Resnick Institute

2014 Resonate Award Winners

Sarah Kearney

Resonate Award recipient for designing flexible impact-focused investment models to fund innovative ventures offering scalable solutions to global social problems.



The Challenge

Financing breakthrough energy startups and for-profit ventures engaged in addressing global social problems is challenging, and funding has steadily declined in recent years. Because these ventures are risky, capital-intensive and often can’t promise financial returns within a competitive timeframe, they are a poor fit with traditional venture capital. Philanthropic grants, which focus on making an impact rather than a financial return, can help get ideas off the ground inside university labs, but are not currently being used to transition basic science and engineering into real world impact.

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The Response

Sarah Kearney founded the PRIME Coalition to address this challenge and to provide charitable asset owners – private foundations, corporate foundations and family offices – with the resources they need to commercialize the most impactful technologies of tomorrow. While conducting research about options for charitable investors, Sarah recognized that grants structured as equity or debt can be made to for-profit companies as a powerful tool for addressing global social problems. This type of grant is known as a program-related investment (PRI) and PRIME is helping foundations to harness this mechanism to enliven the cleantech sector with capital that can sit between grants for social return and venture funds for financial return to create a new class of philanthropic venture investors motivated by social good.

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The Future

PRIME’s primary goal is to drastically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change. In order to achieve this goal, PRIME is forming a membership group comprised of foundations interested in PRIs and impact investors interested in high-risk, high-reward opportunities. PRIME will provide the tools these members need to make effective investments into cleantech companies and projects that will not otherwise be supported.