Blackstripe Ventures Brings Power of Capital to Unlock Catholic Vision of the Economy
Venture development form shows how the ‘noble vocation of business,’ as Pope Francis recently stated, can help small mission-based companies make a big economic impact with human flourishing at the heart.
AVE MARIA, Fla. — Brad Fassbender founded Guadalupe Roastery to sell excellent coffee and help families rise out of poverty. But Fassbender’s vision for Guadalupe Roastery’s impact was bigger than his own abilities, and he needed a partner with the financial resources and expertise to bring the company to the scale he dreamed about.
“I needed somebody more business-savvy and who could take care of the accounting,” he told the Register. “And that’s where Blackstripe Ventures came in.”
The Pittsburgh-based Blackstripe Ventures is a venture development firm founded on Catholic principles with strong connections to Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, that applies the principles of venture capital to unlock the potential of companies that seek the common good.
“We’re very mission-based,” John Folino, head of Blackstripe Ventures, told the Register. “At the day’s end, it’s about helping people and growing businesses so we could help people.”
Blackstripe is a part of an emerging new breed of Catholics responding to the call of the Gospel, reinforced by recent popes, to apply the power of finance to manifest the Gospel’s vision for the market economy through development and investment.
Together with graduates of Ave Maria University, Folino developed Blackstripe Ventures as a development and marketing firm back in 2018 to accelerate the growth of healthy mission-based companies that needed help to realize their full potential. Guadalupe Roastery was their first acquisition.
The initial results have reaped benefits for Guadalupe Roastery, from increased profits for the Catholic farmers and their employees in Nicaragua to bringing new employment to a part of Florida in need of economic opportunity.
“I know we’re making a good impact there,” Folino said, adding the increased profits from Guadalupe Roastery have started a school for the children of farmworkers.
Blackstripe’s strategy is to look at a certain sector of the market among companies making under $1 million in earnings. The firm does not look to bail out distressed companies but rather obtains controlling stakes in mission-oriented companies that they can build on with best practices and take to the next level for acquisition by a larger company or hand over to new ownership.
The company has a four-stage strategic approach to the companies it acquires: discovery stage (evaluating a company’s strengths, weaknesses, goals and feasibility), strategic planning phase, implementation phase and monitoring phase.
The venture development firm provides access to capital, consultants and top talent, in both its financial and marketing teams, to bring out the company’s future promise. In the case of Guadalupe, they saw an opportunity to take a start-up company that went as far as it could go on its own steam and partner with it to expand its realm of possibilities.
The Ave Maria Connection
Blackstripe Ventures is also connected with Ave Maria University, providing an opportunity for the university’s top students to gain venture development experience needed for post-graduation endeavors.
The students are overseen in their work by the firm’s partners — all their work is checked — and the students are given honest feedback to hone their skills.
“We’re trying to form the next generation of Catholic leaders through this venture environment,” Folino explained.
Sani Adams, a Blackstripe analyst and Ave Maria University junior with a triple major of mathematics, finance and philosophy, agreed.
“They don’t teach you this in a classroom,” he told the Register. Adams had come to Ave Maria University to pursue a career in finance, which was in part inspired by his family’s experience of selling their home during the 2008 financial crisis. Blackstripe put Adams on the team overseeing Guadalupe Roastery’s operations as financial director.
The experience has carried over into his involvement on campus. Adams joined student government back in March, managing a budget that comes under $30,000, and he now heads the Investment Club.
“That all came out of Guadalupe,” he said.
Noble Vocation of Business
The recent popes of the 20th and 21st century have emphasized strongly the need for the global economy to have a new vision, one that puts the dignity of human beings and the environment in which they live at the very center.
But Pope Francis, in his most recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, made clear that Catholics in business also have a missionary vocation.
“Business activity is essentially ‘a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world,’” he said, one that involves in God’s plan for these individuals “finding the best economic and technological means of multiplying goods and increasing wealth,” with a firm view toward the good of all.
“Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities,” he said.
Professor Eddy Moss, an adjunct professor of wealth management at The Catholic University of America, whose expertise is investing and spending from a Catholic faith perspective, told the Register that Catholic morality and investment are inextricably linked.
“The decision to invest in one place rather than another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always a moral and cultural choice,” Moss said. And as Jesus Christ in the Gospel points out in a number of places, such as the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the choices Catholics make with their wealth can have eternal consequences.
The good news for Catholics, Moss explained, is that there are more tools available to help them invest in local, national and global markets formed by their Catholic faith and reflecting their intentional decision to follow Jesus Christ. Three principles to keep in mind, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had adopted for its investments, were: do no harm, actively participate, and promote the common good.
Moss pointed to just some of available options to allow Catholics to invest in alignment with their moral principles, such as the Global Exchange Catholic ETF (CATH), as well as Eventide Investments and the Timothy Plan, which evangelicals started pioneering. He explained there is a growing ability for Catholic shareholders in public companies “to delegate your voting to entities that will vote [in shareholder meetings] in alignment with your moral principles.”
And at the local level, Moss said there are plenty of ordinary, everyday opportunities for Catholics to invest their money — such as purchasing produce from a farmer’s market or patronizing a local coffee shop, brewery or restaurant — that keep more money circulating in the local economy.
Stewards for the Common Good
Moss explained that Catholics believe they are not the absolute owners of their goods but are stewards of goods God has entrusted to them for the sake of others.
“There is this universal destination of goods: that each dollar that I’ve been entrusted with has been entrusted to my care for the well-being of my family and of society at large,” he said.
And there is a certain peace that comes with knowing that one’s enjoyment of a particular good, such as a cup of coffee, is enabling families along the chain of production to “really flourish and grow.”
Moss explained that Catholics need to understand that how they use wealth is connected to their eternal destiny.
“At the end of our life, our wealth will tell a story about what we care about, what we prioritize, how we made decisions, what drove our decisions, whether that’s our investing, our giving, or our spending,” he said. “And I think the hope of every family should be that their financial life, everything about every element of financial life, reflects their values, priorities, aspirations; not only as individuals, as humans, as families, but also as Catholics and Christians.”
At Guadalupe Roastery, Fassbender is delighted by the progression the company he founded has made under Blackstripe Ventures.
“What I want to prove in the end is that when it comes to economic opportunity, the family is the center of it and not the state,” he said. “And when it comes to economic prosperity, it’s about the common good.”
For Blackstripe Ventures, it is just the beginning. Folino has in mind big deals ahead, expanding Blackstripe’s reach to include overseas investments in companies on a mission to make the world a better place than they found it.
“You’ll be hearing from us again soon,” he said. “We’re going to make our presence felt.”