Kristin Hull is the Founder, CEO, and CIO of Nia Impact Capital. She and I have known each other through the impact investing field for many years; but it wasn’t until I sat down with her for this interview that I got to know more of her fascinating personal story. Read on for that as well as an interesting success story about one of her favorite solution-based investments.
Sonya: How long have you been working in financial services and what led you to impact investing?
Kristin: I have been exposed to finance and entrepreneurship since I was in high school. Being involved with my father’s trading firm had me talking puts, calls and futures from an early age, yet I didn’t catch on to the power of investing to create positive outcomes until later. In 2007, at the Global Philanthropy Forum I first heard of the concept of using a foundation’s endowment as a tool to enhance or propel forward the grant's mission. That moment was a big ah-ha for me, and that day I started paving my path forward in aligning assets with values, and with our vision for the world in which we want to live. 2007 was the year I oversaw the creation of the nation’s first 100% impact invested foundation endowment. In 2010, I moved from President and Chair of the Board of a family foundation, to launching my own Impact Investment firm. A few years later I moved back into public markets, with an explicit gender lens, creating investment products constructed of companies that matter, investing exclusively in companies with diverse leadership, and whose products and services are beneficial to a diverse population.
Sonya: I read the story of your family history and personal journey to Impact Investing in Green Money Journal last year. It’s a great read and I’ll link it below for my readers.
Kristin: Thank you! My money story continues to grow as I work to empower others in sustainable finance. We launched Nia Impact Advisors last year, expanding our mission to include changing the face of finance, and launched Money Doula, a new blog and podcast series illustrating ways to align assets with our goals for an inclusive and sustainable economy.
Sonya: Do you have a recent favorite success story from one of your portfolios?
Kristin: I launched the Nia Global Solutions portfolio to bring impact investing to the public markets. Nia is the Swahili word for intention and purpose, and we invest with intention into companies that matter. Each company within the portfolio is working to address one of our six solution themes from renewable energy to health care. While I love all of the companies in our portfolios, one of my favorites is Orasure, a Pennsylvania based company providing innovative diagnostic solutions for infectious diseases. When I first started researching Orasure, I was impressed with their development of the first over the counter HIV test. Their ability to make this low cost, easy oral sample test available over the counter, felt like a game-changer to me. Instead of having to leave work, and make an appointment at the clinic, Orasure has removed much of the stigma of getting tested for HIV, and for HCV. Later, when the Ebola crisis hit, the Orasure team was able to develop a similarly easy to administer Ebola test. The positive impact that Orasure creates by providing quick diagnostics for infectious diseases will be measurable over time, as more and more people are able to be tested quickly, and with dignity in the privacy of their own homes. By helping more people know their status, Orasure also helps to reduce the risk of spreading our most infectious diseases.
Sonya: Can you speak a bit about the financial profile and outlook for the company?
Kristin: Orasure has had tremendous financial success for its shareholders thus far and is well positioned for further growth over time as new products are developed. By investing in solutions-focused companies like Orasure, with strong balance sheets and diverse leadership, we reduce risks to investors.
Sonya: I know that you always look at investments with a gender lens. How does this company do under that scrutiny?
Kristin: Thanks for asking Sonya. Yes, diversity and inclusion are core values for us at Nia. Orasure has three women and two people of color in top leadership positions, which is important for us to see. We actually eliminate more than 50% of the companies we look at for their lack of gender diversity.
Sonya: Can you tell me a little more about why diversity and inclusion are important to your investing process?
Kristin: This is such a pertinent topic for me, as I grew up in Oakland, which is a city with great diversity, and yet opportunities are not divided equally. Working toward a more inclusive world is important to me personally. For the Nia investing process, we think of inclusion as smart investing. We know from the research that diverse teams have been found to be more innovative, and that innovation can lead to more revenue and profits for businesses. We also look to the research on gender diversity and the many positive outcomes that correlate with including women in senior level management and on the board of directors, which for us is a signal of stronger corporate governance. We also know that women tend to hire more women, which is a desired outcome for today's world. In the public equities sector of our economy, most companies still have predominantly white male leadership. We know this make up is not sustainable for our economy or for our planet and we are proud to be a part of the transition to a more inclusive corporate culture.
Sonya: What interesting project are you working on now?
Kristin: I am excited to be putting the final touches on the second Nia Impact portfolio, focused on dividend paying stocks. Like our flagship portfolio, all of the companies in our selected universe support women in leadership positions. Both portfolios are baked with intention, and offer daily liquidity, thus keeping the positive qualities of publicly traded companies. This next dividend paying portfolio has the distinct focus of providing both opportunities for growth as well as current income.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.