Today, we know that the scale of our global problems far exceed the resources currently allocated to solve them. A new breed of investor is now emerging—one that is not only interested in financial returns but also in generating social and environmental value. By mobilizing private capital, impact investing promises to unlock new capital sources to do good.

On November 12 and 13, the 2015 Social Finance Forum (SFF) will take over MaRS to explore Canada’s new role on the global stage: helping to create a kinder, gentler approach to investing.

The forum kicks off with a keynote on entrepreneurial leadership from Dr. Ray Muzyka, founder and CEO of ThresholdImpact. A former emergency room doctor, he also founded global video game developer BioWare. Now he’s an angel and impact investor focusing on mentoring and investing in IT, new media, medical innovations and social enterprise.

Canada is already carving out a unique role for itself in the impact investing sector. We at MaRS have pioneered a social venture platform with the TSX, created the INFRONT mentorship program in partnership with Mennonite Economic Development Associates and Sarona Asset Management to assist investors and fund managers in developing nations, and are supporting a network of impact investing funds and tools.

While social entrepreneurs focus on unique outcomes and impact metrics, they still need to meet many of the same requirements as traditional for-profit ventures in order to thrive and survive. For social ventures to succeed, Dr. Muzyka believes this mindset needs to be emphasized in entrepreneurial leadership.

“Emulating best business practices in entrepreneurial leadership is thus very useful for social entrepreneurs, and very relevant for impact investors seeking to invest in companies that will change the world,” said Dr. Muzyka.

Crowd at the 2014 Social Finance Forum at MaRS.
Crowd at the 2014 Social Finance Forum at MaRS.

Impact startups you should know

Social impact ventures are companies that are driving positive social and environmental impact while generating the potential for financial return. At SFF, impact ventures and funds working in a range of sectors including cleantech, food, health, education and affordable housing will take the stage for a chance to win $50,000.

Here are eight you should know:

  • CoPower is an online marketplace for investing in clean energy infrastructure. They make it easy for investors to align their portfolio with their values by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy generation projects that offer solid returns and predictable cash-flows, along with measured social and environmental impact.
  • Cyclica improves efficiency in the development of better and safer drugs, nutraceuticals ingredients and personal care products through a data integration platform that simulates the interaction of compounds.
  • Ecotierra develops large-scale forestry and agricultural projects that generate top-quality carbon credits—helping sustainable development with both environmental and socio-economic impacts.
  • Higher Ed Points help students, parents and donors convert loyalty points, specifically Aeroplan Miles, into funds to offset educational fees like tuition and government loans.
  • Komodo OpenLab created the Tecla, a set of hardware and software tools that helps people with physical disabilities who are unable to use touchscreens. Tecla allows its users to interact with smartphones and tablets via adaptive controls they already use such as wheelchair joysticks, buttons or sip-and-puff controllers.
  • Learning Bird is an online application that combines smart technology with engaging digital lessons. Lessons are created by teachers to match the best lessons to each student.
  • MEMOTEXT uses state of the art mobile and digital technology to empower patients with the education they need to take an active role in their healthcare. With a multi-disciplinary and adaptive platform, Memotext uses psychology to create positive behaviour change.
  • Riipen is a skill-building assessment platform that provides opportunities to those students without specialized experience in their field. Through Riipen, students can gain experience by completing different projects for companies in exchange for incentives such as mentorship and recommendations.

Want to learn more about impact investing? Registration is open for the 2015 Social Finance Forum.

Muska Ulhaq

Muska Ulhaq is a senior associate of Capital Advisory Services at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. She also leads the annual Social Finance Forum, Canada’s largest gathering of impact investors and social entrepreneurs. See more…