By Madison Hofert, undergraduate researcher
In an interview with Peter Cohen, General Counsel member of the of Partnership Fund for New York City, we caught a glimpse of New York City in the future: new jobs in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, immigrant women who can bake a mean loaf of bread, and inmates with access to education—all made possible by Partnership.
What often coincides with the success of the most innovative, impactful start-ups is a double-bottom line fund that cares about civic returns just as much as financial returns. That is where Partnership begins. With a precise focus on the five boroughs of New York City, Partnership’s “current areas of focus are both on emerging growth sectors of the economy, such as fintech, life sciences and advanced manufacturing,” Cohen says, continuing that they also focus on “investments that promote opportunities for individuals in underserved communities of New York City. That’s our mandate. So we’re double bottom line.” Partnership sustains itself by investing in these New York City start-ups, getting money back, and then reinvesting that money into other start-ups. Thus, the success of Partnership depends on the success of its funded companies and vice-versa, generating uniquely equitable relations between a start-up and a VC firm.
When we got Cohen talking about the companies Partnership invests in, things got really interesting. Cohen revealed that Partnership is “looking at a company… which is providing … tablets to the inmate population as a way to provide an educational opportunity for them.” Partnership also made a loan to the Manhattan City Bike Share program to expand these bikes into underserved communities, creating alternate opportunities for transportation and general mobility in these areas. Continuing, Cohen tells us, “[Partnership] made a loan to an organization called Hot Bread Kitchen, which is [a] phenomenal organization where they’re… teaching immigrant women to get them the baking skill set, which will allow them to go off to the top restaurants, including some of the top restaurant group and get on well paying jobs there.” Cohen couldn’t stop there; Partnership’s portfolio was metaphorically bursting at the seams as Cohen continued, “Also, here’s another one we’ve made a loan to: New Lab, which is an advanced manufacturing facility… located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which has been historically an underdeveloped area… It’s, you know, bringing a whole new sector to [the Brooklyn Navy Yard].”
It’s obvious that Partnership isn’t just looking for companies that seem like both a financially and socially good investment, but one that can self-perpetuate and propel into the future. These investments are all forward-looking, focused on the people rather than a product. Whether it be educating inmates, preparing them for life after prison with the opportunities of a tablet, the ensured mobility by bike of all populations across New York City, baking skills that subsequently generate new lifeways for immigrant women, or the introduction of a completely new sector to an underserved area, Partnership is investing in companies that are investing in people, in humanity.
At the end, we asked Cohen what he thinks the major challenges facing the VC industry are regarding Diversity and Inclusion. He replied, “I don’t know where to start or where to stop. I would say just getting more… women and minorities into the position of… making investments. I’m not sure if this is the major challenge, but certainly one challenge is… broadening the base of people who are making the investment decision.” Just one look at the Partnership “Our Team” page (look here) shows that they have taken this to heart. Not only that, but Partnership is women-led. Cohen explains, “Maria Gotch is the President, Mindy Deels Kelly is a Senior Vice President and then actually our parent organization is run by a woman Kathy Wild. So it’s… front and center. And what we do. Again, it’s something that we’re cognizant of, and we look for.”
After our conversation with Cohen, it’s clear that Partnership is paving the way for the future in the kinds of start-ups they fund, the founders that they fund, and the people employed by Partnership that make those decisions. Working from the outside in and the inside out, Partnership is a force to be reckoned with, always one step ahead.