An open letter from the founder of the SVX to the OSC

An open letter from the founder of the SVX to the OSC

Note: This post originally appeared on It has been reposted here with permission from the author.

Thank you Debra Foubert.

With a stroke of your powerful pen on the OSC decision to approve the SVX as a Restricted Dealer on June 17, 2013, you signed off on an exciting social innovation, and you closed one long chapter on a project that has been in development for six years.

We’ve never really met. All you’ve seen of us is a set of pages full of terms and conditions carefully prepared by brilliant lawyers and reviewed by your expert colleagues. This is all important stuff, but I thought you should know some of the lessons we’ve learned working on the SVX, why this work is so important and what’s next for us.

You know the basics.

The SVX is an impact investing platform connecting impact ventures, funds, investors and service providers to catalyze debt and equity investments that drive social and environmental impact alongside the potential for financial return. In short, we would describe it as eHarmony for impact investing.

Led by MaRS, we’ve got an incredible group of talented collaborators, including TMX Group Inc., Government of Ontario, Torys LLP (the best securities lawyers in the world) and KPMG. We’ve also worked with a group of terrific funders, including J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, RBC and Hamilton Community Foundation.

We’ve learned a few lessons working on the SVX over the past six years.

1. Change takes time and it requires patience.

When the social investment exchange concept was first proposed in September 2007, we didn’t take into account Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect. Apparently, this is particularly true of any tasks of substantial complexity. Who knew combining impact investing, securities law and online platforms would be so complex?

We received endorsement from the Ontario government in 2008 and completed our feasibility study with provincial government funding in 2010. We thought we’d be ready to roll in early 2011. Then we hit your office. We were “…a non-profit, online platform, looking to get ‘impact investing’ capital to non-profits and for-profit businesses that do good.”

Come again?

But two years later, after a lot of patience, hard work and after having developed a shared understanding, you, the same regulator that approves billion dollar hedge funds, signed off on the SVX.

2. We learned that genuine cross-sectoral collaboration is what drives change.

Our work would not have been possible without the contributions, talent and leadership provided by government, corporate and community partners. MaRS, an organization with convergence innovation nucleotides making up its DNA, provided the foundation. TMX Group, Canada’s largest exchange group, and owners of the Toronto Stock Exchange, provided the talent, expertise and resources to build out the platform, our team and our processes. The Government of Ontario provided political support as well as seed and operating funding to support operations. Others also provided tremendous support from Torys LLP (pro-bono legal counsel) to KPMG (access criteria and process).

Each of these actors co-created and nurtured the project from an idea to live innovation. We know that this cross-sectoral partnership provided you with additional comfort.

3. We also learned that innovation, particularly social innovation, is people-powered.

There is no brilliant rockstar behind the SVX. It’s not a cool app made by a wicked smart teenager in her parent’s basement rumpus room. Innovation isn’t just technology or a hero’s game.

In order to be built for success, we needed to be people-powered with a collection of partners, funders, advisors and a scrappy team behind us. You may not know that over 100 people (100 sparks) have contributed their time and expertise to light up the SVX, from colleagues inside MaRS to modern day renaissance women. There are only a few names on our forms, but many more behind us.

Why is this work so important? 

We started our work because we are faced with pressing problems at a local, national and global level, from persistent poverty to climate change. We cannot tackle these problems through charity and public policy alone. From community power ventures to affordable housing projects, entrepreneurs are building business models to tackle these problems and turning to investors for support. But there are major barriers between these impact entrepreneurs and impact investors, including cost, time and capacity.

We hope that the SVX will break down these barriers to increase access to capital for entrepreneurs, and mobilize private capital to tackle our most pressing problems.

We also hope our work advances the discussion around larger innovations like crowdfunding, which would be a major innovation in the capital markets, building on top of the work that we do alongside many others. We know you are watching us and we’ll work hard to ensure we get this right.

What’s next?

We’re gearing up our work at the SVX, with a few milestones on the horizon:

  • Beta: Over the summer, we will be engaged in a private beta with selected ventures and investors, applying your approved terms;
  • Public launch: We will be hosting a public launch at the Toronto Stock Exchange in mid-September with our first cohort of issuers and investors;
  • Expansion: We’re looking forward to demonstrating success and expanding our activities across Canada.

We got your approval. Now the hard work begins.

Sincere regards,

Adam Spence

[NB. SVX is not the first registered nonprofit dealer in Ontario. The groundbreaking organization that achieved this milestone was Maple Leaf Angels in 2007.]