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Impact capital funding is a unique journey for every organization, BIW panelists say

Leaders from investment firms and the University of Maryland, Baltimore discussed the local impact investment atmosphere during a dedicated session at Baltimore Innovation Week 2022. Here's some of their advice.

(L to R) J. Howard Kucher, K. Brigid Peterson and Mark Kaufman speak at Baltimore Innovation Week 2022. (Courtesy photo)
Full disclosure: ETC Baltimore is BIW's host and main organizing entity. BIW was previously organized by Technical.ly, which now serves as the event's media partner. Neither ETC Baltimore nor any of the panelists reviewed this article prior to publication.

Impact capital — designed to create both profit and social change is a dynamic and evolving field, and Maryland’s biggest city is evolving with it.

That message permeated a Baltimore Innovation Week (BIW) session, titled “How to Access Impact Capital,” at ETC Baltimore on Wednesday. Local impact funding experts offered some insights for those trying to access such capital, as well as clarified that there is no boilerplate strategy to doing so.

Those specialists included J. Howard “Jim” Kucher, an associate professor of social innovation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore; K. Brigid Peterson, head of endowments and foundations for the investment firm Brown Advisory; and Mark Kaufman, CEO and president of the public-private Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund. Their session, before an audience of several dozen people, was just one of many BIW events that aimed to bring together the city’s innovation community.

The speakers informed the audience that every impact investor is different while emphasizing that Baltimore’s current environment is a very supportive one. Impact capital providers often work together and go out of their way to assist those seeking them out.

“Everyone is in this to see you succeed,” Peterson said.

She pointed to several impact investment-related venture capital opportunities, as well as community development financial institutions, that exist in the regions. Many of them offer “wrap-around services” like accelerators that can help organizations thrive in a structured way.

“I think leveraging the accelerators and the great knowledge that is already in the community is a great place to start,” she said.

Kaufman added that once investment stops being about profit alone, every funder winds up having different objectives and definitions of success. He encouraged listeners to develop funding sources that complimented each other.

Since each impact capital investor has a different perspective, with unique expectations for their money, a standard approach really isn’t possible. But getting varied funding sources to build momentum together as a whole can lead to positive results, he noted.

“That can be really powerful [because it’s] letting you meet your objectives and letting them meet their needs,” he said.

The speakers also said that organizations making proposals to impact capital investors needed to have their numbers crunched correctly — and be persistent in reaching out to funders.

While you’re on that mission, Kucher recommended developing what he termed a “social change theory.” Such a model defines how your effort is going to affect change in a practical sense, for both you and the investor.

“The thing you have to figure out is what you’re going to change and how you’re going to change it,” he said.

Finding funding to improve the communities and the environment we all live in is a unique journey for every organization. But, according to the panelists, impact capital investment involves many entities that are all pulling in a similar direction for positive change.

“It’s a small community,” Peterson said.

Learn more about this world by checking out the livestream of that day’s sessions (panel begins at 2:11:50):

Companies: University of Maryland, Baltimore
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