The 2018 VERGE Vanguard Awards — Nancy Pfund — Godmother of impact investing

September 17, 2018

God­mother of impact investing

Nancy Pfund

Founder and man­ag­ing direc­tor, DBL Part­ners; San Francisco

It seems ironic to con­tem­plate today, but when she started her pro­fes­sional career with the Sierra Club, leg­endary ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Nancy Pfund — one of the ear­li­est investors in Tesla and SolarCity — was skep­ti­cal of the busi­ness world’s abil­ity to cat­alyze pos­i­tive social change.

She later recon­sid­ered her “adver­sar­ial” world­view while work­ing along­side the late Intel co-​​founder Robert Noyce, whose inter­ac­tions with gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy­mak­ers taught her the value of public-​​private collaboration.

The VC firm Pfund co-​​founded in 2003, San Francisco-​​based DBL Part­ners, was among the first to value its invest­ment deci­sions using social fac­tors such as eco­nomic inclu­sion, gen­der and racial diver­sity and envi­ron­men­tal action, not just finan­cial return.

It’s a phi­los­o­phy that more main­stream investors — par­tic­u­larly insti­tu­tional invest­ment funds — are just now ral­ly­ing around. “We don’t waste time sep­a­rat­ing the world into arti­fi­cial silos,” Pfund said. “We can do bet­ter than that.”

DBL’s cur­rent port­fo­lio is diverse, but one sec­tor in which she has devel­oped an appetite is agtech. Data sug­gests agri­cul­tural activ­i­ties account for up to 30 per­cent of world­wide car­bon emis­sions, so address­ing it really isn’t optional if the world hopes to meet the goals of the Paris Agree­ment on cli­mate change. Two of her bets in this space: Farm­ers Busi­ness Net­work, which uses data to help farm­ers improve yields and nego­ti­ate bet­ter pric­ing, and Apeel Sci­ences, which cre­ated a plant-​​derived coat­ing that helps pre­vent food waste.