When the W. K. Kellogg Foundation set aside $100 million in 2007 to invest in companies that could produce both social and financial benefits, it was considered revolutionary. Historically, major foundations had used mainly stocks, bonds, real estate and other traditional asset classes to build their endowments.
Now, such investments are increasingly common — and profitable.
In 2010, the Kellogg Foundation invested $5 million in Wireless Generation, a tiny educational software maker working to improve public education in New York City. Just 219 days later, it made a 25.9 percent return after Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought Wireless Generation for $360 million.
“The customer and market insights that the private companies we’ve invested in have, whether it be in food, health care, financial institutions or education, sharpened our ability to target our grant making and public policy efforts,” said Sterling K. Speirn, the foundation’s chief executive. “Similarly, I think the companies we have invested in are able to leverage not only our patient capital but the different kind of knowledge assets we bring to the relationship.”