Who Knew We Have A Hotly Bubbling Twin Cities Impact Investing Scene?

ON September 12, 2016

Eighteen months ago, independent financial advisor and Hub member Jina Penn Tracy decided to connect with other experts about aligning mission and values. She asked Danielle Steer, community manager at Impact Hub MSP, to help, and together they created the Hub Impact Investing Community of Practice. They invited active impact investing practitioners to join and the18 of us started meeting monthly chez Hub.

Our  first question—raised by social innovator Jeff Ochs— was how we as a community of practice were going to define impact investing. After months of debate we landed on the World Economic Forum and Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) ’s definition:

    “Impact investing is an investment approach intentionally seeking to create both positive financial return as well as positive social or environmental impact that is actively measured.”

Once we were speaking the same language we were able to determine the purpose of our community of practice: to share information, spread knowledge and mainstream the impact investing ecosystem.  

We knew a lot was going on just in the Twin Cities—not to mention nationally—so we decided to create a map in order to wrap our heads around all of the activity. MCF member and the Bush Foundation’s community innovation director Mandy Ellerton challenged us to think bigger. We agreed and launched the Twin Cities Impact Investing Ecosystem project in three phases:

  • Phase I:  Engage the community and create a map of the impact investing activity. Celebrate our strengths and identify the missing pieces for a thriving ecosystem.
  • Phase II:  Inspire ecosystem participants to dream big. We know what we’ve got, now what do we want this to be?
  • Phase III:  Enough talk already, let’s invest!

The Hub offered to serve as backbone for the project and engaged my company, Cogent Consulting Inc., to lead the effort with the community of practice acting as project advisors.  With Bush’s backing I was able to add capacity and brought brilliant mathematician + visual designer/photographer Alex Hsiao to my firm; he brings cutting edge visual representation talent to this project and everything else we’re doing.

Together with Hub Board of Directors and treasurer Andrea Davila, new Hub Community Coordinator Alexis Yeboah and the Community of Practice, we created the map and held the first-ever convening of the Twin Cities Impact Investing Ecosystem.

On Thursday, June 16, previously isolated innovators working on their own to affect change in their communities came together at the Impact Hub MSP to see where they fit on the brand new ecosystem map.  

I wasn’t sure who would come.  Putting 50 foundations, investors, social entrepreneurs and intermediaries of all kinds (nonprofit, for profit, etc. ) in a room together  was an untested concept.  Most of the time each group gathers separately or work alone: funders with funders, entrepreneurs toiling away on their own and intermediaries trying to bridge the gap.

Would foundation officers participate–they’re busy and impact investing is a new concept to many.  

Could we find enough entrepreneurs who have received impact investments to join us?  

Would the intermediaries—many of whom are competitors—play nice?

With the help of Ryan Kroening, president of Events by LadyK, we created a pitch-free safe space where all were welcome to learn, share and—of course—eat. Amazingly, everyone came, plus five others who didn’t want to miss the gathering.  

Impact investing leaders including Elizabeth McGeveran from The McKnight Foundation said, “Great to see the community coming together at last.”  

Social entrepreneurs such as Damola Ogundipe from Civic Eagle said, “I had no idea there were this many resources out there.”  

Intermediaries such as the Community Reinvestment Fund’s Frank Altman challenged us to think about where grants fit in the ecosystem, as equity investment in nonprofits.

After the presentation, people stayed, engaged with the map, and many even stuck around for the informal lunch at the end. I was particularly pleased that the gathering included a diversity of people from different cultures and communities since impact investing events tend to be pretty monochromatic—much like the traditional financial industry.  

This is what happens when great people come together. What grew out of a question from Hub member Jina Penn Tracy, evolved into a group or people dedicated to the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) of scaling and mainstreaming impact investing in the Twin Cities.

Stay tuned for news about the map and what we’re learning. As we enter into the visioning phase of this work, we want to hear from you. What is your BHAG for impact investing in the Twin Cities?

Tweet me your ideas @susan_hammel.

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What I'm doing now

Top of my mind these days is investing in line with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion values. Many institutions promised bold moves after George Floyd was murdered. Who is following through and doing this well? Racial justice requires new pathways for capital flows. I’m excited to be part of the McKnight Foundation’s Groundbreak Coalition, aiming to deploy $2b in flexible capital over 10 years to disrupt the status quo. In Minnesota we are a generous state, a charitable state, a hard-working state: we need to try new approaches to create that famous quality of life for all. We are leading a session on Place Based Impact Investing at the Mission Investors Exchange conference in Baltimore. Reach out if you’ll be there so I can include you in the informal MN meet-ups.