Fund Profile: The Abell Foundation Invests in Baltimore Companies

July 21, 2015

This is the first in a series of scheduled blog posts about funds that invest in Metro DC/Baltimore area companies. 

The Abell Foundation is dedicated to the improvement of the quality of life in Baltimore City. The Foundation, which was established about 28 years ago, is the largest private foundation serving only Maryland. Through the use of grants, publications, and direct investments, the Abell Foundation strives to be an agent of change. The Foundation is somewhat unique in that it makes investments in Baltimore for-profit companies directly and through its participation in the Propel Baltimore Fund.

The Foundation’s direct investment portfolio consists of innovative companies that seek to address important social objectives and help to create jobs in the area. For this reason, potential investees must be located in, or willing to relocate to, Baltimore City. The Foundation’s investments are primarily in the health, technology and energy industries. The investment size typically ranges from $220,000 to $500,000 with an average of $235,000. The Foundation gravitates towards companies that are in their early-stages of development and which offer significant social and economic benefits along with an attractive return. Unlike a typical VC, the Foundation is willing to make a limited number of long term investments in potential “game changing” technologies. Through these investments, the Foundation has helped create over 1,000 jobs in the city. In addition, the returns from these investments allow the Foundation to further expand its ability to help the local community.

Examples of active portfolio companies include Pixelligent Technologies, eNeura, BioMarker Strategies, Noxilizer, and Harpoon Medical. The Foundation recently invested in Personal Genome Diagnostics.

Consistent with its mission of finding innovative solutions to major social issues, the Abell Foundation also distributes grants to nonprofit organizations in order to support efforts to identify solutions to the social, economic, and environmental challenges facing the city of Baltimore. The Foundation gives away over five percent of its assets in grants each year. Since its establishment, the Foundation has contributed more than $300 million to the community. Benefiting from its innovative investment approach, the Abell Foundation has still managed to almost triple in size over the past 20 years, with current assets of about $335 million.

The research labs at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins produce cutting-edge technological innovations. The challenge has been to nurture those innovations into successful companies that will provide jobs to people in Baltimore City. What the Abell Foundation has done, and continues to do, is to lead by example, demonstrating that investing locally in Baltimore City produces compelling social and financial returns.

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