How Spring Activator creates opportunities for impact entrepreneurs and investors to tackle big problems together
The impact investing space offers many different types of investments suited to a wide variety of investors. Spring Activator focuses on early-stage investing, enabling impact investors to help support emerging companies that are making a positive impact.
From ocean robotics to financial sustainability solutions for independent media outlets, Spring Activator has powered some of the most innovative and impactful small businesses emerging around the globe, with an eye to gender equity, diversity and alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“We’re attracted to those tackling new problems,” says Graham Day, Director of Impact Investing at Spring. “We’re well set up to help many founders find momentum once they have early traction,” Day adds.
With a mission to change the world through entrepreneurship, Spring, a certified B Corp, offers incubation, acceleration, training and advisory services globally from its home base in Vancouver. It has helped raise more than $30 million in capital, and has supported more than 2,100 impact entrepreneurs across five continents. It also works with governments, accelerators and foundations to strengthen the impact ecosystem as a whole. “Impact is what distinguishes us from tech angel networks,” Day says. “Our north star is the impact we create.”
Innovating for the greater good
While Spring’s definition of impact is fairly fluid, reflecting the various regions and client groups it serves, one thing is unwavering: its commitment to boosting the success of entrepreneurs who are innovating for the greater good.
Its Impact Investor Challenge, an 11-week program that introduces impact-curious investors to the space and matches potential investors with mission-driven startups, offers early stage impact companies the opportunity to receive an invaluable infusion of capital. “It’s hard at that early stage,” Day says. “They might get money from friends and family, but then there’s a gulf as they wait for a Series A fund that wants to pick them up. We work with them on approaching angel investors and telling their impact story,” Day adds.
“Our challenge winners have all been female-led or co-led. And our investor cohorts are also very balanced. Of all the investors we’ve had in the last three cohorts, we’ve had an average of 41% women.”
– Graham Day, Director of Impact Investing, Spring Activator
Investors who participate in the program have the opportunity to fund potentially world changing ideas like Solaires, a BC-based company that produces solar ink. “It’s a material you can coat on a surface and it enables it to harness solar energy without solar panels,” Day explains. “It’s a category of product I had never even heard of before!”
Other examples of the impact companies the Investor Challenge has helped include Moment Energy, which provides clean energy storage by repurposing retired electric vehicle batteries; Heal Mary, an app designed to connect patients, caregivers and doctors with clinical trials data from all over the world; and Viridis Research, which uses electrochemical treatment to provide clean water to global communities. “We see a lot of cool ideas,” Day says. “Seeing dreamers everyday is probably the most fun part of working in early stage investment in companies,” he adds.
What started as an annual regional program has now expanded to include both local and national offerings. “This year we’re on track to do six impact investor challenges across the country,” Day says, adding that Spring also goes to great lengths to ensure dreamers of all genders have opportunity to benefit from early stage funding. “We use a gender lens to ensure our cohorts are balanced,” he says. “Our challenge winners are almost all female-led or co-led. And our investor cohorts are also very balanced. Of all the investors we’ve had in the last three cohorts, we’ve had an average of 41% women.”
A growing appetite for impact investments
An impact investor himself before joining Spring, Day says he’s seen the market for impact investments grow significantly over the last several years. “I’ve been working in impact investing for over 10 years and it’s really been building momentum,” he says. “With the health crisis and the climate crisis, the urgency for solutions has been brought down to the individual level and people are saying they can’t wait for governments alone to solve these problems. They’re looking to make financial decisions that have an impact or that do no harm,” Day adds.
“People are looking to make financial decisions that have an impact or that do no harm.”
– Graham Day, Director of Impact Investing, Spring Activator
Genus Portfolio ManagerThomas Hollowayhas participated in two of Spring’s Investor Challenges and attests that they’ve been a terrific opportunity to learn and contribute to emerging innovators. “Unlike a simple pitch competition, the program connects investors and founders weekly over a few months. Potential investors lean in to help shape founders’ pitches, and founders get to try on the investor role as they learn more about their peer companies. We get to see things develop in real time: hires, sales, external validation, and even other capital raises.”
Spring has also worked with Genus to educate impact investors on the opportunities that exist to integrate impact investments into their portfolios. “Genus has been a strong supporter of the programs I work with, and runs a session to help our investors understand how they can move beyond private early stage investments to a wider portfolio approach to impact investing,” Day says. “We, in turn, help Genus to broaden the topic of impact investing across asset classes. There’s a spectrum of impact investing, and it’s important to determine where you fall on that. Genus is really well positioned to help all sorts of individuals direct their portfolio towards something more intentional and sustainable,” he adds.
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