“We want to demonstrate that the impact investing space is a safe place to put your investment,” Tim Jackson, MaRS’ Executive Vice President of Corporate and Community Development, told the assembled crowd at the Discovery District yesterday morning. They had come to breakfast with Sir Richard Branson and watch him discuss “Investing in Business as a Force for Good” as part of a panel with Jackson, Jessica Ching of Eve Medical, and Alison Lawton of the Mindset Foundation. Prior to the panel, it was announced that MaRS and Virgin Unite Canada were partnering to create a $5 million dollar impact investing fund.
Currently, impact investing is considered anything but a safe space. Stating that “the challenge with funding is always finding the right type of investor for the company you’re trying build,” Ching indicated the challenges for impact investors are twofold. As the founder of a startup that provides improved access to cervical cancer screening, Ching discovered that interested impact investors comprised an even smaller subset of the already limited group of healthcare investors. Of those that would invest, “a lot of them were not confident investors, and did not have domain experience,” preferring instead to wait for more established investors to weigh in.
To that end, the new fund’s goal is not only to provide first financing, what Jackson indicated was the most immediate struggle for impact startups, but a path to future financing and growth. The MaRS / Virgin Unite fund will look to provide not only mentorship, but investment and advisory committees to help impact startups accelerate in a fashion similar to any other vertical.
All of this effort is to show that impact startups should not be considered really any different than traditional startups. Branson was quick to mention that “a business is only good if it makes other people’s lives better. I don’t think people should be embarassed to make a business work. What we’re looking for with this fund is businesses making this more overt or specific.”
The short term goal, however, is building a proof case that creates a ripple effect of newfound interest.
“We’re throwing a stone in the water today,” Branson said.