Portland social venture investors to unveil $20M fund
By Lee van der Voo
Carolynn Duncan said the new fund will make investments of up to $250,000 in social impact companies.
A $20 million social impact fund, tied to the business education firm TenX, is set to hit the ground in Portland this fall.
Details on partners in the upstart Northwest Social Venture Fund are so far scant. But its founding partner is Carolynn Duncan, CEO and founder of TenX who is formerly affiliated with the Salt Lake City-based venture capital firm EPIC Ventures.
Duncan confirmed Wednesday that the fund is set to launch with a $20 million first-year fund and will make Series A investments ranging from $500,000 to $3 million in companies with less than $1 million in annual revenue.
It will focus on social impact companies as a means of bringing engineers, entrepreneurs and fund managers to bear on world problems, she said.
"Our focus is: How can we reduce suffering in the world through market-based solutions?" said Duncan, adding the fund will look for great technical and business talent on the West Coast.
She added the fund will seek companies that really go after, tackle and solve a world problem, but don't settle for lower returns in exchange.
"To reduce suffering, I think, is important," Duncan said. "And I think the venture model is a great tool for that because of how expansive it's reach can be if a company can scale at that level. A person with a good heart that is helping a handful of people in a nonprofit model is noble, but it's not that effective," she said.
Duncan, a self-described "social worker turned venture capitalist turned social venture capitalist" said the fund's launch is in part also an attempt to capture profits from successful ventures incubating through TenX.
She left EPIC Ventures in 2009 to work with entrepreneurs in early development after observing, particularly in the economic downturn, that the fund was unable to place its Oregon investments.
After successfully nurturing developing companies at TenX, she said, "It occurred to us that we were grooming companies for other venture funds and then sending them away."
In conjunction with the fund's launch, its partners — which will include TenX, Duncan said — will launch an associated angel conference known as Fast Pitch this fall.
Fund managers plan to start taking applications in October with funds placed in January. Hopefuls can also get to know the fund and pick up helpful information at Hacking Social Impact events, run by TenX in Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco, also this fall.
Duncan, who said hopefuls can visit the fund's site or email her directly (at Carolynn@tenx.org) for more information, said the fund has so far had advisory support from EcoTrust, Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, Social Venture Partners and Mercy Corps, among others.
It has so far merited "a tremendous amount of green lights" from individuals who want to invest and foundation managers eager to be involved with the analytic work and in structuring the fund's development, she added.
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