The big shift I’ve seen in 2020, 2021, and 2022 is that the default mode of business (in impact investing) is meetings on Zoom vs. meetings in-person. The new normal for my workday is spending a few hours talking to people around the world via Zoom, with 99% of those meetings set by Calendly.com. All those people have the option of a phone call, and maybe once per month someone choose a voice-only phone call.
Looking back over 30+ years of building companies, this new mode of business makes it easier than ever to build a national or global company, and I’ve spent my 2022 on three of those: Fledge, Africa Eats, and Realize Impact.
Fledge is the oldest of the three, founded in 2012. Time flies, as I’ve now been building this global network of business accelerator for mission-driven for-profit companies for over a decade. Accelerators changed a lot since the pandemic, and of these the one I spent the most time on in 2022 was The Land Accelerator Africa, a hybrid program that trained 100 African SMEs working on restorative forestry and restorative agriculture.
Africa Eats is the newest, founded in 2020, but spun out of Fledge with a portfolio of fledglings (alumni of Fledge), including a few from previous years of The Land Accelerator as well as Seattle, Peru, Barcelona, and Padova.
This investment holding company is proving out a novel recipe of venture capital, business accelerator, and Berkshire Hathaway.
This structure is proving out a means of filling in the “Missing Middle” of capital, so pervasive in the Global South.
That seems more than enough to keep one person busy, but then there is Realize Impact, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity founded in 2013, but which truly found its niche in early 2020 when it launched a service for philanthropic-based impact investments.
I managed the first $10 million of donations and first 50 investments in 2020 and 2021, but one of the highlights of my 2022 came early in the year when Realize Impact hired an Executive Director to take that work off of my plate, Matt Eldridge.
My favorite part in building companies is getting from business plan to proven business and my second favorite part is then handing off the working business model to someone who loves operations, who can then scale it up further. Matt loves nothing better than automating manual processes and streamlining internal operations. I spent my 2022 helping with that, all while the service took in more donations in 2022 than in 2020 and 2021 combined.
And no, I’ve no plans on handing off Fledge or Africa Eats anytime soon. But Fledge in recent years has been more about training others in running accelerators than in running accelerators myself, so that is very similar work. And at Africa Eats I’ve always had Jumaane Tafawa as my co-founder and partner to help scale up our operations.
Given these three companies, an occasional book, podcasts, and public speaking, people have asked me for years if I sleep. Yes, I sleep. The trick to keeping all these companies going and growing is that each of these orgs include a larger team of stakeholders that isn’t evident from the team pages:
Fledge is a network of business accelerators. There are partners at each of the logos on the Fledge map, each operating their own programs, plus thousands of entrepreneur alumni working daily building their companies, who we the facilitators and investors don’t micro manage.
Africa Eats is more the “bizi” than the team at runs the holdco itself. All the bizi have their founders in place who run those companies on a daily basis. HQ exists to help with through big challenges and to provide growing funding, not to manage the day-to-day operations and minor issues.
Realize Impact will be scaling up its staff in 2022, as it is now managing single months with millions of dollars in donations. And I’m now just one part-time staff.
I’m not planning to add any new project in 2023, just to continue scaling up these three. My kind of fun!