Unlocking Community-Connecting Capital

Mission Driven Finance unlocks capital for underserved, community-focused businesses and organizations that advance economic opportunity.

Photo of Lauren Grattan

Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

California: San Diego (92110)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started

March / 26 / 2016

Organization Type

  • for-profit

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)


  • $1m - $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)


Twitter URL


Facebook URL


LinkedIn URL


1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

My co-founder David & I saw signs that our local economic engine was ripe for change: massive wealth inequality reinforcing disparities in quality of life & income mobility, and a nonprofit sector desperate for diversified income for long-term impact. At the same time, we witnessed increasing global interest in impact investing to fuel bold ideas and scale social impact. Perhaps we could tap into investors' desire for social and financial returns, and use that flexible, impact-oriented capital to fill gaps in our traditional funding structures that were leaving so many behind. No local financial intermediary was willing to reinvent investment and lending practices, and no national firms could justify entering San Diego's smaller market.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Business ownership is the greatest driver of wealth creation. Yet, due in large part to uneven access to capital, underserved communities face disproportionate hurdles on pathways to business ownership. Large credit gaps and lack of affordable access to credit for small and medium sized enterprises equate to uneven business ownership trends, lethargic impact-oriented growth, and deepening structural inequality.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Mission Driven Finance makes capital available to tenacious small businesses in San Diego that are committed to advancing local economic opportunity. We look for “tweens” – businesses that don’t fit Small Business Association loans (SBA), microloan, or bank criteria and where our investment will be the tipping point enabling a project to proceed. Taking care of community members isn’t a job solely for nonprofits. Mission Driven Finance recognizes all employers as change agents. Small business leaders often want to support their employees, families, and communities, but don’t have the capital and support, let alone incentives to do so. As an engaged community partner, we use a social credit ideology to finance investments up to $500K in nonprofits, social enterprises, and small businesses at rates that encourage success. Mission Driven Finance departs from the nascent field of impact investing in their development of new kinds of legal documents to support blended finance, pulling in investors with varied financial and social motivations. For example, we are coordinating a $2MM raise with SD Habitat for Humanity to expedite land acquisition and construction of affordable homes.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

In 2018, we deployed our first $1.1MM in loans to three San Diego nonprofit and for-profit businesses. The nature of our first loans--$250,000 to LuckyBolt to expand to their first commercial kitchen, $500,000 to Thrive Public Charter Schools to maintain a free, quality education to low-income students, and $350,000 to All Across Africa to do meet growing demand for artisan-made goods--reflect the potential for impact acceleration with a flexible, community-focused finance partner at the helm. In each case, Mission Driven Finance’s ability to tailor structured loan products to fit unique position of each business unlocked opportunity for deepened impact, scale, or growth. Our impact-oriented loans remove existing, systems-level tradeoffs between impact and sustained operations. Thrive saved $125,000 on interest payments with us and reinvested money directly into their school programs.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

We have intentionally removed common underwriting requirements for personal credit scores or personal guarantees for businesses to receive financing from MDF. We focus on the unbanked, underbanked, and businesses whose financing needs do not fit traditional lending requirements. The CDC Small Business Finance described our underwriting style as ‘a thorough equity style analysis for a debt instrument.’ Strategically, we spend more time in under-resourced communities to build trust and capacity.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • immigration status
  • work status
  • race/ethnicity
  • gender
  • socio-economic class
  • other (please specify on question 5a)

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are the closest example that we’ve seen that address our same lending market. However, most CDFIs have rigid loan product structures that cannot accommodate some of the most promising but complicated impact financing opportunities. Entities like Calvert, Enterprise Community, and Capital Impact Partners are established national institutions with similar models yet are not able to lend at the size that the San Diego market needs. Other states—MN, PA, CO—have established impact investing markets. We are developing similar structures in CA.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We work with each of our borrowers to understand their specific indicators for impact and alignment with our own economic opportunity framework. Our economic opportunity framework takes a holistic approach to advancing inclusive opportunity and understands the intergenerational and interdependent nature of each of the thematic areas of our thesis, including: Formative Education; Skills Training and Workforce Development; Quality Jobs; Shaping Local Markets and Systems; Affordable Housing and Inclusive Infrastructure). For example, we worked with All Across Africa (AAA) to close a $600,000 financing round with $350,000 in capital support that was critical to draw in other investors with the remaining $250,000. We are working with AAA to grow and maintain its presence in National City, San Diego where it is committed to hiring local refugees and immigrants.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

We are dedicated to field-building and de-risking impact investing to build a thriving market for place-based investing in San Diego. We deploy advocacy, education, and policy position strategies at the local and county level to create an enabling environment for place-based investing and speak nationally to demystify the process of local investing. We also aspire to grow our community-connected capital model beyond San Diego, through expansion, replication, and deep partnerships. We are engaging national players to lay the groundwork for institutional capital to enter our Fund and scale.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Federations, Associations
  • Lobbying, Policy Change
  • Industry Standards (labels, certification, awards, etc.)

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Our goal is to grow our assets under management (AUM) to $10MM in 2018 and fund our operations with a management fee and a portion of interest payments from our borrowers. Our work is also supported through local grants, for example, to provide technical assistance to borrowers in partnership with CDC Small Business Finance. Until we reach our projected AUM goal, we are also actively fundraising to subsidize startup operations with philanthropic support and very targeted equity investment.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

We have eight team members: five full-time, two part time, and one intern. We maintain a CEO, COO, CIO, CFO, Director of Community Engagement, Director of Investor Relations, and a Readiness Services Manager. Our team ranges from an MPA and MPH committed to inclusive community development and health strategies, a social innovation and fundraising practitioner, to a certified financial analyst, an investment fund strategist and manager, and a $750MM private foundation endowment manager.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)
  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (for example: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Tongan, Fijian, Marshallese)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 66.7%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 100%

Clarity of Writing - 50%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 50%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 100%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 50%

Partnerships - 50%

Potential to scale - 0%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 50%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 50%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 50%

Financial Sustainability - 100%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 100%


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