Impact enterprises addressing urgent needs created by the coronavirus crisis require funding post haste. And investors who want to support them are looking for streamlined ways to find the right companies.
With that in mind, Sorenson Impact Foundation and Village Capital recently announced the launch of the COVID-19 Coalition, a consortium of entrepreneurs responding to the pandemic and investors looking to support such ventures.
The heart of the coalition work is a Village Capital platform called Abaca. Launched about a year ago by Village Capital, which runs early-stage startup accelerators and boot camps for social enterprises, and Sorenson, an impact investor, it allows mission-driven startups to share information with potential investors about their activities and progress and streamline the capital-raising process for everyone involved. “It curates deal flow for investors, so they don’t have to sift through a million deals,” says Meredith Shields, Sorenson’s managing director of impact investing.
A Mother Lode of Ventures
Shortly after the coronavirus crisis hit, the folks at Sorenson realized the Abaca data base of 3,000 companies could provide a mother lode of highly targeted ventures—specifically those in a position to address the emergency with solutions ranging from remote work platforms to mask production, but lacking the funding to scale quickly.
At the same time, they observed that many investors were both pulling back from their usual areas of focus and considering stepping into healthcare investments for the first time. With that in mind, they reached out to Village Capital about pulling together an aggregated pipeline.
“We wanted to identify companies working on solutions to the crisis and drive support from investors, many of whom have changed their investing thesis,” says Andrew Hobbs, manager of product and technology strategy at Village Capital.
To that end, they combed their network to find likely investors who might sign on to the coalition, share deal flow and do so, “with the speed that was necessary,” says Peter Lundquist, Village Capital COO. At the same time, they asked companies to provide information about how their product or service was useful to addressing the crisis or whether they were launching something new that was relevant.
Up and Running
In a matter of days, they got a platform, called COVID-19 Response Pipeline, up and running to list companies and provide a method for investors to gain access to that pipeline and coordinate their activities. So far, companies and investors that have joined are largely from Village Capital and Sorenson’s networks; others are expected come on board as investors share their own pipelines with the coalition.
Many of the ventures have existing products that can be used to address the crisis. Over the next few months, the population may change, as new startups form and existing ones pivot to develop COVID-related products and services.
Examples of enterprises listed on the platform: Element3 Health, which addresses social isolation through social activities and clubs, and is branching out into virtual clubs; Wexus Technologies, with an IoT software platform aimed at helping farmers monitor and lower their energy usage and bills, a capability of particular urgency as they try to cope with the current crisis; and Aidar Health, a digital medicine company with a hand-held, wireless rapid health assessment and monitoring device, which can used by hospitals and public health systems to monitor COVID-19 patients and identify high-risk individuals, as well as those most urgently in need of care.
Village Capital’s focus has long been on developing ventures not founded by the typical guy in a hoodie, with products and services aimed at low-income customers. “VC money typically goes to the same kind of solutions and the same kind of people solving upper middle-income problems,” says Hobbs. “We pride ourselves on the our ability to surface businesses solving challenges faced by the poor—and it’s more critical than ever.”
As for Sorenson, the foundation has expanded, rather than changed, in response to the crisis, according to Shields. “We’re adding an additional lens,” she says. It’s all about a three-step COVID framework adopted by many organizations that goes from rapid response, which means addressing immediate urgent needs, to recovery, including meeting not just healthcare issues, but also the problems caused by the pandemic’s economic shocks, and, finally, to resilience, or steps that will help societies bounce back and prepare for future challenges.