As we discuss the benefits of blended capital for early stage entrepreneurs (ESEs), the inevitable questions arise around benefits for both foundation and venture investors. “Intelligent capital,”(1) as Katie McCann calls it in the FS6 and Guidelight Capital Webinar, is capital that recognizes the value of early-stage sustainability organizations, and it is becoming increasingly important for investors on both sides of the aisle to recognize the potential impact of participating in these sectors.
What we often see is that, in their early stages, mission-driven for-profit organizations need the support of philanthropic capital - whether grants, PRIs, MRIs, etc. - in order to get off the ground and open themselves up to more traditional funding streams. In her eloquent article on Catalytic Capital, MacArthur Foundation Managing Director Debra Schwartz applauds philanthropic funding as “patient, flexible, risk-tolerant financing.”(2) Looking back at the ROI trifecta of reward, risk and impact from Part I of this article, it can be seen that mission-driven ESEs offer a unique balancing of social capital with risk, in a way that traditional for-profits do not. As such, these ESEs should be viewed in conjunction with the non-profit organizations that are generally sought out for philanthropic funding opportunities. Even at their earliest stages, the impact of these investments is built upon the social capital of inquiry - learning more about the strengths and weaknesses of the systems that we are trying to change; exploring new outlets and avenues for innovation; and, perhaps most importantly, when successful, building an economic future where the mission-driven goals of foundation partners is built into the fiber of the new food system. In further reflection on the MacArthur Foundation’s investments in these types of ESEs, Schwartz points out:
Building a company from idea into a successful and viable entity is among the most difficult challenges anyone can undertake. For entrepreneurs attempting to bring solutions into the marketplace that will have a positive and demonstrable impact on the health and sustainability of our food system, the challenges are even greater. The food system is highly complex, heavily regulated, and incredibly interdependent. In addition, the food system is made up of living elements and people who are subject to changing weather patterns, intricate logistics, evolving consumer preferences, and complex supply chains that are often intentionally designed for opacity.
The range and scale of the challenges in our global food system requires us to chart innovative new paths towards solutions. One way we can leverage all the knowledge and capital required is to support the paths of early-stage entrepreneurs (ESEs) who are building scalable solutions. Speaking to the constraints around relying on the more established players for innovation, Christensen, Baumann, Ruggles and Sadtler of the Harvard Business Review point out:
Renske Lynde is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Food System 6 (FS6), an innovation-focused nonprofit based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose mission is to support the world’s most promising entrepreneurs as they transform how we grow, produce, and distribute food. FS6 runs a comprehensive accelerator program that helps entrepreneurs with growth and impact by connecting them with mentors and coaching them through a wide range of business and organizational needs. Additional information about Renske and the FS6 Programs can be found at FoodSystem6.org.