Upstart Co-Lab’s research demonstrates that the social and environmental priorities impact investors seek to address can be achieved through investing with a creativity lens. Read about the opportunity that the creative economy offers BIPOC and women entrepreneurs; the role of creative places and businesses in comprehensive community development; the current state of impact investing in three key creative industries: Ethical Fashion, Sustainable Food and Social Impact Media; how endowed cultural institutions can invest in alignment with their values and mission; the importance of the creative economy to global sustainable development; and the role of artists as innovators and social entrepreneurs.

Upstart Co-Lab Insights

Upstart Co-Lab regularly contributes our perspective and learnings at conferences and on webinars across the U.S. and around the world. Watch videos from these events by clicking here.

The Creator Economy – A guide for impact investors

The online “creator economy” – defined as the ecosystem of direct-to-audience platforms and digital tools helping creatives to develop, monetize, scale, and maintain control over their work –  has seen hypergrowth over the last several years, accelerated by pandemic lockdowns and sustained by new technologies and venture capital. The creator economy holds the promise of enabling a creative middle class in the U.S., and ensuring the stories and creative content of BIPOC, women and other marginalized creatives reaches a large and diverse audience.

Upstart believes that impact investors can play a crucial role to ensure the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and access are reflected in the growing creator economy. In its latest research deep dive, Upstart provides an overview of this fast-evolving space, and outlines steps that impact investors can take. To read the report, click here.

Support provided by Halloran Philanthropies

Cultural Capital: The state of museums and their investing

Cultural Capital: The state of museums and their investing shares results of the first-of-its-kind survey of independent U.S. museums of art and design and their impact investing practices.

In partnership with the Association of Art Museum Directors and The Black Trustee Alliance of Art Museums, Upstart Co-Lab surveyed 61 museums with endowments totaling $10 billion to better understand how these anchor cultural institutions are aligning their money with their mission and values, in particular their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The report issues a call to action for museum Boards, Leadership Teams, Staff, Donors and Artists — and is intended to usher in a new era of ethical investing for the creative sector. To learn more and download the report, click here.

Arts & Design-Based Collaboration and Cross-Innovation

Upstart Co-Lab is featured extensively in this report from the Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture. The report’s mission is to inform policymakers about arts- and design-based collaboration and cross-innovation as important approaches in tackling the most complex societal issues of our time.

Upstart’s experience informed two of the report’s policy recommendations: Recommendation #5) “Empower and enable entrepreneurship within arts and design and cultural management. Offer qualitative, high-level training on this topic;” and Recommendation #7) “Clearly address and explain the practice and expectations on outcomes in funding instruments. To acknowledge gaps in the available funding schemes and the need of support for micro-scale actors.” Download the PDF.

Entrepreneur Insights

Upstart Co-Lab interviewed entrepreneurs in our network about themselves, their companies, the impact they are having, and their experience with impact investors financing their company growth. Hear from Max Slavkin of Creative Action Network, Sam Farrazaino of Equinox Studios, Pree Walia of Preemadonna, and Dave Silver and Will Toms of REC Philly. To watch the videos, click here.

Creativity, Culture & Capital: Impact investing in the global creative economy

Creativity, Culture & Capital: Impact investing in the global creative economy shares 100 essays written by 123 experts from 28 countries. Timed to celebrate the United Nations International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, this report illustrates how the creative sector delivers social and environmental impact, and how impact investors are financing a more just and sustainable global creative economy. Edited by Upstart Co-Lab in collaboration with Nesta’s Arts & Culture Finance (London) and Fundación Compromiso (Buenos Aires), Creativity, Culture & Capital is available in English & Spanish. To learn more and download the report, click here.

The Guide: what cultural institutions need to know about investing for values and mission

A primer on impact investing specifically for leaders of museums and other cultural institutions, The Guide: what cultural institutions need to know about investing for values and mission offers lessons from first-mover cultural organizations, plus examples of relevant impact investing opportunities in the creative economy. Developed in collaboration with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. To learn more and download the report, click here.

Creative Impact/Impact Investing

Upstart Co-Lab is the subject of a beautifully illustrated book by Carter Hales Design Lab and Mitchell Press. Creative Impact/Impact Investing describes the first five years of Upstart Co-Lab’s journey connecting impact investing to the creative economy and features two investors and five entrepreneurs who are part of Upstart Co-Lab’s growing network. A call to entrepreneurs and investors committed to making money with meaning in the creative economy, the book aims to enlighten, inform, and inspire. To learn more and download the book, click here.

Upstart Co-Lab appreciates the support of the Marian B. and Jacob K. Javits Foundation in honor of Marian B. Javits and the Woodcock Foundation for the dissemination of Creative Impact/Impact Investing.

Impact Investing Handbook: An Implementation Guide for Practitioners

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors has published a primer on impact investing outlining its history, financial ecosystems, and best practices in the field. The handbook is intended to equip readers with the knowledge and insight to determine their priorities as an impact investor by showcasing foundations that have demonstrated success, exploring common questions and misconceptions in the field, and deliberating on the practices necessary to start an impact investing journey. Upstart Co-Lab contributed a chapter outlining the Creativity Lens which appears in pgs 73-74. To learn more, download the primer here.

Impact Investing in the Creative Economy: diving deep into Ethical Fashion, Sustainable Food and Social Impact Media

In an effort to demystify the creative economy for impact investors, impact fund managers and other stakeholders, Upstart Co-Lab dives deep into three large and growing consumer industries within the creative economy: fashion, food and media. Each deep dive includes a historical overview of seminal moments catalyzing change in the market segment, a catalogue of the relevant impact areas and metrics, an illustrative list of innovative companies driving impact and investors actively focused in the market segment, a summary of market dynamics, and an investment thesis for both social and financial return. To learn more and download the report, click here.

NYC Inclusive Creative Economy Fund 2022 Impact Report

The first impact investment fund focused on arts, design, culture and creativity in the context of community development launched in October 2018. The NYC Inclusive Creative Economy Fund finances the affordable workspaces that make it possible for creatives to start and grow businesses, hire workers into 21st century creative economy quality jobs, and maintain the spirit of New York City as a place where creativity is produced, not just consumed.

Read more about the Fund in the annual impact report from the Local Initiative Support Corporation. The Fund was developed and launched in partnership with Upstart Co-Lab. Download the PDF.

The Community Reinvestment Act and the Creative Economy: Investing in Creative Places and Businesses as Part of Comprehensive Community Development

This white paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco proposes greater alignment between CRA-motivated capital and the creative economy by highlighting the range of creative places and business activities which have benefited from CRA funding over time. Hopefully this will: 1) bring more attention to these types of projects among community stakeholders; 2) increase awareness of their potential CRA eligibility; and 3) lead to more CRA-motivated investment in the creative economy in the future. Download the PDF.

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: Impact Investing in the Creative Economy

A report looks at more than 100 funds with $60 billion of aggregate assets that have been investing in the creative economy over the past 5 years. These include conventional, socially responsible, and impact funds focused on ethical fashion, sustainable food, social impact media, other creative businesses and creative places. Key learnings include how the creative economy offers impact value, commercial viability and innovative edge; how a creativity lens correlates with diversity, equity, inclusion; and how a creativity lens is relevant in both developed and developing markets. To learn more and download the report, click here.

A Creativity Lens for Impact Investing

Upstart Co-lab introduced a creativity lens to impact investing to bring into view how investing in the creative economy can deliver social and environmental impact while generating a financial return. A creativity lens reveals opportunities that up until now have not been fully recognized by impact investors, and welcomes investors from the creative sector – artists, art collectors, art patrons and cultural institutions – into the practice of impact investing. To learn more, click here.

Creativity & The Arts: an emerging impact investing theme

Read what Upstart Co-Lab, LISC NYC, Meow Wolf, E-Line Media, Artspace, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, Continuum Partners LLC, the UK’s Investing for Good, actor Mary Stuart Masterson, and others have to say about the opportunities art, design, culture, heritage and creativity offer impact investors today in this report published by Cornerstone Capital LLC. To download the report, click here.

Creative Places and Businesses: Catalyzing Growth in Communities

A report looks at investable opportunities in the Creative Economy with the potential to stabilize threatened communities and benefit regions looking to attract and develop quality jobs. This report suggests that impact investment can be used to shape a Creative Economy that is inclusive, equitable and sustainable. To learn more and download the report, click here.


Artists are the original social entrepreneurs. Creative people are harnessing the power of business and the marketplace to scale and sustain their ideas. Many of the businesses that artists, designers, and other creatives start balance financial profitability with concern for their workers, their community and the environment. They strengthen our society precisely because of who they are, how they encounter the world, and the risks they are willing to take. See these profiles of Artist-Innovators to learn more.

Great Minds Don’t Think Alike: Artists as Innovators in Business, Government and Society

A report defines Artist Innovators and makes the case to leaders in business, government and the social sector for how these Olympic athletes of creativity can help drive effectiveness and innovation, delivering financial and social value. To learn more and download the report, click here.