Talking Impact Investing with Christine Primmer of SJF Ventures

We’ve covered diversity in the startup community from many angles. From last week’s Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange and Black Wall Street Homecoming to the ongoing conversation about the funding gap and SOAR Triangle’s, we’re covering the evolving identity of North Carolina’s entrepreneurs.

Now, we’re turning our focus to the other side of the table and women investors, from angels to institutional investors to corporate funds.

First, we’ll chat with Christine Primmer, Principal at SJF Ventures, about her work and her path into investing with the bicoastal impact investment firm. Since 1999, SJF has invested in more than 50 companies with a focus on return on investment and impact on the environment, health, education, and energy.

Christine Primmer of SJF Ventures

Christine Primmer of SJF Ventures. Photo provided by SJF Ventures.

I sat down with Primmer in SJF’s bright offices above Dos Perros in downtown Durham. She had just returned from two weeks on the road, working with companies in Washington, D.C., and joining the conversation on sustainability and profit at SXSW Eco in Austin, TX. Travel is part of how she applies her mechanical engineering and consulting background to the work her portfolio companies are undertaking.

Editor’s Note: I’ve lightly edited her responses for length and clarity.


Q: What is your investment focus?

We embody our tagline of high growth and impact. Our LP’s (limited partnersare interested in venture-grade returns that make the world cleaner, healthier, and smarter.

I look for social and environmental impact in energy, transportation, and industrial innovation. My background is in mechanical engineering, and I worked with GE Energy, then I did consulting in heavy industry, so I concentrate my efforts in these verticals.

As an example of the companies we invest in at SJF, I recently co-led the investment in TransLoc. Other recent SJF investments this year include Solera Health and Portfolium.

*Limited partners are individuals and institutions who entrust money in venture funds as a for-profit investment.

Q: What attracted you to investing and (SJF)?

I had already started the transition to business [from engineering] with management consulting, where I enjoyed working with clients to drive value, but I was not passionate about the industries these clients represented: industries like plastics manufacturing.

Then, I went to business school (Primmer is a Kenan-Flagler Business School alumna) with the intent to find my way into working with companies in industries I was passionate about, companies that promote resource efficiency and clean energy.

I was attracted to UNC’s Center for Sustainable Enterprise coursework and programming. There, I became heavily involved in the Energy Club, thinking through smarter ways to look at existing industries with a significant environmental impact.

VC allows me expand that reach by working with multiple companies at once, so I can share insights and learnings from one to the others, which reminds me of the work I did in consulting. With SJF Ventures, I can do this work in sectors I’m passionate about.

I also love working with growth stage companies. They exude an energy I saw from the inside in consulting, when the company grew from five people to 30 by the time I left. Being in a position to see companies achieve scale is exactly where I like to be.

Read the rest of my conversation with Christine on ExitEvent.