By Rebecca Beyer
Nancy Pfund ’82 didn’t realize she would be helping to pioneer a new way of investing when, working at the investment bank Hambrecht & Quist in the early 1990s, she launched a fund that provided financial backing to fresh juice maker Odwalla. She was just trying to make a difference in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she had been living since she graduated from Yale SOM.
And she did make a difference: With that particular investment, which brought much-needed jobs to California’s Central Valley, but also by successfully testing the idea that investments could have an impact beyond financial returns. On February 1, Pfund was honored for her commitment to that idea—now known as impact investing—by the professional organization Impact Capital Managers, a group Pfund helped start in 2018.
It is a testament to SOM’s enduring strength in this area that on the same night, ICM also honored Adrianna Alterman ’19, who graduated from Yale SOM nearly four decades after Pfund, with its organization’s Emerging Leader Award. Pfund, founder and managing partner at DBL Partners, and Alterman, principal at Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund, are just two in a long line of SOM graduates who have made a name for themselves in the impact investing space (see box below).
Pfund’s fund, named for its “double bottom line” of financial returns and positive impact, focuses on sectors such as climate tech, sustainable products, information technology, and work force innovation. Some of the fund’s most successful investments include Tesla, Solar City, and Pandora. More recent investments include Rain, which seeks to autonomize wildfire suppression; and Bellwether Coffee, a sustainable coffee roasting company.
If Pfund helped pave the way for impact investing, Alterman has made it her mission to make sure the path is easier to follow in the future. At Impact Capital Managers, she co-founded the Emerging Leaders Committee for people working in the space at the principal level or below. The group offers “ask-me-anything” sessions with fund partners, career advice programming, and networking, among other opportunities.
“This can be a really challenging field,” Alterman says. “A lot of times, you’re stepping into a role that didn’t exist before. You have to create a path for yourself.”
Alterman came to SOM with an interest in impact investing after working at a Canadian nonprofit that supported startups and as a senior associate at Amplify Capital, a venture capital fund which focused on mission-driven investments. She was one of the first hires for Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund and has been there ever since. When she joined, she recalls, the fund had perhaps four portfolio companies and an initial $50 million to deploy. Today, it has invested in more than 40 companies and invests out of an evergreen fund.
Notable investments include Guild, which helps Fortune 1000 companies provide educational benefits to their employees; Unite Us, a technology company that connects health and social service providers; and Arcadia, a climate tech company that unlocks access to global utility data.
It isn’t coincidence that Yale SOM graduates across generations have helped build the field of impact investing. The school’s mission to educate leaders for business and society, and its focus on using business tools to make a positive difference, means that the school attracts students who are well suited to the space, Pfund and Alterman say. Pfund points out she has several graduates on her team at DBL Partners, including Jake Harris ’19, Vincent Caruso ’20, and Mikaela Bradbury ’20.
“There’s definitely an affinity between the SOM mission and impact investing,” she says.
Alterman agrees, adding that Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund is a co-investor alongside other impact investing funds that employ SOM alumni.
“It genuinely feels like SOM over-indexes on people going into this field,” she says. “It’s a pipeline thing: SOM attracts a certain type of candidate—this kind of natural hybrid leader” with interest and skills in business and other fields, including the environment, education, and global affairs.
At the school, students have the opportunity to take courses like Private Capital and Impact Investing (which Pfund helps teach), Tools in Sustainable Finance, Metrics in Sustainable Management and Investing ,and ESG Investing; help run the new student-led Meng Impact Investment Fund (Pfund is on the investment committee); and participate in the Turner MIINT impact investing competition (SOM won in 2018 and 2019; Alterman is now a mentor to the school’s teams).
When Pfund first started investing with impact in mind, “we weren’t thinking about a field,” she says. “We were thinking about our companies, our fund. We just had to be successful, and we spent 99.9% of our time working to make that happen. Then when we looked up, we thought, ‘Oh, there are other people who are interested in this.’”
Impact Capital Managers, the membership organization DBL Partners helped create, is a good illustration of the growth in the field. The association launched in 2018 with 25 founding fund members; today there are more than 115 funds representing more than $100 billion in impact-focused capital.
“It makes sense,” Pfund says. “Millennials, Gen Z—they want meaning in their careers. They want to change the world for the better as they build very compelling careers, and impact investing is all that and more.”
Making an Impact
Selected Yale SOM alumni in impact investing
Namrita Kapur ’97
Yale SOM lecturer; former managing director, Environmental Defense Fund’s EDF + Business
Amanda Joseph ’96
Director, Global Impact Investing Network
Katie Rae ’97
Chief executive officer and managing partner, Engine Ventures
Peter Yolles ’97
Founder and managing partner, Echo River Capital
Vincent Caruso ’20
Principal, DBL Partners
Jake Harris ’19
Principal, DBL Partners
Matt Eldridge ’98
Executive director, Realize Impact
Annie Joyce ’15
Managing director and head of ESG, Amundi US
Susan Phinney Silver ’89
Mission investing director, David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Daniel Gross ’98
Director, Amazon Climate Pledge Fund
David Griest ’04
Managing director, SJF Ventures
Radha Kuppalli ’06
Former managing director for impact and advocacy, New Forests
Betsy Zeidman ’86
Founder and director, Strategic Impact Solutions
Christa Velasquez ’96
Consultant, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors