If you had asked Joshua Rogers, ’15, about impact investing 10 years ago, he might have thought you were talking about the “impact” of the financial crisis on his career.
Fresh out of Harvard, he had joined UBS’s investment-banking training program just in time for cracks in the system to appear. Rogers sought shelter in UBS’s equity research department, where he eventually covered . . . banks.
Rogers worked under UBS’s banking analyst, Heather Wolf, who turned bearish on bank stocks before the roof fell in. He later switched to ISI Group, though he was souring on sell-side research. He wanted something more “mission-oriented,” but didn’t have connections in that area.
“I thought, ‘This is not going to be a job I can get without broadening my network,’” he recalled. Rogers went to Booth to explore impact investing.
At Booth, Rogers got into the MBA Impact Investing Networking and Training (MIINT) program and the Private Equity/Venture Capital Lab, which led to an internship with a firm that did impact investing.
The move ultimately paid off in a job with Advantage Capital, an impact investing firm with about $1 billion in assets. Rogers packed up, moved back to New York, and started his new job nine days after graduation. He was happy to endure the minor inconvenience: even as a senior associate, he now has significant autonomy and responsibility.
In the role, Rogers reviews pitches from companies looking for funding. “I’m learning about new businesses all the time, so that is very exciting,” he said.
He also plays a big role in companies in which his firm invests. “I sit as a board member on several of our portfolio companies, and help shape the strategy,” he said. “I work directly with the entrepreneurs and help them set budgets, raise capital, and hire and fire people.”
One of those companies is Hip Chick Farms, in which Advantage Capital led a first round of institutional investment. Cofounded by a married couple, Serafina Palandech and Jennifer Johnson, and based in Sebastopol, California, the company makes natural and organic chicken fingers out of humanely raised, antibiotic-free birds. Johnson, dubbed “Chef Jen” on the company’s website, worked for years at Alice Waters’s culinary shrine, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, where she developed a passion for locally grown food. She also was a personal chef for Ann and Gordon Getty and cooked a meal for the Obamas at the White House.
Hungry kids and stressed-out parents have, well, gobbled up the healthy finger food. Hip Chick Farms has millions in annual sales from stores like Whole Foods, Ralph’s, Kroger, and Safeway.
Another company in which Rogers was involved was Cleveland HeartLab, which emerged from blood tests developed at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic to measure inflammation, or risks for heart attack or stroke that traditional blood tests sometimes miss. It also was a big employer in a low-income Cleveland neighborhood.
Advantage made a late-stage investment in the company during a funding crunch and spearheaded a successful turnaround. The firm recently exited its investment when Quest Diagnostics, a Fortune 500 company, bought Cleveland HeartLab.
Rogers has no regrets about his career change. “I can find a company, do the due diligence, and structure the deal all by myself,” he said. “If the partners approve it and we invest in the company, then I manage that investment. It’s a level of responsibility I wouldn’t have had if I was in investment banking until I was at a much more senior level.”
This recent Booth graduate in his early 30s has found both his mission and his vocation.
—Howard R. Gold