Yuliya Tarasava is the COO and Co-founder of CNote, an impact investment platform delivering competitive returns by investing in women, minorities and low-income communities across America. As an experienced financial professional with expertise in risk management and product development, Yuliya focuses on leveraging financial tools to increase economic opportunity for everyone.
Previously, Yuliya led the quantitative due diligence for over 20 mutual funds across multiple asset classes for AMG Funds. Later at Summit Rock Advisors, she co-developed the proprietary analytics and risk management framework for a portfolio of over $10B in assets. She was one of 12 individuals selected for Acumen’s Global Fellows program, which led to her running strategy and operations for Juhudi Kilimo, a micro-financial institution in Nairobi that supports farmers and small-to-medium agro-businesses throughout Kenya.
Yuliya was born and raised in Belarus and moved to the United States in 2004. She is a CFA and CAIA charterholder.
Belarus to San Francisco
I was introduced to Yuliya through the wonderful Rehana Nathoo and when I spotted her on the World Changing Women in Conscious Business list, I knew we would have a fascinating conversation. And I was not disappointed.
Like myself, Yuliya grew up in the former East Block (though I imagine Belarus to be a different experience still). We both shared the admission that most of our ideas about what the U.S. would be like were based on tv shows. We had to assume that every American lived in a vast house, went to high school prom in ball gowns and was born with, and magically retained, snow-white straight teeth into retirement age.
“I came to the U.S. after graduation to study finance. To say it was a bit of a shock when I arrived with $200, no English and a backpack of clothes is an understatement. I lived in shared housing in a community that was primarily home to immigrants and minorities. But I managed. I got my degree and worked on Wall Street for close to 10 years. I felt accomplished.
But the longer I lived in the U.S., the more I realized that poor people exist everywhere, even in a country as rich and developed as the U.S. I left the traditional finance path and became an Acumen fellow. I moved to Kenya and used my expertise to build systems that would support the growth and development of a microfinance institution. That experience inspired me to start CNote.
“Being raised in the Soviet Union I didn’t experience or feel the power of entrepreneurship until I worked in Kenya. It’s bustling with creativity and ideas and entrepreneurial activity. So when I returned, I founded CNote with a good friend of mine. We always shared the same mission of closing the wealth gap in the U.S. That was – and continues to be – our north star. From the jump, we could rely on each other and knew that our skill sets complemented each other. That’s my best advice to every founder: Find a co-founder who you can trust and who shares your values.
CNote is the first of its kind financial platform that allows everyone to invest in causes and communities they care about.
Our vision is to close the wealth gap through financial innovation.
We aggregate dollars and channel them into communities through our CDFI partners. Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, are community lenders that provide loans and other financial resources to communities that are often ignored by big banks and traditional financial institutions. Each dollar invested on the CNote platform is funding minority and female entrepreneurs, building affordable housing, creating jobs, making underserved communities more resilient.”
As of publication (April 2020), the US economy is reeling from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. “CNote’s mission has taken on a greater level of importance as we work urgently to drive more capital to CDFIs that are acting as economic first responders for communities across America. CDFIs are providing critical loans and technical assistance to small businesses to keep them afloat until federal aid arrives and the economy re-opens. CNote has created a COVID-19 resource page so readers can gain a deeper understanding of the economic fallout from this crisis, the role CDFIs play in addressing it, and how they can take action personally.”
Making impact investing accessible
“For the most part, investing with impact has not been available to just anyone, you had to be an accredited investor. That’s not true with us. With CNote, everyone can invest.”
CNote has created or maintained more than 3,000 jobs since inception and has invested 35 percent of its dollars into women-led businesses (about 10 times the national average), 48 percent into minority-led businesses, and the majority of funds into low- or middle-income communities (source: impact report).
“We focus on direct impact. For every dollar you invest through CNote, I can tell you who you’re making an impact for. It was important to us to start working with CDFIs because they know their communities so well and have done work there for so long – it’s really a no-brainer. I’m actually surprised that no-one else is taking this approach!
The truth is, we need competitors! We want to validate the idea and there is so much work to be done!
Collaboration for speed and scale
“We definitely started at a different point and pivoted along the way. But we always knew we wanted to figure out how to drive capital into underserved communities and we wanted to be efficient, fast and at scale. The best way to do that is through collaboration, and I think that’s what sets us apart. We love talking to people and creating partnerships. Other stakeholders are individual and institutional investors (Mastercard, Sierra Club, San Francisco Foundation etc.). We have a diverse side of investment bodies. We try to be active in different collaborations to figure out how to move this industry forward.
We want to partner to raise the bar for the entire industry.
One thing that we could all improve on is our willingness to work together. It’s one of those things where deep in our hearts we realize it is needed but sometimes we get distracted by our priorities and our own organizations. It takes a lot to step up and look at the big picture. It takes a special mindset to think about industry-wide collaboration but the truth is, we have the opportunity to really do something here and none of us can do it alone.”
What drives you?
“Given my upbringing, we always had this mindset of serving people as a mantra in our family. Serving people is my personal mission. Combine that with the fact that I’m a math nerd and problem solver and you have the foundation for CNote. You see, finance is a powerful system but historically, it has only been powerful for people who have money. I want to figure out how to bring my talent, strengths, and interests to serving people who are less fortunate and are ignored due to societal biases.”
How can we support you in your efforts?
“I’m in San Francisco, a mecca for startups. One thing I’ve been struggling with is the fact that everyone’s killing it.
Entrepreneurship is not about raising massive VC rounds and running out of money; it is about long days in and out, it can be exhausting and isolating and yet so exhilarating and rewarding.
Especially, when you meet a female entrepreneur like Cinde Dolphin, who is a 4-time cancer survivor, who started her medical device company because she received investment from one of CNote’s CDFI partners. As a business that values people and sustainability, we want to build a venture that will have a long-lasting and deep impact on our society. The final goal is important as well as the journey of how we get there. I need more people from different backgrounds who are honest and humble about what it takes to run a company. ”
San Francisco, CA, USA.
Founder and world changing woman in conscious business. Citizen of the world. Advocate for inclusive economic growth.