We are thrilled to celebrate the five-year anniversary of the AmFam Institute. We have so much to celebrate and so much more to look forward to. Since we are still a relatively new organization, it seems like a good time to re-introduce ourselves in case you find yourself wondering, “What exactly is the Institute?”
What is the Institute, why is it unique?
Let’s start at the beginning. The AmFam Institute is a unique corporate initiative, focused on investing in and promoting innovation to solve long-term inequities in our communities in the U.S. Our corporate parent, AmFam Group, created the Institute five years ago as a different approach to investing in the communities that our customers, employees, and agency owners call home. At the time of our founding, American Family CEO Jack Salzwedel desired influence in our communities “beyond philanthropy.” He said, “We envision the Institute supporting the formation and growth of social and classic entrepreneurs who create living-wage jobs and contribute to the overall societal good.”
If this sounds “out there”, that is ok to us. In the words of our colleague and Storyteller, Adam Schrager, the Institute has always been “unapologetically aspirational.” We work to empower and fund social innovators and disruptors who are creating startups and new types of philanthropic efforts to “close equity gaps” in America.
One thing that makes the Institute unique is our structure. We are a Public Benefit Corporation in the state of Wisconsin with two distinct operational teams. The first is a corporate social impact venture capital fund; the second is a Program and Partnership group that builds innovative grants and partnerships with both non-profit and for-profit organizations.
Both teams invest in innovation in four unique, but complementary, focus areas:
We invest collaboratively around these themes, in both high-growth companies that maximize impact at scale (impact venture capital), and in high-impact innovative programs that work deeply in communities (programs and partnerships).
What have we done in our first five years?
The Institute venture capital fund has invested in 28 startups across the United States, from traditional hotbeds of innovation like the Bay Area and Boston to other regions like Ann Arbor, MI, Pittsburgh, PA, Atlanta, GA and Denver, CO.
Those startups have already had a significant impact in communities across the US. Many companies in our portfolio are growing rapidly, and we expect their impact to grow along with them.
We are equally proud of the diversity of our portfolio.
Although we don’t disclose our financial returns, we feel very good about the current financial position of the portfolio. But beyond capital, we have endeavored to help our portfolio in numerous other ways. We provide “storytelling” assistance, helping to craft videos, press releases, and social media presence. We help with founders’ mental health, providing a stipend for coaching, as well as organizing founder mastermind groups with a professional facilitator.
Our programs team has been equally impactful. Our colleague Nyra Jordan has been a leader in highlighting and crafting solutions to mitigate the impact that the justice system has on individuals, families, and communities. She has been a driving force in building AmFam’s second chance hiring program, and her TED talk on the issue is powerful.
We’ve been active partners with Village Capital, helping to fund and support technology-enabled innovation for people and communities impacted by the criminal justice system.
In education and impact entrepreneurship, we partnered with the Madison Metropolitan School District, providing funding, access to AmFam resources, and space to MMSD staff to explore innovative solutions to issues facing the district.
Where are we going?
We are incredibly excited about the future of the AmFam Institute. We expect many of our existing portfolio companies will continue to grow their businesses and their impact, adding new investments to the portfolio along the way. The combined efforts of our venture team and programs team will continue to fund innovators addressing gaps of equity and access throughout our country, improving lives for families and communities.
You can watch this anniversary video to hear more from the Institute directors on their work over the last five years.