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The student-managed Steven Tarrson Impact Investment Fund at Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation is pleased to announce its first investment. Harvest Thermal, which uses novel technology to transform a home’s water tank into a thermal battery, saves homeowners money and drastically reduces energy use by only using electricity when it is cheapest and cleanest.

“With heating and hot water accounting for nearly two-thirds of home energy use, tackling those two systems is key to decarbonizing homes,” said Jane Melia, CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area company, which recently closed a $1.9 million seed round. “When founding Harvest Thermal, I set out to do just that, delivering a system that would be good both for the environment and people’s wallets,” she said, noting that her company’s device, the Harvest Pod, can save customers anywhere from 25 to 50 percent on their bills.

If the company meets its projections, the core technology will reduce emissions by approximately 67,000 metric tons of CO2 by 2025—the equivalent of taking 15,000 cars off the road or planting 3.2 million trees.

Building on Rustandy Center Impact Investing Programs

The Tarrson Fund, one of the largest student-managed impact funds in the United States, is a critical part of the Rustandy Center’s suite of programs that offer hands-on learning opportunities in impact investing. This first investment grew out of Booth’s participation in Turner MIINT, a competition in which business students from around the world compete for investment in a social venture they scouted. In 2021, a Booth team made it to the national round of the competition, placing second with its recommendation for an investment in Harvest Thermal.

“It made sense to consider Harvest Thermal as the first Tarrson Fund investment, because it builds upon the work of the Booth students who competed in Turner MIINT,” said William Colegrove, director of the Edwardson Social Entrepreneurship Program at the Rustandy Center.

Student-Led at Every Step

The Tarrson Fund students then conducted additional diligence on Harvest Thermal before moving forward with an investment recommendation of $50,000. The Student Investment Committee, charged with making final investment decisions, agreed with this recommendation, making Harvest Thermal the fund’s inaugural portfolio company.

“The Harvest Thermal investment was managed by the fund’s founding students leaders, who created the fund’s structure, developed its student engagement process, and launched the fund’s activities,” said Colegrove. “We hope students who go through this process will be strong candidates for full-time jobs in the very competitive impact investing space going forward.”

There are now more than 60 students participating in fund activities. Students are solely responsible for scouting the companies, conducting due diligence, and making final investment decisions. There is an external advisory board, composed of practitioners in the field of impact investing, but board members can only veto a student investment recommendation if their disagreement is unanimous.

“Students really have a tremendous level of autonomy in the decision-making process,” said Colegrove. “The fund would not be where it is without the contributions of the entire Student Investment Committee, notably the managing partners: Raabia Budhwani, Trevyr Meade, and Seth Udelson.”

Justin Turner, a member of the Student Investment Committee, agrees. “I’m not going to relate this to what Lewis and Clark did crossing the Rockies, but we built the process as we went along, and we learned by doing,” he said.

Sneha Kasuganti was a member of the MIINT team that scouted Harvest Thermal. Her experience in the competition was so formative that when she had an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the Tarrson Fund, helping to build it out with other students, she knew she had to get involved.

“I’ve learned about all the different pieces that go into setting up the infrastructure of a fund,” said Kasuganti, who also serves on the Student Investment Committee. “My experience with the Tarrson Fund has taught me about all the different decisions leaders have to make, and it helped me think through how I would go about making them in the real world.”

“My experience with the Tarrson Fund has taught me about all the different decisions leaders have to make, and it helped me think through how I would go about making them in the real world.”

— Sneha Kasuganti, Full-Time MBA Student

Catalyzing Social Change

In addition to supporting student aspirations, the fund hopes to catalyze investment in companies with the potential to help solve some of the pressing challenges of our time.

The $1 million fund is structured to allow for riskier investments in early-stage companies that other investors might not be willing to support. The hope is that having the Chicago Booth name attached to that investment will help these social enterprises meet their fundraising goals, attract additional investors, and create impact.

Designed to be “evergreen,” the fund will reinvest all profits so students can make more and larger investments in the future. In the interim, at the suggestion of students, Booth leadership has invested some of the remaining balance into a local community development financial institution that makes loans to nonprofits across the Midwest. This $300,000, three-year loan will allow the fund to create additional impact while students continue to go through the process of finding their next investment.

The fund was made possible by a gift from Ron Tarrson, ’72 (XP-31), in honor of his brother Steven Tarrson, to provide students real-life impact investing experience and provide critical capital to groundbreaking social ventures.

Looking Ahead

The Tarrson Fund is now actively soliciting opportunities for its second investment, in the range of $25,000 to $100,000.

Fund leadership is also excited about how the fund can impact the student experience—whether students are already interested in impact investing professionally or exploring social impact opportunities generally. “Participating in the fund is a great opportunity for people who know they want to become the next great impact investor,” said Student Investment Committee member Turner. “And if you’re not sure that it’s for you, you should still be part of the Tarrson Fund team!”

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