By Newmark, Tammy
Americas Quarterly , Vol. 3, No. 4
The newest "mi racle" food in U.S. health food circles is a juice made from açai, a tiny Brazilian berry grown in the Amazon. A palmberry about the size of a blueberry, açai has ten times the antioxidants of red wine. Not only is it good for you: it's good for the environment, thanks to sustainable harvesting techniques that have also provided much-needed income to Amazon communities. But the real miracle about açai is how it came to market.
The brainchild of two brothers, Ryan and Jeremy Black, who discovered the health benefi ts of açai and formed a company called Sambazon do Brasil in 2003 to market it in the U.S., açai products are now sold in juicebars and supermarkets in all 50 U.S. states. What turned Sambazon into a success was a timely, initial investment of $225,000 from EcoEnterprises Fund, a unique capital venture partnership formed by the Inter-American Development Bank's Multilateral Investment Fund and The Nature Conservancy.
For companies like Sambazon that care as much about the social and environmental impacts of their operations as they do about profi ts, startup capital is hard to fi nd. Traditional sources like banks tend to shy away from sectors that seem unfamiliar or risky. Even with visionary entrepreneurs at the helm, many green businesses never get the chance to prove themselves.
EcoEnterprises Fund, created in 2000, bridged the gap. The Fund, a pool of venture capital targeted to the small but growing green-business sector in Latin America, offered both risk capital and business advisory services to small- to medium-scale enterprises in ecotourism, sustainable agriculture, apiculture, sustainable forestry, and non-timber forest products. Seed money was raised from the Multilateral Investment Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Corporación Andina de Fomento and other institutional and private investors who were intrigued by the Fund's practical approach. The Nature Conservancy serves as fund manager, while a board of directors comprising leaders from the conservation and investment fi elds provides oversight.
In just nine years, EcoEnterprises Fund has generated impressive results. Some $6.3 million was invested in 23 sustainable companies in 10 Latin American countries. Through the Fund's efforts, recipients were able to leverage an additional $148 million in new capital from commercial lenders and private investors. Twenty-three portfolio companies working with 289 nongovernmental organizations and community groups created 2,000 jobs while generating $290 million in sales. The conservation benefi ts-habitat restoration and protection, biological corridor preservation and the development of sustainable livelihoods in buffer zones-have also been far- reaching: 1.3 million acres (533,308 hectares) of land in 19 biologically signifi cant areas, seven of which are World Heritage Sites, have been preserved over the same period. …