The world of Impact Investing is still a pretty small and interconnected community. Over the past year a number of people have asked me, “do you know Cat Berman?” and I didn’t know her…until recently. I ran into her at a conference in March and, as predicted by our mutual acquaintances, we hit it off immediately. Catherine, “Cat” Berman is the co-founder, and CEO of CNote, an impact savings platform. Today I’m thrilled to share an impact success story from CNote. Read on for this inspirational story of a product from a cancer patient turned inventor.
Sonya: Tell me a little about your career path, and what inspired you to start CNote.
Cat: I've been working in impact investing since 2009. Prior to CNote, I was a managing director at Charles Schwab and prior to that I was a senior vice president at a venture capital firm; in both roles, I was focused on leveraging capital to increase opportunity for undeserved communities and under-funded segments (most often women and minorities). I realized that I would be able to affect greater change as an entrepreneur building a business entirely focused on this mission.
Sonya: Did you have an impact investing “a-ha” moment?
Cat: The first time I saw how an investment could deliver tremendous social good was many years ago when I was offered the opportunity to invest in a for-profit social venture making energy products available to the world's 1-billion off-the-grid customers. I was mesmerized. How amazing that I could be part of an incredible social mission - not as a donor, but as an investor. My investment helped showcase that this for-profit company not only had a deep social impact, but also a creative and sustainable business model. Supporting individuals and companies outside of philanthropy felt like a natural way to open more capital for strong organizations that were solving real societal problems; I’ve been a fan of impact investing ever since.
I'm also well aware that we have a long way to go. While I've been a strong supporter of the impact investment field for years, I feel we have not done enough to make investing with our values simple and accessible for both Advisors and investors. This is one area we are tackling at CNote. How do we integrate into your life, your portfolio, your passions -- versus asking you to integrate into ours.
Sonya: Tell me a little about one of your favorite CNote loans.
Cat: One of my favorite examples of CNote dollars at work is that of Cinde Dolphin, a survivor of 4 cancers and 9 surgeries who wanted a better way to transport a post-surgery medical drain. She couldn’t find a solution that was safe, good looking, and dignified. So she invented a portable, easy-to-use apron that patients can wear for increased mobility and dignity. We have the full story of her invention process up on our blog. Cinde knew first-hand the problem she was solving and developed a beautiful solution that provides positive impact for other cancer patients. But she didn’t stop there. She enlisted the help of the women of Kilimanjaro to weave a version of the apron; these hand made carriers became so popular that the women were able to make their own small business and use the revenues to send their daughters to school. It’s a little product with a tremendous impact. We love helping our investors to fund new and inspiring projects that have a tangible impact on the communities they support and beyond.
Sonya: Tell me more about the financial side.
There are countless examples of investments like this that we support at CNote. And because we only work with proven, high-performing non-profits (CDFIs) that invest in borrowers like Cinde, CNote is able to offer low-risk, deep impact investment opportunities. Our flagship product has become one that many advisors now use as their clients’ “Toe-dipping” impact investment option or “impact Fixed Income” option.
We invest in a diversified pool of high-performing community lenders with decades of consistent performance and zero capital loss. We are trying to make it easy and straightforward to invest in what you believe in.
Sonya: Do you have any interesting projects in the works now?
Cat: Yes! We have two exciting initiatives rolling out soon. A fund focused on investing 100% in women, and a hyper-local product that allows you to invest, even small amounts, in your local community without fees or minimums.
Sonya: That’s great. When do you expect those to be live?
Cat: Our flagship product, CNote Community Innovation Note, is live right now for all investors. CNote members have already committed over $13 million, which means the impact we're having is growing in lockstep with signups. And the new initiatives should be out in Q4 of this year.
Sonya: Thanks so much for sharing this story. I’ll link to the CNote blog so my readers can read more borrower stories. They’re great. I particularly enjoyed the flower shop story.
Cat: Thank you! And I’m happy to answer any questions from your readers.
Sonya: I’ll include your contact information in the notes below.
Cat’s Bio. Her email is cat (at) mycnote.com