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Meet Stephanie Gripne of Impact Finance Center in Downtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stephanie Gripne.

Stephanie, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
When I was 16 years old I announced that I was going to become a carpenter, and my dad said, “why not architect”, and I retorted, “what about wildlife biologist?” My dad, who had a background in business finance and accounting, and had a skill of saving companies replied, “You have a mind for business. You should go make money and that way you could have influence to improve the environment.” Years earlier, my dad offered me a small business when I was 12 years old and encouraged me to purchase my first stock, Micron, when I was 13 years old. I said, “I do not have the constitution that you do, I want my work to be aligned with my values.”

At that time, my community was literally at war around endangered fish and wolves. It would take me years to realize my interest wasn’t the fish or wolves, but the problem that we did not feel like we had enough resources to protect our environment and provide good jobs to river guides. I would go on to obtain both a B.S. and M.S. in wildlife ecology, become a wildland firefighter, work for the Journal of Wildlife Management and eventually obtain a PhD in Forestry from University of Montana with my hero, Dr. Jack Ward Thomas. Jack, who led the spotted owl project and would become the forest wildlife biologist to become Chief of the Forest Service, said, “Steph, if you change your mind and want to work with people, join me for your Ph.D. Jack insisted that I primarily take economics, social science, and communication courses for my Ph.D., and I credit him for launching me on my career. I credit my late mom for my commitment to service, dad for my financial innovation abilities, and Jack for the courage to break trail into new territory, the field of impact investing and financial innovation to solve problems for people.

Around 2003, I completed my own first direct impact investment transaction. I was able to help a family in medical bankruptcy not only get out of debt, but build equity through a unique affordable housing deal structure that I developed with my father before he passed. These were responsible people who paid their bills on time, and only had to file for bankruptcy after a medical emergency because they did not have insurance. I purchased a house outright and leased it to the family. The lease provided an option that would allow the family to purchase the house when their bankruptcy concluded. Each month they rented the house, they would receive 10% of the rent as equity in the house. Since we agreed to cap the return on our investment at 10%, at the end of their bankruptcy, the renters could purchase the home from us and receive any additional equity above 10%. We were able to repeat this transaction successfully with an additional five families. Because most of the houses ultimately appreciated at 20-30%, most families ended up with additional $10-20K at the end of the transaction. This unique deal structure simultaneously allowed responsible families a path out of debt and into home security – an option that would never be available to them from a bank.

I was completing my PhD research in seven states, working for the federal government in 6 states, but the most fun I was having was with these deals with my dad. It was that moment when my commitment for service collided with my entrepreneurial spirit that runs through my family. I was completely hooked. This family got to move into their home three years early, start building equity, and I was able to earn a great return. 40 deals later in affordable housing, historic building renovation, conservation real estate, and environmental markets, I started to reflect and came to the conclusion that completing another 200+ deals in my lifetime, while an amazing accomplishment, is not enough for me nor the highest and best use of my skill set for the movement. Hence, the question became, how do we find a way to move billions and ultimately trillions. I started on a listening quest and had key conversations that helped me come to terms with the concept that we needed a full-service solution for both impact investors and ventures that could meet them where there were at and build awareness, provide deep education opportunities, execute on their first transaction, and then ultimately scale the solution – which is why I created the Impact Finance Center.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The road has been a long, winding, and bumpy road. From age 24-31 (during my M.S. and Ph.D.), I provided financial and physical support for my father who went from being a millionaire to homeless. While supporting my father, I took a year off of my Ph.D., returned my funding, and helped care for my mom, who eventually passed from pancreatic cancer. I later returned to my Ph.D., raised another $100,000, graduated on time, was featured in the New York Times while working with my dad to develop a small portfolio of affordable housing and working for the federal government. This experience would allow me to courage to risk personal bankruptcy, losing my home and charging and paying off a cumulative $500,000 on my credit card to risk creating Impact Finance Center, CO Impact Days, Impact Investing Institute, Who’s Who in Financial Innovation and Impact Investing, Impact Investing Giving Circles, and Impact Investor Clubs.

Impact Finance Center – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Access to capital is one of the most important barriers facing entrepreneurs. Our vision is that every social entrepreneur has access to the education and technical assistance to invest or raise founder friendly full spectrum capital from philanthropists and investors to launch and sustain their social ventures. Our goal is to support 100,000 investors and social entrepreneurs by 2025. Just as Business Accelerators such as TechStars, Village Capital, or 500 Startups identify, educate, and invest in entrepreneurs, Impact Finance Center is an Investor Accelerator that identifies, educates, and activates individuals and organizations who want to become impact investors. Additionally, we develop community infrastructure that is replicable and scalable such as: an Impact Investing Marketplace (CO Impact Days), Impact Investing Institute, Impact Investing Directory (Who’s Who in Financial Innovation and Impact Investing), Investor Accelerators (Impact Investing Giving Circle), and Investor Clubs.

IFC was founded in 2012 and is a nonprofit tandem hybrid academic center that includes multiple social enterprises. Created in 2015, IFC’s flagship initiative, CO Impact Days and Institute, was a three-year effort to catalyze $100M of investment in social ventures. Impact Days is the first-ever statewide marketplace for impact investing and Phase 1 of the National Impact Investing Marketplace. Since inception, we completed over 200 courses, showcased 150 social ventures, identified over 550 social ventures, activated over 80 investors and catalyzed 270+ direct impact investments totaling $300M. We know we activated less than 1% of the supply and demand in Colorado and we know our social enterprises can scale. Phase II of the National Impact Investing Marketplace is focused on scaling the Institute by producing our 100+ classes online and creating a multimillion EdTech social enterprise that will ensure that IFC becomes a financially self-sustaining model to support the expansion of National Impact Investing Marketplace.

You can read more about our National Impact Investing Marketplace vision in an article that was published in the Foundation Review this past year” Laying the Groundwork of the National Impact Investing Marketplace,” which builds off of this Forbes article.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I would like to think of us as professional lemonade makers. In Fall 2019, Impact Finance Center transitioned from a three year pilot Impact Days, to determining which of our six social enterprises could scale most quickly and develop resources to support the expansion of the other five social enterprises. We decided to focus on our EdTech social enterprise, Impact Investing Institute. The Impact Investing Institute’s mission is to develop high quality evidenced based education for individuals and organizations wanting to learn about financial innovation and impact investing, which includes our classes, individual, small group, and large group training. While COVID-19 has forced us to postpone our two Corporate Financial Innovation and Impact Investing two Day Courses in NYC and SF, the rest of our time was focused recording our 100+ classes. Hence, recording a first draft of classes is a great activity for COVID-19. We consider ourselves very lucky. Additionally, our team volunteered for a month with a few other organizations to raise over $31M of 1% investment capital for Colorado small businesses and nonprofits. Had we not laid the infrastructure and activated over 80 investors prior to COVID-19, this likely would not have happened. Although the last eight years have been like pushing water uphill, we also realize how fortunate we are and are full of gratitude.

Pricing:

  • $2,500 Individual Impact Investing Training Fellowship Program
  • $10,000+ Evaluate Investment Advisor ($10M+ Assets)
  • $25,000+ Investment Advisor Search ($10M+ Assets)

Contact Info:

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