Darryl Finkton Jr. is a man on a mission.
He believes there’s enough money in the world to help put an end to poverty. But only if it’s distributed differently than it is today.
Earlier this year, the investor left a career in asset management to launch a $1 billion venture fund aimed at eradicating poverty. It’s an ambitious goal, but Finkton Jr. has a plan. And now he’s raised $200 million as an initial close to help execute that plan.
Finkton aims to raise $1 billion with the fund to provide venture capital to entrepreneurs from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds who are working to solve the pressing problems facing their communities. He is managing the fund, and has invested $500,000 of his own capital to launch it.
Finkton grew up in housing projects in Indianapolis, Indiana, and went to Harvard to study neurobiology. He then attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and got involved in economic development before founding a VC firm focused on health tech investments. Most recently, Finkton worked as a partner at a hedge fund.
But his upbringing was never far from his mind, and Finkton knew that he wanted to do more to help people who didn’t have the same opportunities or access as others.
“In my household, we often struggled to make ends meet and put food on the table. More family members than I care to count have died from the dire circumstances that extreme poverty creates,” Finkton recalls. “Although I was able to overcome obstacles and ultimately graduated from both Harvard and Oxford, I remain intimately aware of the countless difficulties one faces when your next meal is not promised.”
So earlier this year, he left his job as a hedge fund partner to promote the adoption of a universal basic income to end poverty in the U.S. with the help of venture dollars via his EPMT (End Poverty. Make Trillions.) fund.
All fund profits will be reinvested into helping the country’s poorest communities, he said.
This summer, he plans to lead a 60-day tour of several dozen cities, towns and Native American reservations with “the poorest ZIP codes in America” with the goal of drumming up support for a universal basic income at the federal poverty guidelines (UBI@FPG). (He also intends to create a documentary of the process).
In addition to supporting state and local efforts, Finkton is also pushing for federal legislation guaranteeing a universal basic income at or above the federal poverty guidelines.
So far, the EPMT fund has invested in 15 companies, including Elpidatec, a telehealth platform aimed at treating opioid addiction; Commissary Club, a job site and social network for people with criminal records; Snowball Wealth, which offers free student loan planning to help people tackle debt; and Maia Life Sciences, which is working to develop evidence-based, culturally informed group interventions for underrepresented and vulnerable populations.
Finkton believes that the U.S. is spending “trillions” on perpetuating the poverty cycle through various programs such as welfare. Instead, he wants to empower people in poverty to work their way out.
“These programs treat the symptoms of poverty, not the root cause — which is not having money,” he told TechCrunch.
Finkton maintains that a universal basic income at the federal poverty guidelines (UBI@FPG) can end financial poverty.
“The economic costs of childhood poverty alone are $1 trillion a year. If we provide UBI@FPG to every American and simply tax back that income for those already well above the federal poverty guideline, the net cost for eradicating poverty drops to below $200 billion,” Finkton maintains. “That is an annual return of $800 billion. Over 10 years, UBI@FPG would generate a return of over $8 trillion, save 1.7 million lives, and lift 34 million Americans out of poverty.”
There are some who may argue that lower-income populations will just use any money they get to buy drugs or alcohol.
Finkton believes it’s the opposite.
“We’ve done a lot of pilots and when someone is so poor, they can’t afford food, clothing or shelter, that’s the first thing they do, when they get money,” he told TechCrunch. “These communities often use drugs as a way to cope,” he said. “Once you give them hope and opportunity, they’re not as depressed and there’s actually less alcohol, drug and tobacco use.”
Chad Doe, founder and CEO of EPMT portfolio company Maia Life Sciences, tells TechCrunch that his biotech startup aims to initially investigate the potential of psychedelics to help people with substance abuse issues via facilitated group clinical trials. The ultimate goal of the three-year-old Los Angeles-based company is to receive FDA approval so that people with addictions, globally, can have more options. Those clinical trials, he said, will be conducted by mostly women of color and include participants that are not mostly white or of European descent.
In many cases, he said, trial participants and investigators “are not representative of the real world.”
Doe also believes that more money is spent on surveillance, policing and punishment tactics that disproportionately target and impact people of color, low-income people and non-citizens rather than toward actually helping them emerge from their situations.
“The War on Drugs is really a war on the poor,” he said. “At Maia, we’re placing women and underserved populations at the center of the research and development to find effective treatments for substance use disorders.”