23 May 2016

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Selecting the Best Student Pitches for Impact Investing Funds

One of our managing directors helped chose the best ideas for financing development from the world's top universities.

Finance in Motion Managing Director Florian Meister recently had the opportunity to judge the final round of the Sustainable Investment Challenge, a top-tier competition where international graduate students pitch sustainable investment projects.

Organized by Morgan Stanley and the Kellogg School of Business at U.S.-based Northwestern University, the finals of the competition were held in Hong Kong, where a rainy spell failed to dampen the spirits of either competitors or judges. David Chen from Kellogg – who has his own California-based private equity firm Equilibrium Capital – kicked off the ultimate round by interviewing Florian along with three other judges; the final jury also included representatives from Morgan Stanley, Warburg Pincas, the Dutch pension fund APG, asset management juggernaut Blackrock, the USD 25 billion NZ Superannuation Fund, T. Rowe Price (one of the largest U.S. asset managers), and LA-based impact fund start-up TriLinc Global. 

Marco Kaiser from the Finance in Motion Frankfurt office played an important role in a preparatory round by serving as a regional judge. The final round featured the 10 pitches judges preferred most from the submissions of some 100 participating business schools. 

First prize went to the team from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California for their Terra Limpa proposal, which centered on the value creation of professionally clearing landmines from currently unusable agricultural land in Angola. The project would allow farmers to work the land, thus improving their operations and access to market. The concept would then eventually sell the cleared land back to those very farmers via an automatic savings model. 

The team from the Darden School of Business at University of Virginia garnered second prize with its Red Ribbon Fund (photo), a pay-for-performance instrument to support improved treatment adherence for people with HIV in the U.S. The project would initially target Washington, D.C., and by ensuring those infected remain under treatment and at viral load zero, which all but eliminates the chances of further transmission, one result could be significantly lower costs for treating new cases, each of which can total several hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

The final jury was forced to deliberate long and hard over the proposals due to the high quality of the pitches. As in previous iterations of the Challenge, the winning team received a cash prize, but more importantly, access to a prestigious gathering of philanthropists. Some previous winners either remained in fund-raising or actually implemented their proposals with modifications, which shows that winning has made a difference for the career paths of those students. What Florian (back left in photo) also found enriching was the wide range of topics and location of projects, along with the ability to gauge what pitches were likely to work and find investors since he has run similar funds and knows their cost structures. 


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