March 15, 2017 - Funding/Financing

Impact Investing – How Silicon Valley’s “Techies” Are Getting Involved

How Silicon Valley is getting involved in Impact InvestingSilicon Valley is synonymous with innovation. Entrepreneurs have created technologies that have forever changed the way we work, the way we think, and even the way we live. The quick success of these companies has made many “techies” very wealthy – almost overnight. While their predecessors may have let their fortunes sit and grow, techies want something more. Yes, they still want a return on their investment, but they also want their money to do good. For techies, making money and changing the world are not two separate and distinct ideas, but are naturally intertwined. This intersection of technology and policy is where impact occurs.

Techies’ desire to both do well and do good has naturally led them into the impact space. These entrepreneurs who have made their fortunes in the startup world have the means and connections to help others in the space succeed. Techies have the imagination to envision a future world as well as the understanding of how technology can bring that vision to life. Techies also understand business – they’ve created successful companies at least once before (and many have even replicated that success). This understanding of technology and business means that techies know what it takes to succeed. They can use this knowledge in the impact space and both mentor and make investments in companies who reflect these values.

Who is Involved in the Impact Space?

Both entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists who invested in them are entering the impact space. Below is a brief sample of what some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley are doing and what areas they are investing in.

  • eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar is one of the most well-known names in the impact space. His Omidyar Network operates as a hybrid, composed of both an LLC and a nonprofit, that has made countless investments in education, financial inclusion, citizen engagement, and various other emerging technologies.
  • Twitter co-founder Ev Williams recently co-founded Obvious Ventures, a venture fund with the aim of “world-positive investing.”[1] The fund has already invested in various startups, including businesses focusing on nutrition and creating technologies to assist blue-collar businesses in running more efficiently.[2]
  • Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, created the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in 2015. The couple decided to give away 99 percent of their shares in Facebook during their lifetimes. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative looks to engage directly in the communities it serves, as those from within the community are best able to identify and solve problems.[3] The organization’s initial priorities are science and education.[4]
  • Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and his wife Kaitlyn founded the Future Justice Fund to focus on criminal justice reform, with an emphasis on ending mass incarceration and creating safer, stronger communities.
  • Facebook co-founder Dustin Mozkovitz created the Good Ventures Foundation, which tackles issues such as improving health, economic development, marriage equality, and drug policy reform.
  • Businesswoman, and widow of Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs founded the Emerson Collective, which works with a range of entrepreneurs to advance various domestic and international social reform efforts, including education, immigration reform, and the environment.
  • Silicon Valley power couple Charley and Lisa Kleissner used the wealth earned during the dotcom era to create KL Felicitas and Toniic. KL Felicitas makes investments in impact companies across a wide range of categories, including program-related investments, thematic investments, and sustainable investments.[5] Toniic works as a network to connect industry leaders with newcomers in the impact space. [6]
  • William Draper, one of the country’s first venture capitalists and founder of Sutter Hill Ventures, co-founded the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation. The Foundation launched its third fund in 2016, supporting 100 new social enterprises tackling issues of gun violence, urban sanitation, and the empowerment of young girls.
  • George R. Roberts co-founder of the global private equity investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), founded the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) in 1997 to expand job development programs for those who faced the greatest difficulties getting and holding a job.[7] REDF both invests in and advises social enterprises that create jobs and reinvest their earnings in skill development, training, and services for their employees.[8]

The Bay Area has also seen tremendous investment in health care.

  • Marc Benioff, co-founder and CEO of the cloud computing company Salesforce, utilized 1% of Salesforce’s technology, people, and resources to create Salesforce.org, a self-funded social enterprise that provides technology to social impact organizations.[9] Salesforce encouraged other businesses to adopt the “1-1-1 model” through the Pledge 1% Movement in order to give back to the communities they serve.[10] More than 1,300 companies have adopted the model.[11] Benioff himself has focused on improving public education and children’s health care. In 2010, Benioff and his wife Lynne Krilich donated two gifts of $100 million to UCSF Children’s Hospital in order to build a new hospital as well as advance children’s health worldwide.[12]
  • Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster, created the Parker Foundation in 2015, which focuses on life sciences, global public health, and civic engagement.[13] The foundation has been particularly active in the immunotherapy space, with donations to several cancer centers nationwide.[14]

This is a small sampling of what some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley are doing in the impact space. Though the issues that entrepreneurs are interested in vary, they all share the same passion to leverage their success in an impactful way.


[1] https://obvious.com/

[2] http://blogs.wsj.com/venturecapital/2014/12/08/ev-williams-obvious-ventures-officially-launches/

[3] https://chanzuckerberg.com/initiatives/

[4] https://chanzuckerberg.com/initiatives/

[5] http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurengensler/2015/11/06/lisa-charly-kleissner-kl-felicitas-impact-investing/#47b99e4e6d2f

[6] http://www.toniic.com/

[7] http://redf.org/who-we-are/our-history/

[8] http://redf.org/who-we-are/our-history/

[9] http://www.salesforce.org/about-us/

[10] http://www.salesforce.org/pledge-1/

[11] http://pledge1percent.org/#pledge-now

[12] https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2014/04/113131/ucsf-benioff-children%E2%80%99s-hospital-children%E2%80%99s-hospital-oakland-receive-100m-gift

[13] http://parker.org/about

[14] http://parker.org/focus-areas/life-sciences; http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/04/13/billionaire-announces-250-million-cancer-immunotherapy-funding/82821198/