Sari Miller: An Angel Investor Proving the “Goodness Factor” is Good for Impact and Returns

As an early impact investor, Sari Miller’s strategies, experience and perspectives on angel investments offer others in the market a wealth of insight and guidance on investing with purpose in new markets. For this reason, Miller is the focus of our weekly series on social entrepreneurship with, in partnership with ImpactAlpha.

Sari Miller, CEO of Sarjay, Inc., is ushering through some of the biggest impact investment deals currently in the market. Miller is translating the hands-on style that earned her great success during her previous career in real estate, to her approach as an early stage impact investor. She is working to drive enterprises and funds to scale in the widely untapped social benefit markets and low-income services industries. Her business acumen and commitment to the groups she funds and their social impact have helped pave the way for some early successes. Her most notable successes came from angel investments in Leapfrog Investments and Grassroots Business Fund (both organizations were profiled previously on the Impact Investing Topic Hub).

Miller’s impact investments are not limited to a single geography, socio-economic climate or social issue. They cover a range of countries and encompass a multitude of services and sectors, including employment opportunities and job training, education, civil rights advocacy, agriculture and artisanal business development and micro-insurance. As with any pioneering investments, not all of her experiments have realized the kind of market scale and impact that Miller is seeking. She was a founding angel backer of Nexii, the first ever publicly regulated impact investing stock exchange based in South Africa. Unlike her other projects, this was not able to gain the traction it needed, and was later merged with a Singapore-based, social enterprise transaction platform, Asia IIX.

Despite this setback, Miller continues to make strides in the market. Most recently she helped Gigawatt Global’s management team get a $24 million solar field, containing more than 28,000 solar panels set in the shape of the African continent, up and running in record time. Miller supported this effort not only for the potential financial returns an under-tapped market like alternative energy can yield, but also for what she calls “the goodness factor.” As part of her due diligence, prior to investing any time or dollars, Miller confirms that the companies and founders are passionate about social impact, stating that the goodness factor is critical and without it, founders can stray from their mission.

Gigawatt Global’s solar project is going beyond clean energy benefits. To install the solar panels, Gigawatt Global is leasing land from Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), a residential community in Rwanda for individuals who were orphaned during the Rwandan Genocide. Lease payments from this solar project will support the ASYV school while the local residents are also trained in solar technology. Gigawatt’s focus on sustainable, local impact provides the good factor that has resonated with Miller and other similarly driven investors.

For more on Africa’s solar energy project and the range of social impact investments on which Sari Miller is making big bets, read the full story at

Village Capital: Getting Startup Funding to Nontraditional Entrepreneurs

As part of our ongoing series on social entrepreneurship with, in partnership with ImpactAlpha, this week’s spotlight is on Village Capital. This startup accelerator is banking on the idea that the best solutions to community problems come from local entrepreneurs who have firsthand knowledge of the challenges being addressed.

Village Capital is specifically focused on the difficulties facing the “unbanked” and “underbanked,” which are terms used to define an individual or household that has a bank account but also uses alternative financial services (AFS). Examples of AFS include: payday loans, rent-to-own agreements, money orders, car title loans, etc. While some AFS have been developed to help those who are underserved by traditional lending services, many are characterized by short-term repayment schedules and generally have very high interest rates. These qualities make them less than ideal lending options for entrepreneurs who are considered too risky for traditional bank loans and credit, thus leaving them with few opportunities when seeking startup capital.

To tackle this lending challenge, Village Capital is recruiting minority and women entrepreneurs from unbanked and underbanked communities. They are then exposing these entrepreneurs’ marketable ideas to venture capital funding—to which these nontraditional entrepreneurs would otherwise have limited access This allows for the development of businesses that are potentially both lucrative and effective at changing the dynamics around opportunities for people who struggle to access necessary financial services.

While many categorize these programs as impact investments, Ross Baird, executive director of Village Capital, explains that his organization’s investors do not usually self-identify as impact investors. A number of those whom they invest with believe that impact investments require conceding some financial returns for social impact—and that is not the case here. Despite the obvious positive social outcomes Village Capital’s entrepreneurs deliver, its investors first, recognize the fundamental value of exciting, smart investments with the potential for consistent and/or impressive returns. Through events like the FinTech Forum, Village Capital continues to introduce investors to opportunities that generate greater outcomes with their dollars. At these forums the stage is given to nontraditional entrepreneurs, like Brian Ferguson of Start Line, who translated a wrongful imprisonment that could have destroyed his professional future, into a powerful startup that has the potential to counter recidivism issues.

For more on Village Capital and the entrepreneurial solutions to the financial and community challenges it promotes visit the impact investing hub.

Changing the Demographics of Investments

Recent developments in international aid, education and business development are creating significantly positive outcomes for disadvantage women in less economically developed countries and regions. During the last few years in particular, large-scale human rights campaigns and commitments to do more, including: The Millennium Development GoalPromote Gender Equality and Empower Women; Girl Up; and the US government’s initiative, “Let Girls Learn” have dramatically helped to bolster attention on this issue and increase investments in opportunities for women.

Root Capital is one such investor that has thrown its cap into this arena in a big way, and is the focus of this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise from the Case Foundation and, in partnership with ImpactAlpha. This nonprofit is proving the business case for gender equity by capitalizing on loans to farmers associations and agricultural businesses in Africa and Latin America—that empower and promote women in roles traditionally held only by men.

Root Capital directs its investments according to its “gender scorecard,” which uses eight different metrics to measure a borrower’s gender inclusiveness. This organization is also doubling down on returns, both through improved female representation and empowerment in the farming cooperates where they invest and through improved loan repayment rates and more innovation. This nonprofit impact investor values the potential for sizable financial returns in untapped industries and markets that are designed to empower women.

The loans made by Root Capital in farming co-ops and associations are effectively empowering women to take greater ownership over their work and earned income, and allowing them to take over work traditionally assigned to men. However, social and cultural barriers continue to hold these women back, and therefore Root Capital is increasing investments in education programs. The goal here is to ultimately increase female representation in tangential work, including accounting, agrodealing and field inspecting.

The kind of barriers that are supported by tradition can be very difficult to break down or mitigate. One woman, who is making the case for greater gender parity in small farming is Odalis Noeme Guerrero, featured in this week’s Entrepreneur case study. After convincing her father to break tradition and give her a plot of the family’s least productive land, she earned a degree in agronomics and put it to good use first on her slice of land and then eventually on the entire family farm. Guerrero’s agronomics degree helped her family’s coffee farm increase production by approximately 900 percent.

For more on how Root Capital is changing the demographic of agricultural associations and co-ops to empower more women through nontraditional roles, to the betterment of crop yields and investment prospects, see the full case study on

When a B Corp Goes Public, Can Social Outcomes Keep Pace with Profits?

Etsy is the online marketplace where independent artisans and consumers come together to buy and sell unique goods, and connect over shared tastes and visual inspiration. This B Corporation promotes both the virtues of individuality and positive social outcomes and is the focus of this week’s spotlight on Social Enterprise from the Case Foundation and, in partnership with ImpactAlpha.

What’s so special about this company? Founded in Brooklyn, NY, in 2005, Etsy is an online network that connects entrpreneurs with customers whom they otherwise would not be able to access. As noted on its website:

“The heart and soul of Etsy is [their] global community: the creative entrepreneurs who use Etsy to sell what they make or curate, the shoppers looking for things they can’t find anywhere else, the manufacturers who partner with Etsy sellers to help them grow and the Etsy employees who maintain and nurture our marketplace.”

Over the last 10 years, Etsy has grown to become a global force with nearly 700 employees and nearly 30 million items currently available to purchase. It has a network of,19.8 million active buyers—representing nearly every country in the world, and 1.4 million active sellers, of which approximately 88 percent are women. All of these figures add up to a company that earned nearly $200 million in revenue in 2014. Although Etsy has yet to become profitable, the company has not stopped from pushing itself to achieve greater growth. In fact, on March 4, 2015, Etsy became the second B Corp to file for an initial public offering (IPO).

Through its IPO, Etsy will be able to raise up to $100 million in investments, creating an opportunity through which they will hopefully establish profitability. Of the more than 1,200 B Corps, they will be only the fourth with publicly traded stock and only the second to file as a current B Corp.

In considering all of the implications of Etsy’s IPO announcement and similar moves from social enterprises, one question has surfaced: “Will these corporate evolutions undermine companies’ social benefit objectives and vice versa, will commitments to better social outcomes undermine current shareholder profits?”

Hopefully companies like Etsy are the beginning of a larger trend that will continue to expand. As consumer interests align with social and environmental concerns, and large corporations are rewarded for committing to improving their impact while turning competitive profits for shareholders, we could see a greater number of large corporations join the B Corp movement. Similarly, it is exciting to see more B Corps like Etsy, Rally Software and Warby Parker experience the kind of growth that allows them to mature and seek greater profits and influence.

In this week’s article on, we explore the potentially conflicting priorities that face impact companies like Etsy. What does it mean for a social enterprise to have the dual pressures of competing to attract investors through profit seeking and maintaining their social commitments? Will they prove that their social good mission doesn’t detract from profit but can actually boost revenues by driving marketing and customer loyalty?

Demand for Investments That Provide Both a Financial and Social Return is Increasing

There is a large number of “traditional” investors whose priority is strictly earning the greatest financial return, regardless of any return in the form of positive social impact. This week the Case Foundation and, in partnership with ImpactAlpha are spotlighting MicroVest, an asset management firm that has been proving for more than a decade that investments in underserved markets are more than just charity. These impact investments can and do earn consistent and competitive financial returns, in addition to enabling local entrepreneurs to create scalable solutions that drive even greater positive outcomes.

MicroVest was founded in Bethesda, MD, in 2003, with CEO Gil Crawford’s belief that “investing in unbanked markets is the best way to reduce poverty on a global scale.” The firm does this by providing capital to low-income financial institutions that in turn make loans to micro to medium-sized businesses.

During MicroVest’s early days, micro-loans were not new, however they were not widely known or understood. This disconnect led to some early stage struggles in gathering investments for MicroVest’s first fund. Chairman Bowman Cutter explained to the Wall Street Journal that the first $15 million was more difficult to gather over three years than $15 billion for a private equity firm. However, MicroVest’s stable record for returns has helped to eliminate much of the investor trepidation and it has successfully grown the fund’s investor pool and diversified its portfolio of companies over the years.

According to Impact Investing2.0, two such examples of the diverse investments available through MicroVest are XacBank (“Hass-Bank”) in Mongolia that serves 26,000 borrowers through 34 urban and rural banks, capitalizing on the innovative microfinance structures already present in the country. Additionally, MicroVest became an important investor in a low-income finance institute in Guayaquil, Ecuador where they were able to incentivize more responsible lending practices through local banks. Through most of MicroVest’s local lenders, the majority of borrowers are women, empowering a traditionally marginalized portion of these communities.

Given the financial and social progress of micro-investments and other impact investments, many are turning toward impact investments to secure both financial and social returns. Ron Cordes, who leads the Cordes Foundation, one of Microvest’s owners, notes that MicroVest and similar firms and funds are successful because of, not despite their, social impact. To find out how MicroVest intends to continue to engage with and attract more of investors through competitive returns, check out the rest of the story on

Spotlight on Social Enterprises: Jigar Shah

There is an emerging giant in the energy industry, solar. One key individual who has helped to pave the way for the growing investment in solar energy and other clean-tech industries is Jigar Shah, president and co-founder of Generate Capital. Shah aims to demonstrate the huge monetary potential of investment opportunities and the impact of proven approaches in renewable energy, energy storage and energy efficiency. Shah’s innovative approaches are the focus of this week’s spotlight on social enterprise, from the Case Foundation and, in partnership with ImpactAlpha.

Through his work leading Generate Capital, and previously SunEdison and other solar and clean-tech companies, Shah found that one critical barrier for growth in these industries is the high startup cost. Shah’s no-money-down, pay-as-you-save model triggered a massive upshot in financial support for solar companies, leaving the U.S. with four times the solar capacity. His efforts are proving that markets with positive environmental impact have the potential to generate trillion dollar returns. In fact, last year, solar and wind together accounted for more than half of new U.S. electrical generating capacity.

Read the full story HERE on Shah and how he is changing perspectives on the relationship between huge wealth creation and better climate outcomes.

Spotlight on Social Enterprises: Warby Parker

As part of our weekly series on social entrepreneurship with, in partnership with ImpactAlpha, this week’s spotlight is on Warby Parker. The maker of affordable prescription eye glasses, Warby Parker is driven by a social mission and is one of the most well recognized, respected and successful social impact companies currently in operation. If you don’t own a pair yourself, you almost certainly know someone who does.

In addition to shaking up the market for glasses by providing quality frames that consumers can choose online and try on from the comfort of their own homes, Warby Parker has committed to providing prescription glasses to individuals in developing countries—where, according to co-founder, Neil Blumenthal, as many as 90 percent of the world’s visually impaired currently reside. To date, Warby Parker has provided more than 1 million pairs of glasses to those in need through a nonprofit partnership with VisionSpring that simultaneously promotes local business development.

As a certified B Corps, this company is competing to be more than just the best in the world, but the best for the world. Learn more about Warby Parker’s efforts to change the world one pair of glasses as a time.

As someone who proudly sports a pair of Warby Parkers, (the Marshall) I’m excited to invite you to get the full story at

Profiles of Impact – Case Studies of Impact Enterprises, Funds and Investors

Here at the Case Foundation we recognize how important it is to highlight the great work of innovative thinkers and doers. This week, in partnership with and ImpactAlpha, we launched a new topic hub—Profiles of Impact—that will feature successful impact funds, innovative investors and social enterprises working to provide financial and social returns. Read Jean Case’s blog celebrating the launch, as well as profiles of Happy Family and Progreso Financiaro. We’ll continue to release profiles weekly, so check back often!

To continue to track what’s new in impact investing, be sure to follow us on twitter at @CaseFoundation.