VERGE Capital Celebrates Social Finance Breakthrough

“There is a market in the intersection between money and meaning.” – Kevin Doyle

The first ever Social Enterprise Loan recipients were unveiled at VERGE Capital’s Launch event in London Ontario on January 19, 2016.

Over 100 change-makers came together to highlight two incredible social enterprises: ATN Access Old East Village Grocer & For the Love of Laundry. This event celebrated our growing social finance community and VERGE’s impact investments into social enterprises on the verge of a breakthrough.

It also featured a surprise appearance from the Mayor, a buzzing social enterprise marketplace, and to top it all off…an impromptu limbo dance! The event was held at Western Fair Farmers’ Artisans’ Market and was an ideal opportunity to recognize VERGE’s partners, funders, investees, advisors, impact investors, and get coverage by the media to create public awareness.

Partners and Funders of oursocial finance collective: Michelle Baldwin & Lore Wainwright (Pillar) Lori Runciman (London Community Foundation), Sara Middleton (United Way), Jason Dearing (Libro Credit Union), Michelle Arnold (Ontario’s Social Enterprise Branch)

VERGE was founded by a collective of leading organizations in London Ontario focused on local investment for local impact: Pillar Nonprofit Network, London Community Foundation, United Way London & Middlesex and Sister’s of St Joseph.

Work truly began with funding from the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development through the Social Enterprise Branch.

“I’m pleased to see VERGE Capital helping to build up local businesses and organizations that are making a positive difference in their communities. The growth of the global social finance market is expected to reach $1 Trillion by 2020, and our government is committed to helping London lead efforts to build this market in southwestern Ontario” -Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure.
Tom Hartford and Chris Janssen from Textbooks for Change, providing affordable and accessible educational material to students both locally and abroad.

In order to get funding from the government, local intermediaries had to provide matching funds, and thanks to the contribution of the Ursuline Sisters of Chatham, we had the seed capital to launch our Social Enterprise Loan Fund.

In order to provide access to capital for early stage and high potential social enterprises, we needed a partner that could administer the loans, and Libro Credit Union went above and beyond to make sure this happened. Not only do they administer the loans, but they also provide additional capital to the loan fund, which provides a direct investment in our local community.

The social enterprise ecosystem has been developing at a rapid pace thanks to the leadership of Pillar Nonprofit Network and their Social Enterprise Program. Pillar’s Social Enterprise Manager provides coaching, connections, and technical assistance to build a pipeline of investor ready social enterprises.

ATN Access Inc offers opportunities for individuals with injuries or physical, sensory and learning disabilities to gain access to employment or reach their learning goals and spearheads the Old East Village Grocer.

The first three social enterprises that VERGE helped access capital represent a great cross-section of types of social enterprises, those on the verge of a breakthrough. We have a charity, ATN Access, with the mission to provide training and employment to persons with disabilities. Their social enterprise, The Old East Village Grocer, does just that; it also provides a great place to buy fresh produce in one of London’s food deserts. At the event, there was tremendous support from ATN’s staff, board, funders, and investors, which culminated in the introduction of their new Grocery Manager!

Melissa Power’s vision through For the Love of Laundry is “Clean Clothes for Everyone!”

On the for-profit side, we have two very different social purpose businesses. For the Love of Laundry is owned and operated by Melissa Power, a dedicated social entrepreneur to her vision of clean clothes for everyone. And Textbooks for Change, led by two business graduates, provides educational supplies to underserved communities and is a certified B Corporation.

None of this effort would be possible if not for the great leadership of our volunteers and advisors. Lina Bowden, London’s premier social finance consultant, has brought onboard professionals from a variety of sectors to support the development of VERGE; this is complemented by a great Loan Review Panel, which brings together experts from the community to help make impact investing decisions.

The culture of investing is changing thanks to the desire to invest locally and for impact. The Innovation Works Community Bond provided the first opportunity for any Londoner to become an impact investor, and has been a success having raised 95% of its $1 million goal. VERGE led the design of the Bond with a group of Community Bond experts like TREC. At the event, Terry Zavitz, a successful business women and Community Bond investor shared our excitement to be able to drive by and look at Innovation Works and say “I’m invested in that!”

No event would be complete without great food, activities, performances, and not to mention a surprise visit from our Mayor! We had our audience posing in their B-boy and B-girl stance thanks to Ill at Will, and playing a variety of instruments orchestrated by the London Samba Troupe. We still can’t believe the night broke out into a Limbo dance –who says investing can’t be fun? I guess that’s why they call it social finance! Fireroasted Coffee and Momo’s at the Market kept everyone fueled for the night by providing a great selection of food and beverages for our guests.

Lastly, one of the main reasons for the event was to highlight the new wave of local impact investing happening in Southwestern Ontario to the general public. Thanks to great media outlets, we are beginning to get the word out. Thanks to The Londoner, AM980, Newswriter22, and The London Free Press, the story is being told and we can’t wait to celebrate more as we build our local social finance market. Check out the coverage below:

London Free Press — OEV Grocer and Loan Fund

The Londoner — Social Finance in London Moving Forward

Newswriter22 — VERGE Capital Launch and Loan Recipients

AM980 — VERGE Capital Announcement

[VIDEO] Daytime London — VERGE Launches in London

Now that we’ve lifted off, it’s time for us to get back to work and keep the wave of social finance going. We’re continuing with the focus and mission of making a positive impact on both the market and the community –and the staff at here VERGE could not be more excited about it.

VERGE & Pillar Nonprofit NetworkTeam: Andre Vashist, Michelle Baldwin, Lina Bowden, Lina Bowden, Albert Brulé, Nicole St. John, Lore Wainwright, Mitra Hewitt, and Susannah Gergich

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