2020 in Review with the Tuck Social Venture Fund
As we reflect back on the tumultuous year of 2020, the Tuck Social Venture Fund (TSVF) team acknowledges the tremendous learning opportunity that we had as directors of the Fund during a time of crisis. In a typical year, the TSVF Student Directors develop a close working relationship with our faculty advisors, get real-time experience sourcing and diligencing deals, and learn how to support portfolio companies using the Tuck and Dartmouth networks.
2020, in turn, revolved around navigating a deal-making environment amidst the uncertainty of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when we had limited data on the future outlook. As the months passed, we spoke frequently with the advisors about how the market for funding was changing over time, with discussions in the fall shifting to increased availability of funding as venture capitalists looked to deploy capital again. As a team, we were in touch with our various portfolio companies to offer guidance, advice, and encouragement during a challenging time for founders. We are in awe of our founders and their teams for their creativity and agility in navigating business model transitions, product launches, and financing rounds. Below, we highlight the successes of a few of our portfolio companies during 2020.
The TSVF team welcomed CNote to the portfolio in the midst of COVID-19. With challenges facing the U.S. small business community and the need for alternative forms of financing, the TSVF is proud to play a part through our investment in CNote. In response to the pandemic, CNote created a new Rapid Response Fund to deliver low-cost and flexible capital to their community-lender partners so they could adequately respond to the financing needs of their communities. CNote also stated that their stakeholders have been laser-focused on impact during the pandemic. VP of Marketing, Mike Ivancie commented, “The investors on CNote’s platform have shown an increased desire to leverage their investment dollars to address pressing social issues, including racial equity and supporting the small business recovery from the pandemic and associated shutdowns.”
In August 2019, the TSVF team participated in a follow-on round of financing for Ed Mod. COVID-19 highlighted the need for digital learning tools that support the quality of education for students with thinking and learning differences. CEO Melissa Corto stated, “Helping special education teams to work smarter, not harder, is what will get our schools and families through the tail end of the pandemic. This includes investing in research-based technology solutions and putting sustainable, best-practice systems in place that can be managed regardless if students or teachers are in person or remote.” You can read more about Ed Mod’s historic 2020 here.
The TSVF team made an investment in New/Mode in early 2020. New/Mode is committed to empowering people and communities to ensure public institutions meet their needs through a multi-channel advocacy and civic engagement platform. In 2020, New/Mode supported over 10,000 campaign actions and 30 million+ texts, tweets, emails, faxes, and calls to decision-makers. New/Mode is becoming essential campaign infrastructure and their executive team has seen the biggest players in the civic engagement platform market expressing interest in partnering or integrating with them.
The TSVF team made a pre-seed investment in CollegeBacker in 2019, and as of early January 2021, we are participating in a subsequent round in partnership with renowned lead investors. In reflecting on their business traction during the pandemic, the founding team shared tweaks they made to their business model to make it more impactful for their customers. In response to economic uncertainty, CollegeBacker launched a cash back rewards program with over 100 brand partners. Their customers for 529 plans can gain reward points while shopping that then help fuel their savings balance for 529 plans. Additionally, the CollegeBacker team bolstered the community aspect of the business by allowing family members and community members to gift contributions to 529 plans via their platforms.
Overall, we are proud to say that not only have our portfolio companies weathered the storm of a global pandemic and disruption of our daily lives, but also have helped to make more impact than ever when people really needed it. The founders and teams that lead these companies have shown their resilience and resolve, so we appreciate them and applaud their efforts. It is a privilege to spend our days at Tuck investing in impact and working with the innovators dedicated to changing the world.