(Photo by Shira Yudkoff)
Impact investing is gaining in popularity all over the world, partially because millennials on the whole care about mission — which means that MBA programs that don’t offer impact-related courses need to take the hint.
“Everything in impact has gone mainstream this year,” said Jacob Gray, Wharton Social Impact Initiative’s senior director, referring to deals such as Goldman Sachs’s recent acquisition of socially conscious asset management firm Imprint Capital. “It’s permeating a lot of schools where there really wasn’t any impact investing work at all.”
That’s where MBA Impact Investing Network and Training comes in. Dubbed MIINT, it’s a hands-on program in which MBA students spend October through April learning about effective impact investing strategies via online programs, mentoring and networking events while simultaneously developing a pitch for why investors should invest in a specific social enterprise they elect to represent.
The goal: to give students who may or may not be otherwise academically exposed to impact investing the opportunity to seriously dig in.
At the end of the school year, participants bring their pitches to the finals, held at the University of Pennsylvania. An investment committee made up of investors from the likes of Nonprofit Finance Fund and NatureVest decides which team’s proposal is soundest, and that team receives a very real $50,000 to invest in its chosen company. The impact of that money is real, too: As MIINT hypes heavily, the winning company of 2013 was recently acquired by Apple.
MIINT is operated by Wharton Social Impact Initiative and Bridges Ventures, a billion-dollar fund manager with offices in the U.K. and the U.S. At this year’s finals, Wharton hosted 25 schools and 125 students, including its own team (Wharton Impact Investing Partners) and six international teams — the competition’s first.
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By comparison, in the 2014-2015 cycle, 10 schools participated, sending about 100 students to the finals. The previous year, seven schools sent about 60 students.
More than 620 students overall participated in the year-long program this year.
At the finals in April, neither Wharton nor the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University won the top prize for the first time in the program’s four years. The MIT Sloan School of Management team took home a Stanley Cup-lookalike trophy and some hefty bragging rights for their representation of a fintech company that helps South Americans with credit trouble get loans. The first and second runners-up — London Business School, representing an energy efficiency company, and Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, representing a prosthetic limb company — also won $25,000 from sponsor Liquidnet.
The growth in student interest in MIINT over the past few years can be attributed to a scarcity of other educational resources about impact investing, said Brian Trelstad, a partner at Bridges, who started the MIINT program before he worked for the company.
“A lot of students are super interested in thinking about careers that combine investment and social change, [but] there’s also a lack of on-campus resources,” he said. “There aren’t very many classes taught.” MIINT is set up as an optional two-credit class for students in MBA programs that both do have impact investing course offerings, such as Wharton, and don’t — such as LBS.
Alexa Sharples, a first-year MBA student there, guessed that part of why there aren’t as many international teams competing is that the U.S. simply has more top business and policy schools than elsewhere.
“The culture of the MBA is much stronger in the U.S. than perhaps it is in Europe,” Sharples said, “in terms of the social enterprise space and where business meets development. The U.S. has been doing a lot, so from that perspective it’s been really great just being here and hearing about what’s going on in that space.”
Even so, the impact investing field is more “advanced” in the U.K. than in the U.S., Trelstad pointed out — after all, social impact bonds (a.k.a. pay for success) originated at Social Finance U.K. in 2010 and are just making their way to Pennsylvania. Bridges Ventures, too, is a British company.
But what matters to the field’s longevity is who’s going to carry the impact investing torch. Just before the announcement LBS’s second-place award, Sharples said if the team won, she hoped her school would take heed of its accomplishment and deepen its involvement in impact investing education, possibly by offering a course in the subject.
“I think it’s a really nice evidence that there’s demand, and that we can do it, so let’s start doing more,” she said. Her group has already committed to mentoring other LBS students in next year’s competition.