If there are over 30,000 universities and colleges, and 5,000 entrepreneurship centers, giving students ample opportunity to learn how to develop social ventures, i.e. projects, nonprofits, small businesses, startups, funds, and cooperatives. But, where can investors learn how to invest in these social ventures? The answer is innovative financing and impact investing centers, of which there are less than 20 globally. This realization inspired Dr. Steph to start Impact Finance Center.
Dr. Steph received her Ph.D. in Forestry at the University of Montana working with Dr. Jack Ward Thomas in 2005 while also working for the U.S. Forest Service. She was on track to becoming an ecological economist. But, a partnership with her father sparked her passion for financial impact investing. Together, Dr. Steph and her father developed an affordable housing model that gave families in medical bankruptcy a path to home ownership. By setting aside partial equity of the rent, and all equity over a 10% return, they could attract families with great credit but just did not have enough health insurance. Not only did they build an affordable housing program, but they also achieved solid real estate investment returns while providing dignity to the families who could now move into their “home” 2-3 years early and earn partial equity. Discovering that she could do well by doing good, Dr. Steph was inspired to ask this question: where could she have more community impact? By becoming an ecological economist or financial impact investing?
Instead of becoming a Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy, she became a Land Protection Manager working on land acquisition, conservation easements, and wetland mitigation banks, and eventually, the first $100M private equity fund focused on carbon, water, wetlands, and biodiversity credits.
In 2012, Dr. Steph was recruited back to Colorado to be both a professor in finance and the Director of the Sustainable Real Estate Development for the University of Colorado Real Estate Center and Foundation. The idea was to invest in sustainable real estate while teaching and developing research projects. While Dr. Steph had participated in 100’s of impact investing transactions, “why is it so difficult to raise investment capital,” became a question she was determined to answer.
This quest led her to three realizations:
- There is little investor education available to individuals or organizations who have resources and want to invest in social ventures.
- Philanthropy is an investment, and all investments have impact.
- Individuals and organizations need investor accelerators where they can receive experiential education and intense coaching to catalyze their journey.
Recognizing a gap in investor education, Dr. Steph founded Impact Finance Center in 2012. Shortly after its creation, Impact Finance Center launched a three-year initiative called Colorado Impact Days in 2016, the first attempt to develop a statewide marketplace for impact investors and social ventures to catalyze $100M. Over the course of three years, which included 200 education events and three investor conferences with robust marketplaces, CO Impact Days was a resounding success, catalyzing over $350M.
In 2020, in response to the pandemic, Impact Finance Center pivoted from its in-person education model to an online Impact Investing Institute and launched smaller virtual marketplaces, “Investor Clubs” from coast to coast for a variety of communities ranging from sustainable forestry to indigenous.
Today, Impact Finance Center identifies, educates, and activates individuals, foundations, family offices, and corporations while developing community infrastructure such as our Impact Investing Institute, Investor Clubs, and Impact Days.
Our dream is for every student and community member to have access to the education and community infrastructure needed to solve their problems. To make this dream a reality, we are on a new quest to fundraise or earn $20M to scale our model and create the National Impact Investing Marketplace.
We truly believe we have all of the puzzle pieces on the table and with every new investor activated, every new investor community created, and every social venture that is able to raise aligned full spectrum capital, together, we can and will achieve this dream.