Kat Taylor started a bank, a venture capital firm and an agribusiness to use capitalism’s toolbox to fight systemic racism, environmental destruction and economic inequality.
On March 1st, as she gathered with thousands of others to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on the 55th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Kat Taylor burst into a rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” These days, Taylor is best known as the singing spouse of billionaire climate change activist and ex-Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer. But in the world of impact investing, she’s famous in her own right for the breadth and ambition of her efforts, as well as her musical shtick. Indeed, Taylor’s efforts are the big reason the couple made the Forbes Impact 50 for 2020.
Way back in 2007 (the stone age in impact investing), Taylor and Steyer launched an idea they’d talked about for years: use a charitable foundation to start a bank that would lend to nonprofits and do-gooder businesses and direct its profits back to their environmental and community charitable causes. With Taylor as CEO, Beneficial State Bank has grown into a $1.1 billion institution with 13 branches stretching from Washington to Southern California. The couple has put $110 million of charitable donations into Beneficial, which has $760 million in loans outstanding to its target market, though it hasn’t yet paid out dividends to the foundation. (Taylor is now Beneficial’s chair, having stepped away from the CEO job in January to campaign with Steyer.)
Meanwhile, Taylor has been pursuing an even more in-the-weeds environmental project: turning the 1,800 acre grass-fed cattle ranch 40 miles south of San Francisco that she and Steyer acquired in 2002 into a model for “regenerative” agriculture, focused on water and land quality as well as humane animal treatment. Before the pandemic, the TomKat Ranch was seeing steady sales of its prime LeftCoast Grassfed beef brand, collecting data on soil health, running on-site workshops and lobbying big buyers like schools and hospitals to demand regenerative food. Since the pandemic, it has shifted to hosting virtual webinars and has donated chickens and coops to struggling senior homes and food banks. While the couple has invested tens of millions into the ranch, it has yet to turn a profit.
Finally, there’s what Taylor hopes will become her biggest impact play of all, Radicle Impact, a for-profit venture capital firm she co-founded in 2013 to invest in “good food, good money and good climate.” Radicle has so far poured $45 million, almost entirely from Taylor and Steyer, into 27 portfolio companies—everything from fintechs like LendUp and Aspiration to local farm company Hudson Valley Harvest to Aclima, which creates pollution sensing networks and UrbanFootprint, a seller of city planning software. But ultimately, Taylor hopes to deploy $1 billion in impact money, both from her family’s fortune and from outside investors, through Radicle—and to make real money doing it.