Godmother of impact investing
Founder and managing director, DBL Partners; San Francisco
It seems ironic to contemplate today, but when she started her professional career with the Sierra Club, legendary venture capitalist Nancy Pfund — one of the earliest investors in Tesla and SolarCity — was skeptical of the business world’s ability to catalyze positive social change.
She later reconsidered her “adversarial” worldview while working alongside the late Intel co-founder Robert Noyce, whose interactions with government policymakers taught her the value of public-private collaboration.
The VC firm Pfund co-founded in 2003, San Francisco-based DBL Partners, was among the first to value its investment decisions using social factors such as economic inclusion, gender and racial diversity and environmental action, not just financial return.
It’s a philosophy that more mainstream investors — particularly institutional investment funds — are just now rallying around. “We don’t waste time separating the world into artificial silos,” Pfund said. “We can do better than that.”
DBL’s current portfolio is diverse, but one sector in which she has developed an appetite is agtech. Data suggests agricultural activities account for up to 30 percent of worldwide carbon emissions, so addressing it really isn’t optional if the world hopes to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Two of her bets in this space: Farmers Business Network, which uses data to help farmers improve yields and negotiate better pricing, and Apeel Sciences, which created a plant-derived coating that helps prevent food waste.