Greenworks Lending: Lessons from a female entrepreneur

The co-founder of Greenworks Lending, Alexandra Cooley, recounts her experiences of launching a business as a female entrepreneur.

Alexandra Cooley
Alexandra Cooley

What were your experiences of founding Greenworks? Did you face challenges raising funds as a result of being a female-led team?

When I started Greenworks, along with my co-founder Jessica Bailey, we were raising money for a new company in a new industry. That is a challenge, in itself, when raising money. Investors then have to consider whether they are backing the right team. It is hard, therefore, to separate our experience as two women from our experience operating in a brand new sector.

It is fair to say, however, that we operate at the nexus between commercial real estate and structured finance, so investors weren’t necessarily used to seeing many opportunities originated by women. We did once have an investor ask if we were going to use their money to redecorate the offices rather than to fund the business – needless to say, we didn’t end up selecting them.

In the end, over 70 percent of the almost $1 billion of equity we raised came from women-managed funds, which is quite a remarkable statistic, when you consider that only 5 percent of venture capitalists are female and only 14 percent of institutional managers are women. It’s astounding and demonstrates how important it is to promote diverse candidates into investment decision-making roles.

What has your own approach been to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment?

We are a mission-driven company, so every dollar put out to commercial building owners goes towards a clean-energy, energy-efficiency or resilience upgrade. As a mission-driven company, our goal is to have the best ideas and best execution to make clean energy a smart financial decision. A methodical approach to DE&I has been key to ensuring we have those ideas and that execution.

We have established a recruitment process that ensures a diverse pool of candidates and that all candidates have a level playing field. We focus on employee experience, with flexible benefits aimed at a diverse group of individuals, families and working arrangements. Then we walk the talk by maintaining a diverse team. Our management team is roughly 70 percent female, and the broader team is 20 percent diverse.

How important were shared values around DE&I when it came to the decision to partner with Nuveen?

Our decision boiled down to three factors – overlapping growth opportunities, shared values and shared working experience. The third ended up being particularly important.

Nuveen has been a major investor in our debt since 2017 and, while many firms talked about shared values, Nuveen was able to demonstrate those values consistently over time.

What are your own hopes and expectations when it comes to creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive financial services industry?

A My hope is that organizations will recognize how important it is to have diverse people in positions of power. And I am optimistic because of the parallels we have seen in the ESG space. Almost every major LP today is applying assessment of climate credentials to manager selection and, as of March this year, 49 of the top 50 institutional investors were signatories to UNPRI. My sense is that we are in the early stages of the same dynamic when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.