United States: Mintz Levin's Approach To Supporting A Thriving Social Innovation Sector In Boston And Beyond

It is no surprise that in 2017, Forbes Magazine named Boston as the top U.S. city for social entrepreneurs.1 As attorneys at Mintz Levin,2 a mainstay of the Boston community for more than 80 years, we have had the honor to engage with a thriving regional ecosystem of public and private sector actors supporting companies making a positive impact. 

We also have learned – through serving our clients and our own entrepreneurial experiences – that starting and scaling, or successfully investing in, a profitable mission-driven business is a challenging endeavor. Social entrepreneurs and impact investors must navigate a gauntlet of business, legal, and cultural hurdles while also attempting to simultaneously generate positive financial, social, and environmental returns.3 In the context of this exciting, multifaceted sector, attorneys are uniquely positioned to serve as invaluable advocates, translators, protectors, and connectors.

Social Enterprises

From Mintz Levin's founding commitment to community service and social justice4 to the launch of our pioneering Energy & Sustainability Practice in 20045 to the present day, the firm has served hundreds of high-growth ventures using market-driven, business-minded principles and tactics to stimulate social impact. We have helped these clients manage risk, overcome cultural and socioeconomic divides, broker catalytic financial and strategic partnerships, and prepare for and deliver long-term impact and impressive financial returns. Two strategies anchor our approach: 

First, we draw on the firm's deep experience and success in counseling founders, companies, and venture capitalists and other investors through all growth stages – from formation to early- or seed-stage investments through subsequent multi-investor and late-stage financings, acquisitions, and IPOs.6

Second, we take a collaborative, empathetic approach, which includes (a) spending time in the target community and/or with the company's customers and partners to understand their motivations and viewpoints; (b) spending time with a company's leaders to understand how they plan to balance social and financial objectives; (c) leaning into the firm's nimble, entrepreneurial culture to develop tailored, straight-forward strategies and solutions; and (4) simply being inspired by the grit, determination, and impact of our remarkable clients. For example: 

  • Ayzh develops low-cost birthing kits for under-resourced clinics in India, the Middle East, and East Africa, supporting the health of mothers and newborns.7  
  • Seventh Generation develops and distributes sustainable products and is a leading advocate for the conservation of natural resources.8 In 2016, Seventh Generation was acquired by Unilever in a groundbreaking transaction.9,10  
  • Cambrian Innovation solves critical water, wastewater, and energy management challenges for industrial producers.11  
  • Sanergy builds hygienic and affordable toilet operators in informal urban settlements in Kenya and processes the resulting human waste into useful end-products such as organic fertilizer, insect-based animal feed, and renewable energy.12 
  • Intarcia Therapeutics partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop the first once- or twice-yearly anti-HIV prophylactic therapy to prevent the spread of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa and other countries.13  
  • Skillist connects America's workforce with the millions of high-paying positions that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.14 

Impact Investing

Mission-driven organizations, like more traditional high-growth private sector companies, often require investment capital to survive and scale, and we partner with a variety of impact investors strategically investing to generate financial, social, and environmental returns.15 Along the way, they are positively influencing the investment world.16  By the start of 2016, for instance, nearly $9 trillion – or approximately one out of every five dollars under professional management in the United States – had been invested in sustainable and impact investments.17 Enthusiasm around the notion of combining profits and purpose is at unpreceded levels,18 powered in part by the tremendous influence of millennials and women.19  

The financial giants of the world have taken notice.20 For example, Goldman Sachs acquired the first impact investment firm, Imprint Capital,21 while BlackRock, the world's biggest asset manager, launched an Impact division.22  These firms are sending the world a vital message about impact investing's potential: this is not just about feeling good, it is also about generating significant, long-term profits for companies and investors.23 

Not surprisingly, Boston is home to many impact investing leaders.24 In 2016, Bain Capital launched Bain Capital Double Impact, a firm client.25  Led by former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Double Impact made its first two investments in July 2017: Living Earth, one of the largest commercial recyclers of organic landscaping materials in the United States, and Impact Fitness, a Planet Fitness franchisee promoting healthy lifestyles in underserved communities.26   

The greater Boston area is packed with hundreds of other investment firms, financial institutions and wealth advisors innovating in the impact investing space, including Pathstone Federal Street Advisors,27 Spring Lane Capital,28 Brown Advisory,29 Athena Capital Advisors,30 Blue Haven Initiative,31 Trillium Asset Management,32 Baldwin Brothers,33 Brekinridge Capital Advisors,34 Zevin Asset Management,35 Stance Capital,36 Boston Common Asset Management,37 and more.

Utilizing its same anchoring strategies for social enterprises, Mintz Levin helps impact investors align values and objectives, set performance expectations, connect with the right companies and develop unique, workable, profitable investment structures and products. 

Contributing to the Social Innovation Ecosystem

While social innovation is thriving, it will succeed in the long run only through widespread collaboration and transparency. That is why Mintz Levin spends considerable time and resources supporting the ecosystem.

For example, we serve as the exclusive legal mentor for the Hult Prize, which challenges university students from more than one hundred countries to develop bold, market-based approaches to significant issues faced by billions of people.38 In 2017, BuuPass, a centralized digital marketplace in Kenya, won the entire competition.39 Now a firm client, BuuPass enables travelers to book and pay for their intercity bus tickets cash-free via SMS and online, and is aiming to democratize Africa's public transportation network through increased transparency and accessibility.40 

We also proactively share our experiences and insights at a wide variety of schools, conferences, and incubators – including Harvard's Innovation Lab,41 MassChallenge,42 Harvard College's Impact Investing Group,43 the New England Impact Investing Initiative,44 and the Impact Capitalism Summit45 – and serve as judges and mentors at Harvard Business School's New Venture Competition,46 Boston College's Venture Competition,47 Cleantech Open Northeast,48 and the MIT Clean Energy Prize.49 We are also members of The Global Impact Investing Network, an organization dedicated to increasing the scale and effectiveness of impact investing.50 And we regularly publish our insights through the firm's digital channels,51 including Mintz Edge52 and our Energy & Sustainability Newsletter.53

Perhaps most importantly, we are committed to galvanizing a community of legal practitioners – particularly the next generation of lawyers – to use their skills and enthusiasm to make a positive impact in the world. We guest lecture at law schools and regularly mentor law students and young lawyers, and we are members of the rapidly-growing Impact Investing Legal Working Group, a national group of lawyers representing a diverse array of impact investors, social enterprises, law firms, nonprofit organizations, foundations, and academic institutions.54  

Standing alongside every great social entrepreneur and impact investor is a lawyer identifying and solving problems and providing experienced guidance and unrelenting support. Together, we can grow social innovation to new heights in Boston and beyond.  


1 Elizabeth MacBride, "Boston Leads The Top 21 Cities For Social Entrepreneurs," Forbes Magazine, August 24, 2017, Link

2 "Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC," accessed October 2017,  Link

3 Benjamin D. Stone, "Navigating Tensions in Social Enterprise," Council of Foreign Relations Development Channel, February 27, 2014, Link

4 "Pro Bono," Mintz.com, accessed October 2017, Link and "Community Service," Mintz.com, accessed October 2017, Link

5 "Energy & Sustainability," Mintz.com, accessed October 2017, Link

6 "Venture Capital & Emerging Companies," Mintz.com, accessed October 2017, Link

7 "Ayzh," accessed October 2017, Link

8 "Seventh Generation," accessed October 2017, Link

9 Jay Coen Gilbert, "How to Sell Without Selling Out," September 20, 2016, Link

10 John Battelle, "What Everyone Missed in the Unilever/Seventh Generation Deal," September 20, 2016, Link

11 "Cambrian Innovation," accessed October 2017, Link

12 "Sanergy," accessed October 2017, Link

13 "A New Collaboration for HIV Prevention," accessed October 2017, Link

14 "Skillist," accessed October 2017, Link

15 "What You Need to Know about Impact Investing," The GIIN, accessed October 2017. Link

16 "Impact Investing Inches from Niche to Mainstream," The Economist, January 5, 2017, hLink

17 Amy Bennet, "Impact Investing: Five Trends Advisors Need To Know," Wealth Management, October 5, 2017, Link  

18 "Profit & Purpose," accessed October 2017, Link

19 Clouse, Carol J., "Impact Investing Grows, Led By Women And Millennials," Financial Advisor, June 13, 2017, Link

20 Avisheh Avini, "Impact Investing: Doing Well by Doing Good," accessed October 2017, Link

21 "Goldman Sachs Asset Management: Environmental Market Opportunities," Goldman Sachs, accessed October 20, 2017, Link

22 "Sustainable Investing," accessed October 2017, Link

23 "Impact Investing Inches from Niche to Mainstream," The Economist, Jan. 5, 2017, Link

24 Thomas Kostigen, "Boston: Impact Investing's New Hub?" Financial Advisor, April 27, 2017, Link

25 "Bain Capital Double Impact," accessed October 2017, Link

26 "Bain Capital Double Impact Announces First Two Investments," Bain Capital, July 18, 2017, Link

27 "Sustainable & Impact Investing," accessed October 2017, Link  

28 "Spring Lane Capital," accessed October 2017, Link

29 "Sustainable Investing," accessed October 2017, Link

30 "Impact Investing," accessed October 2017, Link

31 "Blue Haven Initiative," accessed October 2017, Link

32 "Trillium Asset Management," accessed October 2017, Link

33 "Sustainable Investment Management," accessed October 2017, Link

34 "Sustainable Strategies," accessed October 2017, Link

35 "What Socially Responsible Investing Means To Us," accessed October 2017, Link

36 "Stance Capital," accessed October 2017, Link

37 "Integrated ESG Investing," accessed October 2017, Link

38 "Mintz Levin to Serve as Hult Prize Legal Mentor," June 23, 2017, Link

39 "BuuPass," accessed October 2017, Link

40 Takahashi, S., "Access to Transport as an Equity Issue: Introducing BuuPass," Medium, September 18, 2017, Link

41 "Harvard Innovation Lab," accessed October 2017, Link

42 "MassChallenge Boston," accessed October 2017, Link

43 "Harvard College Impact Investing Group," accessed October 2017, Link

44 "New England Impact Investing Initiative," accessed October 2017, Link 

45 "Impact Capitalism Summit," accessed October 2017, Link

46 "New Venture Competition Social Enterprise Track," accessed October 2017, Link

47 "Venture Competitions," accessed October 2017, Link

48 "CleanTeach Open," accessed October 2017, Link

49 "MIT Clean Energy Prize 2017," accessed October 2017, Link

50 "Global Impact Investing Network," accessed October 2017, Link

51 "Social Media," Mintz.com, accessed October 2017, Link

52 "MintzEdge," accessed October 2017, LInk

53 "Energy & Sustainability: Legal Insights," accessed October 2017, Link

54 "Legal Issues in Impact Investing: U.S. and Abroad," accessed October 2017, Link

Previously published in Social Innovations Journal

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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