Stephanie Gripne Spreads the Gospel of Impact Investing
Even at the age of 16, Stephanie Gripne saw money as more than just a means to buy things, but also an instrument of social good. Avoiding his father’s pleas to follow him into business, Gripne instead built up an eclectic education and dynamic spirit and eventually founded the Denver-based Impact Finance Center (IFC) in 2012.
As Executive Director of IFC, Gripne, who obtained a PhD. in forestry at the University of Montana, is considered one of the most influential forces in impact investing. Gripne describes IFC as an investor accelerator that identifies, educates and inspires individuals and organizations to become impact investors. IFC activated more than 80 investors and catalyzed more than 270 direct impact investors totaling $ 300 million. Gripne’s goal is to catalyze $ 1 trillion equity investment in social enterprises across the country by replicating the infrastructure piloted by IFC in Colorado.
We recently spoke with Gripne about her plans to bring her model to the national level, the challenges she faces in pristine places like New York City, and how CDFIs can continue to move forward.
A Blog 2016 posed the possibility that you could be the Steve Jobs of impact investing. Do you see your work as potentially as transformative?
It’s about how we move money from Wall Street to Main Street. And yes, if we can move money from Wall Street to Main Street, Main Street has to get it in the kind of returns Main Street needs to get while meeting everyone’s financial goals. So it will be more transformative than the work of Steve Jobs. Absoutely.
What is your definition of impact investing?
I have a different definition from that of many of my colleagues. Every dollar that changes hands is a positive investment. Whether you buy a loaf of bread at the grocery store or contribute to your 401K, there are positive things that happen to this investment and there are negative things that happen. And impact investing is trying to invest for the better.
How did you start your efforts to expand IFC’s infrastructure nationwide?
We piloted several pieces of infrastructure in Colorado. First, we needed our education classes. We have 200 that we call our institutes. Then we created a market, which we call Impact Days. Then we had to create a regional directory, which we call our Who’s Who in financial innovation and impact investing. And then we had to come up with an investor accelerator, which we call impact investing. We piloted these things in Colorado with a goal of $ 100 million (in three years). We have exceeded that number by $ 350 million to $ 500 million. That’s when we launched a subset of the market called bodega, our investor clubs. I think we had 12 different investor clubs across the country.
We started with the Colorado Main Street Lender Investor Club, and the next was the Indigenous Investor Club, the largest indigenous indigenous CDFI. They raised $ 27 million last year.
What prompted you to expand in New York State recently?
A colleague of mine, who works for Eileen Fisher Clothing Co., asked me to help 700 employees who were put on leave during the pandemic. So we partnered up with the EF Foundation and they partnered with a NY CDFI bank, Spring Bank, which has invested up to $ 4 million to provide low cost employee loans. It was the pilot transaction that led us to create the New York State Investor Clubâ¦ where individuals, foundations and businesses can learn about CDFI’s investment opportunities in New York State and how that New York State helps vulnerable communities get the financing they need, from businesses to housing. . “
One of the things that is so awesome about the CDFI community in New York is that they really support each other. I am so pleasantly surprised. If you talk to a CDFI in New York and it doesn’t suit you, they will tell you which other CDFI is suitable.
And the challenges?
I am shocked that it is so difficult to find high net worth individuals and foundations investing in CDFIs in New York (which has 80 CDFIs) when Colorado has only 150,000 millionaires and many of them are investing in our CDFIs in Colorado.
(Again) we’re in the New York club’s first five months. It usually takes a year to two years to start seeing capital flows.
Where should CDFI go from here?
We need to provide marketing funds to CDFIs so that they can sell themselves so that entrepreneurs of color can find them.
They must also train investors. They need to develop programs where they identify, educate and incentivize investors to invest in CDFI with the type of capital they need.
This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the prism of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is generously supported by Partners for the Common Good. Sign up for PCG’s CapNexus newsletter on capnexus.org.