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17 August, 2021 - 00:44 By Tony Quested

New fund set to trigger social impact economy

Born in Cambridge and Oxford. Nurtured in Scotland. Fit for purpose anywhere on the planet. The Impact 12 initiative, first publicised in Business Weekly in June, is already making its mark as the University of Cambridge and its partners bid to create a powerful social impact economy.

The vision involves cultivating social enterprise ventures emanating from within the 12 member universities by providing timely and critical funding alongside mentoring and business development expertise.

Professor Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of the University, launched the impact investment fund which also boasts involvement from Cranfield and Northampton within the Business Weekly footprint.

Supporting mission-led university ventures, the initial 10-year, multimillion pound fund will support social ventures created within the participating universities across the UK. It will back ventures motivated by beneficial social or environmental impact, rather than solely by profit.

Impact 12 has been developed by Social Investment Scotland (SIS), an impact investor and responsible finance provider based in Edinburgh, in partnership with the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, Northampton, Coventry and eight universities comprising the MICRA Project (Aston, Birmingham, Cranfield, Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick).

Impact 12’s aim is to bring positive change, to people and places, by accelerating the development and success of impact-led social ventures spun out of universities.

It will support social ventures with innovative finance tailored to their needs, including equity investment and debt. The fund will also provide access to timely and expert mission-aligned finance and impact support.

The driving force – SIS Ventures – is a wholly-owned subsidiary of SIS, which provides the tools and investment required to help early-stage mission-driven businesses grow and deliver social impact at scale.

Jill Arnold, Head of SIS Ventures, is spearheading the initiative for SIS and Impact 12 member bodies and reveals that the fund will officially launch this autumn with an initial fundraise of £8 million.

The capital raised will be deployed to support up to 15 social ventures from across the partner universities, with both seed and follow-on funding over the life of the 10 year fund.

Arnold tells Business Weekly that the dream is to grow the fund closer to the £20m-£25m benchmark within the next few years.

Impact 12 has laid the foundations with some powerful platforms on which to build. Beyond the universities themselves, SIS is able to tap into the powerful investment and alumni networks that these seats of academia have unique access to.

The minimum investment is likely to settle at around the £100k mark which will allow funded enterprises to leverage the endorsement with associated cash raising efforts. 

Often this will allow spin-outs from the 12 universities to tap into associated accelerators, such as the one run so successfully by Cambridge Judge Business School.

Arnold said: “This enterprise is very much a partnership but we feel the concept is unique. SIS Ventures will be the lead impact investor as fund manager for Impact 12 but we have a very wide brief and are sectoral agnostic.

“We are aligned to the sustainable development goals of the founding universities and have a continual dialogue with them to ensure our efforts reflect their focus. We also want to promote this initiative as widely as possible because it clearly holds appeal beyond the scope of the founding members.”

With mission-driven companies increasingly outperforming more traditional business models, funding from Impact 12 will help meet a clear need for early-stage finance among university social ventures, which often lack the financial support of traditional university spinouts or start-ups.

Professor Toope said that on a broader scale, Impact 12 would be at the forefront of creating change and finding solutions to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

It is a further feather in Cambridge’s cap that Dr Belinda Bell, Visiting Fellow at the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, Cambridge Judge Business School, was a key evangelist of the initiative long before it became flesh.

She said “It is true that we have been working to develop this fund for a very long while! I have actually left my day job at Cambridge Social Ventures, staying on at the Judge as a Fellow in Social Innovation.
“This move enabled me to take up the role as chair of the advisory board to Impact 12 – my current association with the fund.

“Creating new investment pathways can help us tackle the global turmoil and rampant inequalities caused by ‘business as usual’. Social ventures provide jobs with meaning, companies with purpose, and sustainable growth that positively impacts the world.

“The Impact 12 investment fund is an exciting collaboration that will direct capital towards ventures that demonstrate there is a better way of doing business.”

SIS is celebrating its 21st anniversary in 2021 and has certainly identified a key to a door of opportunity in terms of promoting socially-inspired ventures.

Arnold believes that, just as AI and genomics have eventually found their moments in time to flourish, so the new generation of entrepreneurs and potential funders focused on altruism and creating positive societal impact philanthropy – planet before profit – have made their way unobtrusively but determinedly to the front of a new queue. To find out more visit www.impact12.com

Qualifying investors interested in creating positive change, for people and planet, are invited to get in touch by emailing hello [at] impact12.com

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