It is not easy being a startup investor, and even more so an impact investor. In the tech sector, ask an Angel or VC how they choose their investments, and the most common answer is: team, team, team, team, team…idea. Push them on that, and you’ll find one other unspoken criteria hiding at the start: opportunity size.

Figuring out what’s more important between team, impact and financial return is a lot like playing rock, paper, scissors. Tweet This Quote

In the impact sector, things get far more complicated. Which is more important: team, impact, or financial return?

Twice per year, that is my big question, as I narrow down hundreds of applicants to the seven invitees of Fledge, my conscious company accelerator. Each of these invitations comes with an investment. Thus, this process is a genuine impact investing conundrum, one that attempts to balance impact and financial return.

The stated criteria for Fledge in order of importance are: team, impact, and odds of (financial) success. The reality is far more complex and more interesting. The reality resembles rock, paper, scissors.

Some criteria used to assess startups are team, impact, and odds of financial success—the reality is far more complex. Tweet This Quote

Not literally a rock, paper, scissors tournament between applicants, but instead a mathematically rigorous decision process where the various criteria add together to create a weighted ranking for each applicant.

That description sounds overly complex, and it would be if not for, which does all the complicated math. It’s a tool that (over and over again) asks you to pick the better choice, e.g.:


The interesting part of this process is how the various criteria act like rock, paper, scissors: a great team beats a global impact, global impact beats little competition, lack of competition beats capital need, a bootstrapping company (i.e. no need for capital) beats a company with some customers, a company with meaningful revenues beats the ideal team, and so on.

The battle between people, planet, profit makes it hard to determine the most investable companies. Tweet This Quote

If only every applicant had a great team working on a global impact with no need for capital and no competition, there would be no need for all the math. Unfortunately, real applicants have a mix of strong points and weak points, and this battle of people (team), planet (impact), and profits spirals around to make the difficult decision of which are the most investable companies. And the entrepreneurs thought their job was hard!

A version of this post originally appeared on Luni’s blog.

Michael Luni Libes

Author Michael Luni Libes

Luni is a 25+ year serial entrepreneur, (co)founder of six companies. His latest startups are Fledge, the conscious company accelerator, where he helps new entrepreneurs from around the world navigate the complexities between idea and customer revenues, and, an online service connecting impact investors. In addition, Luni is Entrepreneur in Residence and Entrepreneurship Instructor at Presidio Graduate School and an Entrepreneur in Residence Emeritus at the University of Washington’s CoMotion, the center for innovation and impact. Luni is author of The Next Step series of books, guiding entrepreneurs from idea to startup and The Pinchot Impact Index, a way to measure, compare, and aggregate impact.

More by Michael Luni Libes