Jobs for the Future’s new $50M fund looks to invest in underrepresented founders

By Kyle Wiggers and published by TechCrunch.com

Two years ago, Jobs for the Future (JFF), a nonprofit dedicated to helping low-wage workers attain upward mobility, established a venture arm, JFFVentures, to back innovative employment tech.

In a move implying that the launch went well, JFFVentures today unveiled its second fund, JFFVentures Fund II, with a target of $50 million — $15 million has been raised so far.

The new fund — furnished in part by the Autodesk Foundation, the Workday Foundation and the American Council on Education — will target founders building HR, education and workforce solutions that “enable economic mobility for workers in middle to low-wage jobs,” said JFFVentures Fund managing partner Sabari Raja.

“We’re looking to invest in 30 to 35 pre-seed- and seed-stage startups, with initial check sizes between $250,000 [and] $1 million, with the ability to lead rounds,” Raja told TechCrunch. “We’ll reserve $1 million to $2 million for follow-on investments into companies that are outperforming from a financial and impact perspective.”

JFFVentures Fund II joins the growing number of impact-focused VC funds stateside, which seek to drive social, economic and environmental change while earning investment returns. Others include Collaborative Fund, Third Sphere, and the nonprofit Acumen Fund.

Impact investing is a massive — and expanding — opportunity. According to the Global Impact Investing Network, an international think tank, the private impact market grew to approximately $1.2 trillion at the end of 2021, up 63% since 2019.

But impact funds face challenges that many traditional startup investment vehicles don’t.

For one, it can be difficult for VCs to measure an investment target’s real-world impacts or progress. Impact funds have historically offered lower returns, according to a 2021 study from Cambridge Associates. And many impact funds have limited track records, since the sector is so new.

So how is JFFVentures Fund II planning to avoid these pitfalls?

Well, Raja says, while the fund is operationally independent from JFF, JFFVentures Fund II will benefit from the wider JFF community, including its connections with government, corporate, education and nonprofit partners. Founders in Fund II will be able to tap at least one dedicated person who is focused on connecting portfolio companies to experts and networks across the JFF ecosystem, Raja added.

“We’re honed in on the journey of the worker in middle- to low-wage jobs, investing in novel technologies that provide them the education, access to quality jobs, tools for employers to support their career growth and wrap-around services that help them outside of work so they can thrive at work,” she said. “We have expertise and experience solving critical workforce problems with technology-enabled approaches.”

Yigal Kerszenbaum, another managing partner at JFFVentures, said that a top priority for Fund II is “economic advancement for the underserved and underrepresented populations.” Kerszenbaum called out women, disabled workers, immigrants, aging populations and communities of color as examples.

 

 

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Celia French

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