By: Nathan Stuck

January 3, 2020

It’s 2020 and times have changed in the business world. More and more every day, becoming the gold standard of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is taking on a bigger role in C-Suite conversations.

No longer does the economic philosophy of Milton Friedman – to serve fiscal shareholders above all else – dominate the landscape. Customers and employees are demanding that the corporate world serve all stakeholders, including their employees, communities, and the environment. The number of companies listening is increasing. They have begun incorporating CSR initiatives into their day-to-day business operations. But with everyone doing it, how can you make your company stand out and work towards becoming a “gold standard of CSR?”

The answer is simple, join Ad Victoriam Solutions, Goodr Co., Decisely, Rubicon Global, and 11 other Georgia based companies and have your company certified as a B Corp.

B Corps Defined

B Corps are for-profit businesses that have a proven (and certified) commitment to serving all stakeholders. They use business as a force for good, ensuring fair pay and benefits to a diverse and inclusive workforce. They also promise to be good stewards of the environment. That means they are actively serving in their communities, and believing purpose and profit can harmoniously coexist.

However, the process isn’t easy. But as the saying goes, “if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it.” But it is worth going after and here’s why: 

1. The Gold Standard of CSR: A True Differentiator

In a workforce and consumer base increasingly dominated by Millennials and Gen Z, people are demanding more than just profit from the companies they buy from and work for. Consumers and potential employees are more likely to sniff out blatant “greenwashing.” Defined by Investopedia, “greenwashing” is “an attempt to capitalize on the growing demand for products that are environmentally sound.” Simply put, it is companies claiming “they are more natural, healthier, free of chemicals, recyclable, or less wasteful of natural resources,” with no real evidence to back up their claims. 

But with B Corps, the research and investigation into the legitimacy of a company’s claims have already been performed. After the company completes the B Impact Assessment (BIA), on which a company must score 80 out of a possible 200 points, B Lab, the nonprofit accreditation body that certifies B Corps, performs an audit of a company. The handbook and its policies are reviewed, numbers are verified, and an audit is performed. Succinctly put, B Corp certification is to for-profit business as Fair-Trade is to coffee or certified organic is to milk. The B logo is seen as a stamp of legitimacy on your CSR efforts.

2. Raising Capital

An often overlooked feature of B Corp certification is the ability to seek out investments in your business. According to Forbes, “The Global Impact Investing Network’s most recent estimate for the minimum size of the impact investment market doubled to $228 billion in assets under management, up from $114 billion in 2017.” More and more investors are looking to diversify their portfolios beyond industry. They want to include companies with environmental and social goals, following global standards like the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

As investors scramble to find investment opportunities that align with their personal values, “B Corps may attract capital better than non-b-businesses,” according to an article in Fast Company. In the article, Abi Barnes, the author of “An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Going B,” published by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, alluded to the B Corps’ ability to differentiate themselves to attract these investments. He stated that “in an era of ‘greenwashing’ and misleading labels, certified B Corporations and benefit corporations help consumers identify trustworthy companies.”

3. Hiring the Best Candidates

While often labeled as the entitled “me” generation (millennials) or as out-of-touch social media junkies (Gen Z), millennials (born between 1980-1994) will make up roughly half of the workforce in 2020. And a staggering 61 million Gen Z’ers have entered the workforce since 2016. To put it rather succinctly, these are, and will continue to be, the majority of your new hires. 

And they care passionately about everything from climate change to human rights to LGBTQ to equality, and the list is endless. More importantly, according to research from Sourcing Journal, a whopping “84% of millennials and a staggering 94% of Gen Z expect companies to address pressing social and environmental issues.” And the efforts have to be sincere, as a massive majority of both groups don’t trust traditional marketing. 

Positioning yourself as a leader in the CSR space signals your authenticity to these companies. As I personally recruit and interview at the University of Georgia, I am astonished at how many candidates approach us and begin the conversation with B Corp related blogs and social media posts they found when planning which companies they wanted to talk to. Our status as a B Corp has definitely helped us recruit top talent from both of these growing generational groups. 

4. Mission Lock

One of the biggest benefits of B Corp certification for a growing company is the ability to lock in your mission. When Ad Victoriam Solutions went through the assessment, we only had eight employees. We had to implement a lot of new policies and practices. More importantly, we had to envision what we wanted our company to look like as it grew. Fast forward three years and we have almost 70 employees and our old vision is our new reality. The mission and purpose are now baked into the DNA of our organization.

When we make strategic decisions, our status as a B Corp influences our direction. Whether it is how we recruit employees to ensure a diverse candidate pool or deciding on whether we want to take on a new client based on their mission and values, our certification weighs heavily on everything we do. And knowing that B Lab requires member companies to re-certify every three years ensures we are always thinking of a decision’s impact on everyone.

The truth is, not just focusing on the bottom line has been good for business. Since Ad Victoriam started the process three years ago, we have doubled our revenue every year.

4. Best Practices, Industry Standards, and Benchmarks for Improvement

An unexpected byproduct of B Corp certification is the inspiration from the B Community to always strive for more. There will always be another B Corp doing more than you for their employees, the environment, or their community. Allowing these companies to inspire you to deepen your commitment opens the door to becoming an even better corporate citizen. Being open to measuring your company’s performance to that of others allows you to identify areas for improvement.

In an interview with Forbes, Barnana CEO Nik Ingersöll stated, “Being a B Corp has solidified our commitment to the way we run our business. They also have an amazing framework that has given us more ideas on how to become even more sustainable. It has given me a path to constant and continued improvement.”

And in an article from the Harvard Business Review, “It Pays to Become a B Corporation,” Richard Stammer, VP of B Corp Cabot Creamery, highlights the use of benchmarking to achieve operational cost savings as well as to recruit and retain employees. Stammer also points to Patagonia, who “report[ed] that certification helps promote and validate its employee-centric culture, which attracts great candidates because of the company’s reputation as a great place to work. Since becoming a B Corp, Patagonia expanded the medical, military, and paid maternity and paternity leave for regular full- and part-time U.S. employees.”

5. Walk the Walk

On top of everything, you are signaling to the marketplace that your mission is sincere and genuine. It helps potential investors, customers, and employees more easily sift through the noise and find companies that truly believe in CSR.

B Corp Certification isn’t a pledge or a commitment to simply do better. It is the etching of your mission and your beliefs in stone. As such, it requires time and commitment to achieving. But in the end, it is worth it.

Curious to Learn More?

In collaboration with B Local Georgia, GSIC will be hosting a celebration of Corporate Social Responsibility in Atlanta, Georgia on March 10, 2020. With a mix of certified B Corps, companies currently taking the assessment, and others redefining the way business gets done. The event will offer a chance to meet leaders in the CSR movement, share ideas and best practices, and get inspired.

By: Aayush Gupta (22C)

December 18, 2019

EIIG has a mission of working with entrepreneurs who have little to no prior business experience and frequently lack the skills necessary to start and grow a company of their own.

The organization provides microloans ranging between $5,000 and $10,000 at low interest rates to entrepreneurs who undergo a rigorous evaluation process conducted by both students and faculty advisors.

Perhaps more critical than the capital, however, are the services that EIIG provides to the entrepreneurs, providing consulting services during the three year loan repayment period. Simply possessing the resources is not enough – it is essential for entrepreneurs to be able to effectively use the capital and resources at hand for the benefit of the business.

When asked about dealing with the challenges and fears of starting a new business from scratch at a recent EIIG panel, Nicole Massiah, founder of Massiah Law & Associates, said that you should be “trusting your gut, and spending time with yourself and realizing whether this is the right thing for you to do.” One must have a deep passion for the business to be able to pursue the highly demanding and often frustrating avenues of success, or it may be difficult to find the motivation to continue.

When talking about his motivations for starting SHWAXX, Kevin Rodgers said that the most important part of his business, for his personal self, was “to serve” the community around him, and focus on the “impact” part of “impact investing.” He aims to reciprocate the support shown to him by society by providing them with products catered to their needs. Improving his products based customer feedback became one of the central pillars of his business model.

Akissi Stokes, founder of WUNDERgrubs, had some profound insight to share with her peer entrepreneurs. “Keep yourself true to what you said the company was going to be.” She further added, “Planning is very important; utilizing the pool of resources, be it capital, people, or having a business plan or marketing strategy, you need to have a plan to refer back to.”

These founders – Akissi, Kevin and Nicole – each faced barriers when starting their companies. But leveraging the ecosystem of Atlanta’s accelerators and the funding EIIG has provided them, they have each built businesses that are creating jobs and giving back to their communities.

Impact investing holds the potential to change thousands of lives. These entrepreneurs show the dedication and passion they have for their cause, and their potential for growth when provided the necessary resources and capital.

This is part two in a series on student-led impact investing. For part one, see Atlanta Entrepreneurs Discuss the Benefits of Impact Investing at Emory University.

# # #

Run by Emory undergraduate students, Emory Impact Investing Group (EIIG) provides microloans and financial consulting services to Atlanta entrepreneurs to unlock the full economic potential of traditionally high poverty areas by increasing the number of successful small businesses. EIIG is currently fundraising $40,000 by December 31; if you’d like to contribute, please visit their website.

By: Davion Ziere

December 2, 2019

For at least 3,000 years, money (including but not limited to coin, shell, paper and digital currency) has dominated how mainstream society measures value. It was originally developed as a tool to simplify the process of trading and assessing the worth of assets, goods and services. Its creation has subsequently accelerated the rate of commerce & human exchange.

In the same breath, money, in and of itself, is nothing… It is not recognized by any universal principle or law of nature, and yet it has grown beyond helping us determine the value of a person or a thing. It has been a key factor for the type of life one can live – a restrictive experience shared by billions of colorful souls across the globe. While few thrive, many strain.

As we approach 2020, we are experiencing the dawn of new economies, the constant displacement and resettling of diverse identities, the decimation of our environments and the expansion of our collective consciousness via the internet and close engagement with ideas, values and energies from around the world.

Given the conditions, this is a good time for us to ask ourselves critical questions about money and our value: Is money a genuine mirror for how much we are worth individually & collectively?


Our Approach at Culturebase to Answering these Questions

At Culturebase, this issue of value is critical to us. We exist to advance socio-economic structures so that all identity groups, especially the marginalized, can actualize our full potential and have healthier, happier lives. The questions that birthed Culturebase were: 1. How do we build towards a world that empowers people to flourish being who they are most authentically? 2. What are valuable assets that nearly any person possesses that we could build around?

We first identified the assets that all people possess some level of: identity, culture, and data. This led us to defining two categories of people to serve first: 1. People who are proud of their culture and how it’s shaped them into who they are (their identity.) 2. People who are passionate about creating culture and how their creations impact and permeate the world around them.

Once we selected these groups, we deliberated on how we could cultivate an economy that accurately reflected the value of their lives and works. Fortunately, we discovered that there were already major existing markets that universally support culture and identity owned by the people producing them: tourism and local cultural consumption; both trillion dollar markets globally.

In order to connect these groups to markets that would support their value, we have created a platform that leverages AI and human curation to enable travelers and local culture seekers to tap directly into the offerings and subcultures of our city’s communities, in the same fashion that Spotify and Apple Music use AI and playlisting to curate music and genres.

We have also positioned ourselves to partner major brands with local brands, creators and small businesses in order to bring more visibility to the value produced within our communities. A great example was our “Brand New Day in the A” event, where we partnered Atlanta Falcons, TESLA and MET ATL with more than 50 local vendors for a 4 hour community activation. 

The result? 1200+ attendees produced over 1000 materials recycled, over 5000 transactions and tens of thousands of dollars driven to small businesses and the local creative community in just one day. 

Since then, we have also partnered with the likes of Google, MINT Gallery, Artpocalypse and more to hold workshops in Atlanta that educate small businesses and creators in Atlanta on how to assess their value, how to maximize their value in business and to legally protect themselves. 

So far, we have impacted over 1500 creators and small businesses in Atlanta. As we roll out our tech in full force, we are growing our reach exponentially in 2020. We have already seen an increase in brands seeking consultation on how to uplift our community’s economies while also activating their products, and look forward to continue bridging this gap.

These are just a couple of the ways we have made a dent thus far on the questions we asked above, and we are excited to share the economic data and community impact as we scale.


If you or a brand you know is looking to make a strong positive impact in communities by helping more diverse groups flourish while also getting your brand activated in authentic ways, contact us for a consultation at: [email protected]

By: Aayush Gupta (22C)

November 26, 2019

“Most people think of entrepreneurs as risk-takers. I was taught that you have gifts, you have talent, so you invest in those,” said Kevin Rodgers, founder of SHWAXX Laboratories.  

On Wednesday, November 13, Emory Impact Investing Group (EIIG) hosted a panel attended by students, faculty, and Atlanta community members, at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.  

The event discussed the challenges and experiences of entrepreneurship, and how impact investing can facilitate the empowerment of small businesses in local communities. Almost 48% of the American workforce is employed by small businesses, accounting for approximately 44% of the American GDP. There is, however, a large gap in the presence of micro-businesses between high-income and low-income areas. The difference can be attributed to the income gap and inequality in the U.S., as corroborated by Goizueta’s very own Professor Peter Roberts’ research.  

EIIG, led and run by undergraduate students, aims to provide microloans to local entrepreneurs who lack access to capital in an effort to help close the micro-business gap by increasing the number of successful small businesses in high-poverty areas. This goal is pursued by providing access to early-stage financing, student consulting, and networks necessary for the sustainable growth of a business. Three of the several entrepreneurs that EIIG works with were featured at this panel: Kevin Rodgers, founder of SHWAXX Laboratories, a company selling hair care products targeted towards people of color, Akissi Stokes, a former Emory graduate (92 Ox, 94C) and founder of WUNDERgrubs, a bakery that sells protein-rich mealworms through traditional snacks (cookies, granola bars, protein powder) to deliver increased nutritional gain to customers, and Nicole Massiah, founder of Massiah Law & Associates, a company providing legal services.  

Also in attendance were representatives from Start:ME and CREATE, two Atlanta-based accelerators that EIIG works with to identify and assist promising entrepreneurs.  

Brian Goebel, Managing Director at Start:ME, extensively discussed the research conducted by Professor Roberts and how it shows the disparity in the presence of microbusinesses between high and low-income neighborhoods. “[There is] no difference in talent, there are amazing entrepreneurs in both low-income and high-income communities. But there is a difference in the ecosystem of support, and on average there are 26% fewer businesses in an underserved, lower-income neighborhood,” Goebel explained.  

More important than just the financial inequalities, however, is the availability of networks that help a business succeed. It is essential to have a system to advise and support an entrepreneur. Start:ME was founded on the principle of “[bringing] knowledge networks and capital together” to reduce this microbusiness gap in Atlanta, the city with the highest level of income inequality in the U.S.  

Jonathan Tescher, Program Manager at CREATE, said that these entrepreneurs have a lot of “common challenges, obstacles, and fears” that they face. CREATE strives to help them overcome these issues with their program, through which they impart knowledge and training to the entrepreneurs to help them tackle the problems facing them. “Most people we work with have no prior business experience,” he said, which means they often lack the skills necessary to start and grow a company of their own.  

Entrepreneurs face many barriers when starting their own businesses. CREATE, Start:ME and EIIG make sure they don’t have to overcome those barriers alone.  

This is part one in a series on student-led impact investing.  For part two, see Emory Impact Investing Group (EIIG) Invests in Atlanta’s Entrepreneurs.

# # #

Run by Emory undergraduate students, Emory Impact Investing Group (EIIG) provides microloans and financial consulting services to Atlanta entrepreneurs to unlock the full economic potential of traditionally high poverty areas by increasing the number of successful small businesses. EIIG is currently fundraising $40,000 by December 31; if you’d like to contribute, please visit their website.

The Civic Impact Awards is an awards ceremony hosted by the Center for Civic Innovation to celebrate leaders and organizations who love Atlanta and are fighting for better policies, stronger civic engagement, and an Atlanta that is built for everyone.

We started this awards ceremony in 2015 to shed light on the work of dedicated and effective leaders who are doin’ the work and to remind people that amazing things are happening in our city every day.

We need your help! We are accepting nominations for the 2019 Civic Impact Awards in the following categories:

Investing in Impact: this award is for a foundation, corporation, or philanthropic organization that invested dollars into a project or program that moved the needle forward on advancing a new or more effective approach to solving a systems-level challenge in Atlanta.

Government Innovation Award: This award is for a government or quasi-government agency that executed a new or more effective program and/or policy to increase public participation or advance a new approach to solving a systems-level challenge in Atlanta.

Community Engagement Award:
 This award is for an organization, formal or informal, that executed a program or service to increase how people are informed and/or engaged in local decision-making.


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Relationships Matter for Diverse-Led Startups & Social Impact Startups: What We Learned By Spinning Up The Intentionally Good Project in 90 Days

October 14, 2019

On May 31st, we received notification that we won a VilCap Community license grant from Village Capital for their accelerator curriculum and data collection tools. On June 13th, Joey Womack presented on creating an “intentional” culture to support diverse changemakers at SOCAP’s Spectrum conference. And on June 24th at 4:32pm, we received an email from Kapor Center saying that we were selected to be one of ten grantees from across the United States, and the only one in the Southeast, to receive a $100K Tech Done Right grant. This is the story of how we launched The Intentionally Good Project, a ground-breaking initiative, against impossible odds over the next 90 days.

The Problem

Research shows that startups that raise venture capital use 40% of the funds for acquiring users and/or customers. In Atlanta, we estimate that our diverse-led startups, defined here as either Black-led, Latinx-led, or women-led, and social impact startups with founders from all backgrounds, typically receive funding two (2) venture investment levels (VIRAL) lower than the level indicated by their progress. For example, while many of their counterparts are raising seed rounds, these startups are still being forced to use personal savings or credit cards. This makes it extremely difficult to get the product ready for broad commercial distribution, talk with large partners, and determine if revenues/costs support positive unit economics, much less see inbound interest from potential acquirers. In short, these startups never get close to reaching their potential.

In 2018, the Kapor Center published The Leaky Tech Pipeline report, a comprehensive framework for understanding and addressing the lack of diversity across the tech ecosystem. Among other things, the report identifies how cumulative economic barriers and biases in entrepreneurship pathways affect the opportunities for diverse entrepreneurs to launch products and companies and invest in revenue-generating and social impact ventures. Chief among the barriers for the aforementioned Atlanta startups is low social capital caused by lack of access to high-powered social networks. Specifically, there is a huge disconnect between diverse-led startups/social impact startups and corporate employees, alumni of prestigious colleges and universities, and the entertainment industry.

Our Solution

We believe that Atlanta has everything needed to solve this problem. However, the startup, corporate, nonprofit, and entertainment ecosystems are highly inefficient relative to helping diverse-led startups and social impact startups. The Intentionally Good Project solves this inefficiency by using a collective impact model that connects these startups to corporations/large companies for short pilots or strategic partnerships, macro and micro-influencers for endorsements or key advisors, and investors where it makes sense.

The Intentionally Good Project is part culture and part program. Womack wrote about building an “intentional” culture in a July LinkedIn post. The design of the program is like a pipeline and divided into five (5) stages that begin every quarter: identifying the top startups in the area and selecting the top 10-12; assessing their readiness for corporations, influencers, and investors; pairing them with accountability mentors to improve their weakest areas over 90 days; introducing them to well-connected people; and starting meetings for pilots, endorsements, and investors.

What Happened In Q3 2019

Well. Everything.

In addition to actually building the parachute after we jumped out of the plane, we identified 150+ startups that fit our criteria and announced at a Georgia Social Impact Collaborative coffee meeting and the State of the Atlanta Black Tech Startup Ecosystem on August 7th that applications were open for the Fall 2019 cohort. Aided by articles from Hypepotamus and Urban Geekz along with sharing by 30+ people on social media and email, 125 startups applied.

Five (5) startups were advanced to Stage 3: Capway, EnrichHER, Goodr, InterAct Lifeline, and Qoins. Twelve startups were selected for Stage 2: Aquagenuity, Citiri, Civic Dinners, Countalytics, Empowered, Hawque, Make Music Count, Partnr, Speakalytics, TenScores, Unboxt, and Uplift.

We also partnered with Venture Atlanta for a dinner that led to eight (8) startups being selected as Showcase companies, and with Moxie for a FutureX lab where several startups secured meetings with Moxie executives as well as their clients. Nine of the applicants were selected for the Revolt Summit Code in Color Pitch Competition with musicbuk winning the competition. 26 of the applicants were selected for a recent Google For Startups Pop-Up where they received intensive mentorship from Google leaders. Startups in the cohort also secured meetings with Combs Enterprises, Porsche, Delta, Mercedes-Benz, and Lightspeed Venture Partners.


Before we make warm introductions in earnest, we host a series of Investor, Corporate, and Influencer Readiness sessions where each startup is paired with an evaluator for a curated 90 minute 1-on-1 conversation using the VIRAL rubric as the framework.

Google served as our host for the Investor Readiness Evaluation session where investors from Loeb.ATL, Shadow Ventures, Atlanta Tech Angels, and more grilled the startups on everything from their team to their plans to scale as well as exit potential.

On Saturday, September 21st, corporate innovators from companies like The Home Depot, NCR, Deloitte, Nine Labs, Twilio, Proctor & Gamble Alumni, and Southern Co. came out to ATDC in Tech Square to determine other large companies’ likely confidence in wanting to run a short-term pilot or create a strategic partnership with the startups.

The Assessment Phase concluded with a trip to the Porsche Experience where local influencers (both corporate and consumer) with experience from the Atlanta Greek Picnic, SalesLoft, Sony Music, Beyond The Game Network, The Garner Circle PR, MailChimp, Target, and Emory University rated the startups on the likelihood that they will be able to attract other influencers to become key advisors or endorsers.

Our work bringing together the ecosystem is already paying dividends. Partnr, a startup that makes it easy for software development teams to track, sync, and get insight into their code quality and project productivity data in one place, has begun discussions for pilots with Delta and Porsche due to connections made in August and September. And this story is not uncommon Take Make Music Count which is working eliminate students math phobia by teaching them how to play popular songs on a piano-based app with direct math lessons. Evaluations revealed a need to improve the founder’s understanding of the market and financials. The founder took the feedback and used it to win the $5,000 Black Founders Exchange Pitch Competition a week later.

Sponsors + Partners

Special thanks to our sponsors The Gathering Spot, Google For Startups, ATDC, Porsche Experience, Venture Atlanta as well as ecosystem partners like Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Social Impact Collaborative, Moxie, UrbanGeekz, Hypepotamus, Engage,, Atlanta Influences Everything, Propellant Media, Butter.ATL, KTC, SOCAP, Startup Atlanta, and Atlanta Black Tech.

What We Learned

Total Applications: 125

  • Self-Identified as Diverse-Led Startups (No Social Impact): 46
  • Self-Identified as Social Impact Startups: 81
  • Self-Identified as Diverse-Led and Social Impact: 68

African/African-American Founder:

  • Applicants: 100
  • We Got Now inaugural Fall 2019 Cohort: 10

Latinx Founder:

  • Applicants: 7
  • We Got Now inaugural Fall 2019 Cohort: 0

Woman on Founding Team

  • Applicants: 54%
  • We Got Now Fall 2019 Cohort: 33%*
  • Global: 47%

*Note: Four (4) women-led startups that would have been in the Fall 2019 cohort were advanced to the next stage. Also, one other woman-led startup deferred to Winter 2020 due to startup-related travel commitments.

Strong-Potential* Applications: 56

  • Self-Identified as Diverse-Led: 25
  • Self-Identified as Social Impact: 8
  • Self-Identified as Diverse-Led and Social Impact: 23

Average Startup VIRAL Self-Assessment Score:* 2.28

Average Startup VIRAL External Assessment Score*: 2.24

VIRAL 3 Progress x Strong-Potential Applications: 29

  • Self-Identified as Diverse-Led Startups: 18
  • Self-Identified as Social Impact Startups: 4
  • Self-Identified as Diverse-Led and Social Impact: 7

Strongest VIRAL Business Areas:

  • Self-Assessment: Problem, Value Proposition, Product
  • External Evaluation: Team, Problem and Product

Weakest VIRAL Business Areas:

  • Self-Assessment: Investor Exit, Scale, Market
  • External Evaluation: Market, Scale, and Investor Exit

Business Areas With Largest Difference Between Startups Self-Assessment & Investor Evaluations

  • Team (-1.83)
  • Market (-1.67)
  • Value Proposition (-1.33)

Percentage of Applicants That Have Raised $ From 

  • Angel Investors: 11%
  • Family & Friends: 11%
  • Accelerators/Fellowship Programs: 10%
  • Business Plan Competitions/Crowd-Funding Campaigns/Other Individuals: 7%
  • Philanthropic Support: 31.3%

Fall 2019 Cohort Customer Relationship Breakdown

  • B2B: 7
  • B2BC: 4
  • B2C: 1

Prior Experience Founding Company

  • Applicants: 67%
  • We Got Now Fall 2019 Cohort: 82%
  • Global: 50%

Been Through an Entrepreneur Support Program

  • Applicants: 50%
  • We Got Now Fall 2019 Cohort: 75%
  • Global: 30%

Have Patents

  • Applicants: 17%
  • We Got Now Fall 2019 Cohort: 17%
  • Global: 12%

Started In Previous 36 Months

  • Applicants: 70%
  • We Got Now Fall 2019 Cohort: 67%
  • Global: 36%

Amount of Money Founders Have Invested in the Startup (Median)

  • Applicants: $8,000
  • We Got Now Fall 2019 Cohort: $45,000
  • Global: $2,000

Desired Financing Over Next 12 Months (Median)

  • Applicants: $500K
  • Cohort: $750K

Desired Financing Over Next 3 Years (Median)

  • Applicants: $2.5M
  • Cohort: $3.5M

Trends and What We Are Observing 

  • Ecosystem building/connecting for diversity and social impact in the startup space is hot as evidenced by the work of the Georgia Social Impact Collaborative, Kapor Center, Village Capital’s VilCap Communities, TechStars Impact, The Gathering Spot, and the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
  • Tech and the creative industries are on a collision course.
  • More diverse and social impact founders are accepting that they’ll be forced to bootstrap as opposed to raising investment capital, and the goal is to become cashflow positive as soon as possible.
  • Building $1 billion companies is no longer the standard. Now, the focus is on getting to $1M in revenue, and then deciding to try to get anywhere from $10M – $30M in revenue.
  • Startups will travel to where the resources (entrepreneur support programs and capital) are located.
  • More startups than expected participated in Y Combinator Startup School.
  • Applicants ranked awareness and credibility as the top benefit for being in an accelerator
  • The cohort ranked gaining access to a group of like-minded entrepreneurs as the top reason for the importance of accelerator benefits


  • The time is now for this initiative.
  • Relationships matter. This all boils down to social networks.
  • The Atlanta Tech Startup Pipeline has leaks AND is backed up. May take a 1-2 years to flow smoothly.
  • Social capital is more expensive than financial capital until about $50,000 (estimate).
  • This framework also works for tech-enabled startups, e-commerce companies, and “main street” businesses.
  • More Atlanta startups have made progress along the VIRAL rubric than we originally thought.
  • The majority of social impact companies can’t get past VIRAL 2 in Investor Exit because there’s little-to-no evidence of their value proposition to acquirers.
  • Many black-led startups can’t get past VIRAL 3 in Investor Exit because serious companies haven’t made serious investments in their industries.
  • Pitch competitions funded by foundations are the primary source of capital
  • Some founders were not able to provide answers during the Evaluation Sessions and the evaluators challenged them to think about aspects of their business that they had not thought of before. The founders are being pushed and stretched to know every aspect of their business – not just the product.
  • Founders have been able to receive many points of feedback instead of just one-off conversations with mentors or advisors. These conversations also lead to relationship building, which is an added benefit of this program. It opens up the chance for the founder to make connections with other founders and advisors to aid in the growth of their company.
  • Fortune 1000 employees, many of whom are on the pathway to qualifying as accredited investors due to income, are engaged in this process. They see the evaluation sessions as a way to learn how to vet startups like seasoned angel investors and venture capitalists.
  • There is a disconnect between non-tech startup professional scene and tech startup scene – especially for African Americans.
  • There is a large opportunity to connect Atlanta startups, especially social impact startups, to non-Atlanta corporations, influencers, investors, and social networks.

What’s Next in Q4

Now that each startup’s three business areas to improve have been identified, the founders will begin working hard to make those areas strengths. We’ll also host four workshops over October and November where the startups will assess and score each other, develop their origin stories, and learn about advanced topics like B2B Sales, designing a pilot with corporations, working with influencers, and more.

In December, we’ll bring back all evaluators, sponsors, partners, mentors, and speakers for a dinner where the startups will present their progress since September. Also, we’ll open applications for the Winter 2020 cohort.

What We Need

We’re proud of how the ecosystem has responded and rallied, but there’s a ton of work to do moving forward:

  • The startups will have specific needs, and will need to access the social networks of corporate employee resource groups, university alumni associations, and professional organizations.
  • Angel investors, venture capitalists, corporate innovators, and influencers to serve as evaluators in January and February for the Winter 2020 cohort.
  • Donors and sponsors y’all.


We’re on to something big here. You can feel it in the air. This is tech done right.

Contributors: Raven Hinson, Brandy Nagel, and Joey Womack

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


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.”