Cincinnati’s growing entrepreneurial business culture has spilled over into its philanthropic community.

GreenLight Cincinnati, a new venture philanthropy organization, hopes to make a difference battling poverty among children and families in the Tristate.

Tara Noland, 30, former director of development of 4C for Children and a former YWCA Rising Star, is executive director of GreenLight Cincinnati, which is funded by the Deaconess Associations, the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee, Interact for Health, Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati among others.

What is the GreenLight Fund and what does it hope to accomplish?

We work to transform the lives of children and families in high poverty urban areas. The main way we do this is by identifying unmet community needs and then searching throughout the country to find innovative entrepreneurial programs that help fill those gaps quickly and effectively. We look at hundreds of programs, but ultimately we make one investment each year in a city and invest time and connections to make sure the organization we bring here has a solid start and self-sustaining future. A 20-member local advisory board meets this month [February] to choose our focus area this year. We’ll invest $600,000 in one nonprofit over a couple of years to fill that need. A year from now, we’ll start the process over again.

How was the GreenLight Fund started and how did it come to Cincinnati?

Boston ventures capitalist John Simon and Margaret Hall started GreenLight in 2004 in Boston. It grew out of a frustration that while it’s easy to expand a successful model in the for-profit world, it’s much more difficult to replicate successful models in the nonprofit world. Simon was introduced to Cincinnati when Cintrifuse’s “fund of funds” invested in his venture capital fund. Cincinnati is GreenLight’s fourth city after Boston, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay area.

It sounds like Greenlight is a venture fund for nonprofits.

We’re structured in a very similar way. People invest in us and we make philanthropic investments. There’s no financial return. The return on their investment is making the city where they live a better place. 

Since you are introducing new programs, how do you make sure you’re not duplicating efforts?

We work really hard to make sure that GreenLight compliments the efforts in the community. Where we fit is where there are urgent needs that for whatever reason aren’t being met. We’re working to identify the most challenging problems and really innovative solutions and then going out to find those solutions.

Are entrepreneurs drawn to your approach?

Absolutely. It makes sense to those folks. We’re finding there’s a lot of support from the startup community and entrepreneur sector. We’ve found in other cities GreenLight is leveraging investment dollars that aren’t otherwise engaged in philanthropic giving. It’s a model that is familiar to folks who work in that sphere and one they really appreciate.