After joining the Foundation in January 2017, I began researching the field by reaching out to other fund managers and impact investors from around the country about their experiences and investment philosophies. As plans developed, the GoATL Fund concept took shape and soon after, with a $10 million allocation from the Foundation, we established GoATL as a diversified debt fund to make strategic investments to sustain and scale social solutions in metro Atlanta. The Fund made its first investment to Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership in early 2018, and as of year-end, we had deployed just over $3M to support diverse impacts, such as affordable housing, education, job creation and the arts. With demand growing throughout the region for flexibly, cost-effective impact capital, our GoATL team expects to deploy much the remaining $10 million in 2019.

In all of these endeavors, having the assistance and advice of colleagues, mentors and other business and philanthropic professionals has been absolutely critical. At any level, whether supporting social ventures, building an impact fund or developing an ecosystem, the contributions of many dedicated friends and associates has not only been invaluable to the process but highly rewarding personally.

GSIC and the Map

Back to supporting the ecosystem, the mission of the Georgia Social Impact Collaborative (GSIC) is to accelerate the growth of impact investing in Georgia. Over the past 18 months, GSIC’s dozen founders, advisors and over 30 investment partners have engaged hundreds of other investors, nonprofits, social entrepreneurs and individuals who care about scaling social impact through leveraging creative capital. The result of this work is the Map, an interactive resource designed to educate and connect stakeholders interested in impact investing. For more info, see www.GaSocialImpact.com and the Summary Report from phase 1 of the Map.

From your perspective, why do we need to develop Georgia’s Social Impact Ecosystem and how can the Map help with that?

We find that a number of organizations – foundations, banks and corporate philanthropy, governments, and private investors – are either making an occasional impact investment or considering one. However, these instances are fragmented and few have a strategy or sustained initiative to deploy impact capital. We believe investors and investees of all types, and those entities that support them, need greater coordination, connection and education about how and when to use impact capital. So, if we can build a more sophisticated and cohesive ecosystem around impact investing, more investors will be willing to provide the capital necessary for social ventures to thrive. The Map seeks to provide some degree of sophistication; it is essentially a platform to connect and educate stakeholders in the market, to benefit outcomes through investing in promising social entrepreneurs and nonprofits. But the Map is just a tool; we need leaders and innovators to step up and put capital to risk for better outcomes.  The GoATL Fund is an example of putting capital to work for social impact, yet it’s only a drop in the bucket compared to demand in our market for patient, impact-minded capital.

Interested in learning more about GSIC or GoATL, please visit: