“Biomimicry is the practice of solving problems by asking the question, ‘What would nature do?” says Boston Impact Initiative Fund founder and President Deborah Frieze. Her answer to that question has her flipping conventional investing wisdom on its head to close the racial wealth divide in Boston.
While she hopes the fund will serve as a model for other communities, she notes that the wealth divide in Boston is on par with Atlanta for the worst in the country. “The median net worth for a white family in Boston is $247,000, which is way above the national. The median net worth for a black family in Boston is $8. It’s not $8,000 it’s not $800 it’s $8.”
Even in the context of impact investing generally, she says, “We’re heading in the wrong direction where the wealth divide continues to get larger. So, when we structure investments, we flip the risk-return ratio.”
“How is that even possible?” I felt myself wondering. She helped me understand her unique model, which incorporates the principle that those who can least afford the risk should be shielded from it while those who can afford the most should accept more. Conversely, those who can afford lower returns should accept those while those who cannot, should receive more.
My inner investment banker simply could not imagine how this would work but she walked me through the structures she has created.
On the investing side, the fund considers investments in three sorts of deals.
The first group is social entrepreneurs working to create novel systems that directly address racial inequality. These tend to be early-stage ventures with no track record and no proven ability to repay. They receive loans of about $50,000, typically structured with a six-month interest vacation so no payments are due initially. The interest rate charged is just 5%.
The second group of enterprises is main street businesses, which have not taken on capital in the past but have some growth opportunity. They usually do have some track record and evidence of ability to repay and may receive a loan of around $150,000 at a rate between 5 and 7%.
The third group of borrowers is companies are “established and growing” and may be ready for a series A venture investment. In these cases, the fund lends up to $250,000 at a rate of 7%.
As you can see, the traditional concept of risk and return has been flipped. The riskiest businesses receive the lowest rates and most generous terms while the least risky pay a higher rate—still not very high.