Founded in 2006, the US-based impact investor Gray Matters Capital (GMC) has backed a host of scalable ventures generating social and financial returns. Led by Jennifer Soltis, its coLABS portfolio has been focusing on women.
While GMC has investments across multiple industries, including microfinance and education, coLABS was launched in 2017 to fund business models that have the potential to significantly improve the lives of women.
“coLABS applies GMC’s experience as investors to take a more intentional gender lens focus. We support companies that are amplifying the voice and choice of women and girls around the world – any sector, any country,” said Soltis, who began her career at the company in 2010.
GMC has committed US$5 million to coLABS, which has invested in companies across six different countries, including Ghana’s Redbird and Nigeria’s SonoCare. All of the firm’s funding comes from founder Bob Pattillo, a serial entrepreneur and investor, and it has a global focus.
“We have a particular interest in emerging markets but are open to any company proposing solutions to critical barriers unique to women and girls,” said Soltis.
Africa, however, is high on its agenda.
“We’ve been really excited about the innovation coming out of the tech space in Africa and its applicability across so many important sectors for social impact – agri-tech, ed-tech, fintech, last-mile distribution… Entrepreneurs are using technology to take advantage of the lack of infrastructure, rather than seeing that lack as blocking point,” she said.
However, she said African startups typically lack access to local capital.
“The options that are available seem to be inaccessible to the majority,” said Soltis.
GMC and coLABS are addressing this issue, and looking to invest in early-stage social enterprises with the potential to dramatically improve the lives of women and girls around the world. It is looking for scalability, high levels of innovation, and investment readiness.
“In 2019, we will continue to invest in enterprises that are helping to build a more prosperous future for women and girls. We are looking to form local partnerships, particularly across Africa and South and Southeast Asia, that will help us find the most promising entrepreneurs who are addressing the challenges that women face at scale,” Soltis said.
“Africa is a fertile ground for entrepreneurship and innovation, so I see investor and funder interest continuing to increase. Half of our portfolio companies are located in Africa, more than any other continent. The vast majority of our investment applications have come from African countries, so there’s definitely pipeline there for investors at every stage.”