Impact Investing in Oregon: The University: Willamette’s Student-Led Fund
For the second interview in our ongoing series on the state of impact investing in Oregon, we discuss Willamette University’s proposed student-led fund. For the definition of “impact investing” we use to guide this series, and to learn what Meyer Memorial Trust is doing to innovate around the way foundations make investments, please read our earlier post.
Interview with Professor Elliot Maltz, Ph.D., Atkinson Graduate School of Management at Willamette University
Impact Entrepreneurs: Willamette University is planning a student-led impact investing fund. How will that be structured? What will student involvement look like?
Professor Maltz: Let me preface this entire discussion by stating that the program is currently being piloted to help understand how to develop a structured assessment process. Having said that, the general structure of the program will be similar to other student investment funds which have become popular in MBA Finance Programs. It will include a dedicated instructor who will guide students through a structured assessment process to vet a variety of potential investments. From the potential investments, students will identify social entrepreneurs who appear to have the potential to sustain their operations through internal funding, generate social value that would not be created without the ongoing operations of the entrepreneur, and the ability to scale social value in a way that will generate substantial social returns. An independent board of directors will have to approve any student-suggested impact investments.
What types and sizes of investments will the fund make?
The types of investments are still being discussed. The maximize size of any investment in a single year will be $25,000.
Are there specific sectors or geographies you plan to target?
Given the high likelihood that we will need to have a number of personal interactions with any social enterprise prior to investing, it is likely that the initial headquarters of the enterprise will be in the Oregon-Washington area. However, as noted above, we will be looking for enterprises that have the potential to scale. Thus, in a longer-term basis enterprises could have plans to generate significant social value outside the region.
How will you measure the social and environmental impact of your investments?
That is still under discussion. It is likely that we will rely on the IRIS catalog for some of our metrics. However, we are also likely to develop some original metrics as we work through the pilot.
Do you know of any other universities currently pursuing a similar approach?
The inspiration for this fund came from the success of our Angel Fund program, which engendered an enormous amount of learning for students interested in entrepreneurship and/or early-stage investing. I am not aware of any other schools who are developing an impact investing fund.
What are your recommendations for faculty and staff at other universities who might be interested in creating a student-led impact investing fund?
I’m very excited about the potential for this fund to really give students a hands-on understanding of the impact investing field. But as I’ve said, this is early days. Talk to me after I’ve done this for a couple of years and I will probably have more advice to offer.
By Jacen Greene, Program Manager, Social Enterprise Intiatives at Portland State University’s Impact Entrepreneurs