Meet philanthropic investment fund Acumen:

"We believe philanthropy makes the best kind of risk capital"

Acumen is a philanthropic investment fund that targets companies whose products and services enable the poor to transform their lives. Rather than giving philanthropy away, they invest it in companies and change makers. As Acumen is expanding its European footprint, we reached out to chief partnerships officer Yasmina Zaidman to hear about its work.

“Impact investing, and business as a whole, has an incredible role to play in building a better future for people and the planet,” Yasmina Zaidman says. “Never before has a generation had the skills, tools and knowledge to imagine and then build a global economy that is at once inclusive and environmentally sustainable.”

“Impact investing, however, has to be seen as a means, not an end in itself. And in creating this new world, we must remember to measure success not by how the rich fare, but by how the poor and vulnerable are treated,” she says.

“Philanthropic investment allows social enterprises the time to understand new, untested markets” – Yasmina Zaidman, chief partnerships officer at Acumen

Game-changing philanthropic investment

She explains, “Acumen turns philanthropic dollars into what we call ‘patient capital’ and use that money to make long-term investments in social entrepreneurs who dare to go where markets and governments have failed the poor. We believe philanthropy makes the best kind of risk capital.”

Acumen focuses that capital on early-stage for-profit enterprises, dedicated to providing game changing products or services, who are still proving out their business models. “Philanthropic investment has an important role to play,” Yasmina adds. “This money allows social enterprises the time to understand the consumer demand, unit economics and path to scale and build out new, untested markets where customers are lacking in trust and accessibility.”

Globally, Acumen invests in the sectors of energy, education, agriculture, health care, and water and sanitation. In the United States, the organization focuses on financial inclusion, workforce development, and health care.

Getting in touch with Acumen

How can startups best make themselves known to Acumen? “We source nearly all of our investments through our network,” Yasmina shares. “Because we make early-stage venture investments, this means staying in close contact with startup accelerators, grant-makers, and the numerous like-minded impact investors with whom we often collaborate.”

For startups hoping to connect with Acumen, a great first step is to tap into +Acumen events. “Our portfolio team helps coordinate some of these events, so it’s a great way to network, meet the Acumen community, and get to know us and our work at a closer level,” Yasmina adds.

+Acumen, Acumen’s online school for social change, offers courses that are free of charge and aimed at all levels of social change makers. “Our wide range of content is developed from the insights we’ve learned from our portfolio of social enterprises working in some of the toughest corners of the world,” Yasmina says. The courses include an array of topics, ranging from how to combat struggles of managing profit and purpose to more operational challenges such as how to build out your core team.

“Often the best way to demonstrate the value of what you bring to the table as an entrepreneur is not simply by connecting, but how you show up” – Yasmina Zaidman, chief partnerships officer at Acumen

Showing up

And be sure to take note of this important insight: “We receive a lot of inbound interest from companies or entrepreneurs that want us to invest or help them make connections. However, often the best way to demonstrate the value of what you bring to the table as an entrepreneur or enterprise is not simply by connecting, but how you show up,” Yasmina shares.

“It is important to not only demonstrate your interest in Acumen, but also your commitment to building your network and capacity as an individual,” she adds. “As a values-driven organization, this type of values alignment is extremely important to our investment processes.”

Interested to hear more about Acumen’s work? Read more about philanthropic investment at its website and explore course work at Acumen’s online school for social change, +Acumen