As businesses rush to find ways to support minority founders amid global protests against systemic racism, Siebert Williams Shank announced a new impact fund on Thursday, with an initial $25 million seed investment from Microsoft.
In 2019, the minority-owned investment firm approached Microsoft, as part of the tech giant’s ESG strategy, about a fund that would focus more broadly on promoting economic growth in communities with high unemployment, poor housing and underperforming school systems.
“With the onset of Covid, we determined that the problems were even deeper and broader than we had anticipated or even existed last year, which led to us really accelerating the conversation,” says Siebert Williams Shank chairman Chris Williams.
With a target size of $250 million, the Clear Vision Impact Fund will provide growth and operating capital to diversely owned small and medium-size businesses that support and uplift distressed and underserved communities and strengthen their economy.
“We want to make sure that the benefits go beyond just the generation of increased profits or revenue within a company, and so we’re focused on a number of different factors,” Williams says. Some of those metrics include increased job creation in underemployed communities and greater job mobility, training and skills development.
The fund will target companies that have a track record of successful operations—even if those operations are less successful now due to the pandemic-related economic downturn that has hit minority business hardest—and need the additional capital to scale the businesses.
“We’re identifying businesses that, with our involvement, we can make more profitable or enable them to return to profitability,” Williams says. “If a company is failing, that is not going to be the type of opportunity that will provide an appropriate return relative to the associated risk.”
Access to capital has long eluded people of color, yet small minority-owned businesses play a critical role in communities of color, providing employment opportunities and stimulating growth and innovation in local economies.
“This is just the first step to building a more diverse and equitable playing field and we look forward to the opportunities that this investment will help create,” said Microsoft CIO Tahreem Kampton, in a press release announcing the fund’s launch.
Williams expects to see the impact and a competitive return on the investment and hopes to create subsequent larger funds that aim to redress the capital imbalance among founders of color. “I don’t want to imply that this [fund] is the sole answer,” he says, “but we have to start somewhere and this is one tool that many well-intentioned companies are using.”
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