As impact investing becomes an increasingly popular investment philosophy, are creatives being left out of the equation? Upstart Co-Lab looks to create an ecosystem where impact investors can connect with funds, businesses, and real estate projects that drive social and environmental impact through the creative economy. Laura Callanan, the organization’s founder, and today’s guest, joins us to share why the creative economy should be a priority in the impact investing space. We begin by looking at current investing in the creative economy and the work Upstart Co-Lab is doing to make investments in creative industries more intentional. We hear about how they categorize industries and why the metrics of investing in these enterprises are the same as other impact investment metrics. Impact investors look for things like job creation, environmental impact, and community development, so investing in the creative economy should meet identical outcomes.

Laura anchors the theory she shares with incredible examples of social impact enterprises she has worked with over the years. As is clear from her evidence, creative entrepreneurs — because of their position in their communities — are still able to express themselves artistically, all while making a broader social impact. Our discussion also touches on the intersection of philanthropy and impact investing the need for the creative economy to tap into impact investment capital in light of minimal government funding, and Laura’s experience of becoming an entrepreneur later in life.

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Key Points From This Episode

Why we should start saying “creative economy” in place of “art and culture”

Laura says when speaking with impact investors, “art and culture” suggests activities without clear financial returns or measurable social and environmental impact. This is an outdated way of thinking, but rather than trying to change this bias, why not reframe the idea? “Creative Economy” describes business activity in nearly 150 creative industries, and the word “economy” suggests there is money to be made.

What exactly might an artist ready to receive investment in the creative economy look like?

The artist Matthew Moore comes to mind. A fourth-generation family farmer, Matt had been making art on topics of where our food comes from and sustainability. (Think: giant ugly carrot sculptures). Now he has teamed up with a restaurant partner to democratize farm-to-table dining. The first location? in a public park. Matt’s creative practice and his social practice led him to launch a social purpose business that impact investors can invest in.

What impact investors look for in creative businesses

The short answer? The same things they want in any other business. Something sizeable and robust with a clear path to financial return. Besides that, they want to see a capable team committed to actual impact.

Why creatives may be better at adapting to changing circumstances

“Adaptability” is something many of us probably have on our resume. But are we actually? Events like the coronavirus pandemic may have called some of that into question. Laura argues that artists and other creatives may be already predisposed to be able to pivot in times of need. This is due to their general ability to embrace failure, the process of trial and error, and to see things not in just black and white.


“We recognized that if we started to frame the conversation around creative industries, the creative economy, which to us includes both businesses and real estate, that then you reveal a lot of investable opportunities that can drive social and environmental impact.” — Laura Callanan [0:03:42]

“Impact investors are looking for really integrated, inextricably linked impact in the opportunities that they’re considering.” — Laura Callanan [0:24:10]

“The people from the banks are not in conversation with the arts leaders. Building those bridges, creating those ties, that’s something that Upstart’s been working very hard at. That’s a piece that was missing previously, but all of the underlying facts were always present.” — Laura Callanan [0:32:26]

“In the US, there’s $17 trillion of sustainable and impact investment capital. If just a small fraction of that really big number could be intentionally thinking about arts, design, culture, heritage, and creativity, the businesses and the real estate developments that can accept investment as opposed to philanthropic support and use that investment capital to grow, that would be a really sizable important infusion of resources into the creative sector.” — Laura Callanan [0:34:05]

“As an entrepreneur is you need to hold on to your belief in that big idea and the long-term goal that you’re driving towards, and you need to be optimistic and intuitive and trust yourself.” — Laura Callanan [0:35:51]

“Everyone has the potential to be investing in a sustainable and impactful way.” — Laura Callanan [0:37:59]

Coming Up Next

Next week, hear from Bret Kugelmass of the Energy Impact Center. He’ll be talking about nuclear energy and argues for why it is the single most effective solution to our climate change problem. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it, leave us a rating so we can keep the podcast growing, and take a look at our shareable materials on our website or on our Instagram.

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode

Laura Callanan on LinkedIn
Upstart Co-Lab
Impact Everywhere with Gary Bolles
Nesta Arts Impact Fund
Matthew Moore
Creative Capital
Greenbelt Hospitality
Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship
Mary Stuart Masterson
Stockade Works
Beth Davenport on LinkedIn
Upriver Studios
Patrick Robinson on LinkedIn
Community Made
Great Minds Don’t Think Alike
UPenn Social Impact of the Arts Project
Mark Stern
National Endowment for the Arts
Bret Kugelmass
Energy Impact Center