There are many paths to a career in impact investing. Some impact fund managers began their careers in traditional venture capital, whilst other investors have found success previously as entrepreneurs.
I am an impact investor and I’m an entrepreneur in the impact investing industry. I found my way here after beginning my career as a Chartered Accountant (now Chartered Professional Accountant) after decades of working closely with, advising, and financing entrepreneurs. A defining phase of my career was a 10-year period in London, when I was as a corporate finance advisor and investment banker. During this time, I refined my due diligence skills and gained the critical and foundational experience of understanding how capital moved in private and public markets. Most importantly, I experienced how people made investment decisions – individually and in committees – and I began to influence capital decisions directly.
My career reached a critical point 8 years ago when I myself started to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and sought to answer three critical questions:
• How can we move money in a more purposeful way?
• Where are all the women investors?
• What does it mean to be an entrepreneur in the investment industry?
For me, the answer to all three questions was Pique Ventures, an impact investment and management company that I founded in 2012.
After trialling different models for Pique Ventures (such as something resembling a boutique corporate finance advisory firm and an investor network), my early adopter investors wanted a fund. I realized that an impact venture fund was a way to move money more purposefully and with intentional design, and it could attract more women investors to the space. Even though some start-up founders didn’t consider me a founder, I soon discovered for myself that a new venture fund is a start-up business just like any other new business – a start-up with a very particular business model of aggregating and deploying capital.
Through Pique Ventures, I started out advising organizations on developing new venture funds, while in parallel planning my first fund. A turning point came in 2014, when I launched the Pique Fund, an inclusive angel fund focused on leadership diversity. It was the first step to Pique Ventures, evolving from a consulting firm to an impact fund manager. After managing Pique Fund for three years, still working closely with entrepreneurs, and even being a hands-on operator within another business that I manage under Pique Ventures, I finally embraced the entrepreneur in me. I enjoy finding investment product-investor market fit and continually thinking about how our investment thesis and strategy needs to evolve with our economy and society.
Someone asked me recently if they should focus on making a lot of money early in their career and then do something impact-focused later. That is essentially an investment decision about how to spend your time and resources along your career path. Every person’s path is different, but from my experience, earning enough to have your own seed capital is helpful – particularly for being an entrepreneur in the investment industry and starting a new venture fund. I seeded Pique Fund with my own capital. It wasn’t a lot, but it was necessary because investors wanted to see that I was putting my own money where my mouth is. What I lacked in capital, I made up for in terms of expertise and network.
My career choices were almost always guided by curiosity about the unknown and a passion to observe and understand how people make decisions, which is what led me to investment banking. Although I learned that investment banking was not my final destination, it was a great way for me to gain the financing expertise I needed to later launch an impact venture fund. The fascination with decision-making continues to this day, defines much of my work, and is core to who I am as an investor, entrepreneur, and author. I went on to document an impact investing decision-making methodology called Integrated Investing, and published it as a book in 2016.
I recall being thrown into networking situations very early in my career, starting with wine and cheese events during the recruitment season for accounting co-op students at the University of Waterloo in Canada. But it wasn’t until I started building my own businesses and taking a more entrepreneurial path that I realized the importance of making connections and building relationships, and how to do it well, authentically, and in a fun way. Private venture investment is a capital network, not a capital market – at least not yet a market – and therefore personal and professional relationships are critical for moving capital in a purposeful way.
In addition to curiosity and passion, like any entrepreneur, I also needed creativity to fuel the solutions to design, develop, and execute on a new venture fund and the persistence to follow-through on my vision. There were many people that doubted me along the way. A mere 15 months before Pique Fund launched, I thought about giving up on the idea of a new venture fund having received more negative feedback than positive. As I noted earlier, I was also in the middle of writing Integrated Investing, an impact investing decision-making methodology. I shared some of concepts from Integrated Investing with a small group of change-makers at a dialogue in New York focused on systems change. There, I met a senior executive from a large asset management firm who told me I was on to something. He was particularly enamored by a concept I developed called Access to Essential Resources. It took prime spot as the first chapter of the Integrated Investing book (an alternative title for the chapter would be, “What Start-ups Do We Still Need?”)
Only a few days after the dialogue in New York, I was in Toronto and had my first conversation with Lally Rementilla, who would go on to be the first external investor in Pique Fund and join Pique Fund’s Board. It was not only the beginning of a wonderful working relationship of making investment decisions together; it was the vote of confidence that catalyzed the launch of Pique Fund. Finding a lead investor helped give five other pioneering women the confidence to invest in Pique Fund when it was merely an idea.
Leaders and pioneers helped me create a place where investors – new and experienced, of moderate and high levels of wealth, particularly women – could gather and invest in a way that took care of the village. Pique Fund now has 39 investors, of which 31 are women, representing 80 percent of the fund’s capital. We have so far invested in seven impactful women-led technology ventures, themselves quite diverse, employing 42 percent women and 36 percent people of color. 40 percent of our portfolio companies’ management teams are women and 30 percent are people of color. In Canada, Pique Ventures is one of only two fund managers with a gender lens and Pique Fund is one of only two gender lens investors as identified in Wharton Social Impact Initiative’s Project Sage. Pique Ventures and Pique Fund are the longest-standing fund manager and fund, respectively, in Canada investing with a gender lens.
In summary, a sense of purpose, curiosity, and the persistence to pursue purposeful aims are the key motivators for a career in impact investing. Whilst capital can certainly accelerate or make easier that pursuit, expertise and network are critical ingredients for success.
There’s a reason I named my business Pique. I endeavor to pique people’s curiosity about the unknown and pique their interest about impact investing. Pique is a diverse community of investors and together we are investing to take care of the village and help create a better world.
Article by Bonnie Foley-Wong, founder of Pique Ventures (http://piqueventures.com) and founding investor in Pique Fund (http://piqueventures.com/fund). She is also the author of Integrated Investing: Impact Investing with Head, Heart, Body, and Soul (http://piqueventures.com/book). Bonnie helps a diverse community of leaders pursue integrated investing. With over 20 years experience of mobilizing capital for entrepreneurial businesses as a financier, investor, and entrepreneur, Bonnie has financed over $1 billion dollars of alternative investments in Europe and North America.
Bonnie is a CPA (Ontario), CA, and CFA charter holder. She has a Bachelor of Mathematics and Master of Accounting from the University of Waterloo.