A profile with Fran Seegull

Say hello to Fran Seegull, Chief Investment Officer and Managing Director at ImpactAssets, a non-profit financial services company that is working to increase access to impact investing. Deeply committed to the ideas of impact investing Seegull also teaches a course on the subject at USC’s Marshal School of Business, is a Senior Fellow at the school’s Society & Business Lab, and serves on the Investment Committee of the LA based Godhirsh Foundation.

Her work today can be traced directly back to ideas she had in the late 1990’s. Coming from a philanthropy background, Seegull wanted to get a handle on how for-profit businesses could be used to drive impactful change. To do that she turned to Harvard Business School, earning her Master’s Degree between ‘96 and ‘98.

“I found that the school for the most part was focused on maximizing shareholder value, and other more traditional notions of value creation.”

Spurred on by this realization, and the feeling that there was a gap between what was being taught, and what was truly possible she composed a paper on the nature of value creation. 
“By value I meant financial and economic value, but also social and environmental value,” she said.

It was in exploring those ideas that she came up with two conclusions. First that there was a certain type of investment possible in private companies that would yield venture capital-style financial returns along with philanthropy-style impact returns. Second, that individuals, foundations, and corporations as well as the environments in which they operate could all benefit from a more holistic outlook on long term value creation. Both of these ideas were ahead of their time in the business world, and they forged the foundation for much of her work since.

Before beginning at ImpactAssets she was Managing Director, COO, and Venture Partner at Funk Ventures an impact acceleration and venture capital firm which helped foster cleantech, medical technology and health and wellness enterprises. In that position Seegull worked closely with entrepreneurs looking to drive social and environmental change through business. 

By contrast at ImpactAssets she focuses more on working with people on the investor side of the table. The world of impact investing is new, and growing, and sometimes difficult to access. Many fund managers have minimum investments of a half million dollars or more. ImpactAssets uses a multi-prong approach to lower barriers to entry, allowing socially and environmentally concerned investors to get into the game and begin fostering change. 

To begin with impactAssets acts as an aggregator, pooling investors’ philanthropic power in a donor advised fund called the Giving Fund. The Giving Fund multiplies the power of charitable dollars by enabling donor advisors to both give grants to worthwhile entities, and invest in social & environmental businesses which provide a financial return. These returns are then reallocated as additional impact investments and grants and thus, the original donor pool goes much further. Donors join for as little as $5,000 and use their collective investment power to meet the investment minimums, granting access where previously there may have been none. 

Second, ImpactAssets is working to bring a new set of investment products to market for investors looking for financial returns as well as driving social and environmental impact. To date, there’s a lack of nationally available impact investment products with low investment minimums. ImpactAssets’ products, a collection of private debt securities focused on microfinance and  global sustainable agriculture, are being structured and brought to market in an innovative way in order to solve these problems. 

Seegull’s paper may have been ahead of its time way back in business school, but with ImpactAssets managing over $100M in assets, and new investors inquiring regularly it’s clear that the time of impact investment has finally come.

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