By Stef Tschida
In response to the global health crisis, My Founder Story partnered with BankCherokee to launch Fueled by Purpose micro grants. Every week through June, we awarded a grant to a female-founded small business in need.
Elaine Rasmussen spent the first two decades of her career working at jobs—good, well-paying jobs related to her education in business and marketing. But they mostly just felt like jobs. One of those positions brought her to a professional conference where she found herself in a room full of investors. Only a few of the people in the room were female, and Elaine was the only woman of color. As she listened to attendees introduce themselves by sharing the dollar value of the assets they managed, Elaine started adding up the money in the room. She was astonished by the amount, which was in the billions. In that moment, she realized racial equity could only be achieved by “moving the money” to the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community. That became her north star.
Elaine hadn’t considered entrepreneurship before she attended that conference, but she couldn’t stop thinking about the money that needed to be moved. She began strategizing while continuing to work at her day job. She realized there was a lot she didn’t know about the investment world, so she learned the language, identified the players and considered where she might fit in. Three years later, in 2016, Elaine founded Social Impact Strategies Group (SISG) to democratize access to capital by and for people of color. It’s a B corporation, which is a certification for businesses that have proven their ability to balance purpose and profit and that agree to prioritize the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.
A cornerstone of SISG’s work is its annual ConnectUP! conference, which brings traditionally underestimated entrepreneurs and investors together to learn, solve problems and build relationships. The goal is to cross-pollinate networks and build a financial ecosystem that prioritizes equitable access to resources, capital and networks. The conference addresses gaps Elaine observed as a frequent attendee of conferences in her past life: Most entrepreneurial conferences were focused on pitching, not building relationships. And they always kept entrepreneurs and investors apart, but it’s critical they know each other because, as Elaine describes, neither can achieve their goals without the other. ConnectUP! bridges those gaps and has been incredibly successful. The most recent event took place in March 2020, right before Minnesota’s shelter-in-place order took effect.
The coronavirus pandemic and murder of George Floyd have dramatically increased demand for the services that SISG offers. Elaine and her team are working around the clock to help entrepreneurs establish the technology to work remotely, build relationships with lenders to get access to critically needed capital, and counsel business owners on available government programs. They are equally as busy helping organizations implement social impact and racial equity in their operations, philanthropy and investing portfolios. Most recently, Elaine testified before the Minnesota House and Senate finance committees on legislative changes needed to address racial equity and access to capital for members of the BIPOC community who have been hardest hit by crises.
Elaine is hiring and challenged to keep up with current demand. She plans to use the grant to build her capacity to help even more entrepreneurs of color as well as to address system changes needed for equitable access to capital.
To learn more about Elaine’s business, visit Social Impact Strategies Group’s Facebook page.
To learn more about and apply for a Fueled by Purpose micro grant, visit our grants page.
Photo: Social Impact Strategies Group
About the author: Stef Tschida is a former corporate communicator and lifelong storyteller. Stef’s WHY became clear when she worked at her daily campus newspaper. She realized she didn’t want to ask tough questions as a reporter—she wanted to help organizations answer those tough questions. She’s been doing that work ever since.