Not many venture finds have the creation of good jobs as the centerpiece of their mission and strategy. But that’s exactly the focus of Brunswick, Me-based CEI Ventures. The firm recently closed its fifth fund, with a total raise of $21.5 million.
A subsidiary of Coastal Enterprises Inc., a non-profit community development financial institution, 26 year-old CEI Ventures’ approach is based on its parent’s model for creating employment. Called the Good Jobs Framework, it focuses on such elements as ensuring that companies pay their frontline workers a living wage appropriate for their particular location and provide basic benefits, like health insurance and paid time off, in an environment of respect with, for example, regular scheduling notices and performance reviews. “It’s our belief that every business can benefit from this regardless of the industry,” says Chandler Jones, the fund’s managing director.
To that end, there’s a three-to-four-person team dedicated to working with portfolio companies to pinpoint areas where they need help and develop and put in place strategies to address those issues, meaning everything from revamping job descriptions to restructuring pay.
Take Piali De, CEO of Portland, Me.-based Senscio Systems. Her company, which she founded in 2010, has a platform that helps Medicare recipients living with complex chronic conditions manage their health. It combines sensor data with AI technology to assess individuals’ adherence to health care plans, communicating with patients to make sure they’re following instructions and notifying doctors, among other capabilities.
Before closing on a $600.000 investment six months ago, De worked with CEI to figure out how to provide health insurance to the company’s geographically dispersed staff. Then, they tackled the matter of hiring a more diverse workforce in the Maine headquarters. With that in mind, they revamped job descriptions and the interview process to help them reach out to a broader population. “We take care of people from all walks of life,” says De. “I want our workforce to be as diverse as our members.”
A Partial Raise
The final close was preceded by a first, partial raise of $14.8 million in March 2021. (Investors include a mix of individuals, foundations and community economic development entities and banks).
Since that time, the fund has invested in seven early or growth-stage companies, with plans to work with seven or eight more. Many, though not all, are based in Maine, with a socially-beneficial product or service. So far, the portfolio companies, according to CEI Ventures, have either completely or partly met their workforce goals. For example, as of June, the average entry level wage was $26 an hour and all companies offered health insurance, as well as such benefits as stock option or retirement savings plans.
CEI Ventures has raised over $67 million since its founding and invested in 67 companies with investments typically ranging from $500,000 to $2 million. According to the firm, that’s resulted in the creation of 2,800 jobs in regions and among populations typically overlooked by traditional VCs.