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Exploring Life & Business with Nelli Garton and Kelly Abbott of Tablecloth

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nelli Garton and Kelly Abbott. Them and their team share their story with us below:

Nelli Garton, Co-founder & CEO: I am driven by the most pressing global issues of our time, including poverty, inequality and climate change. Addressing them has been my lifelong mission. Along with Kelly, I have built a company from the ground up that works with investors and companies to measure and manage their impact on people’s lives, communities and environment. To do that, we help investors invest in more sustainable and better companies.

How did I get here? I started my career working with abused and neglected kids in residential treatment. That’s where I learned about all of the cracks in the systems meant to protect kids. That prompted me to go back to grad school as a pathway to contribute towards fixing those systems. In my MPA, MA and Ph.D I built the extensive skills and subject matter expertise needed to evaluate and address the greatest challenges that our planet, society and people are facing.

From there I started working at the Sillerman Center for Philanthropy and Social Justice, where I taught and conducted research. After 6 years there, I came to San Diego to work with a large comprehensive community change initiative, where I began exploring impact investing movement. That’s when I realized real change requires many different types of capital, and then co-founded (and chaired) the San Diego Impact Investing Network.

Around that time, that’s when I met my business partner, Kelly Abbott, a data scientist, serial entrepreneur, and now CTO of Tablecloth. Together we realized our ultimate vision: to help transform private capital into a source for good by improving business practices that affect the wellbeing of the planet and its people. Kelly likes to say we have built software out of my brain.

Kelly Abbott, Co-founder & CTO:
I have always been committed to the betterment of the world by empowering others to make a difference. As the son of a teacher (dad) and bookstore owner (mom), I came from a strong middle-class background and was a self-taught engineer and entrepreneur. With 20 years of startup life behind me, I have founded 4 companies, selling two (to Adobe and As an investor, I helped form SEED San Diego, an angel investor network helping kickstart entrepreneurs in the county. As a volunteer and board member, I have been the board president and long-term member of Partnerships with Industry (workforce development for disabled people), Mama’s Kitchen (home-delivered meals for the terminally ill), Traveling Stories (early childhood reading program), and Defy Ventures (training incarcerated individuals to become business owners).

Like Nelli, I believe our systems of finance are fundamentally unfair and money often doesn’t flow to companies making the best impact in communities and on our planet. At Tablecloth, I lead the data science, product and engineering teams. I love that we’ve built a company where investors can look at their portfolio through the lens of what’s good and profitable, not just profitable.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Obstacles along the way: We had our pivots along the way. We initially thought our customers would be large non-profits and major foundations but realized quickly it was a “nice to have” not a “need to have” for those orgs. Private equity on the other hand realized they didn’t know where to start and needed help.

Current challenges:
Today our challenges are much less existential and more about how we make incremental improvements at the same time as growing to fit the market’s demand. Which is to say, Investors are waking up to the necessity for our kind of analysis in a big way and it’s challenging to grow at the pace this market is growing. We also are seeing a lot of traditional consulting firms now actively pursuing these same customers so sticking to our north star values and our commitment to change in lieu of the fast easy buck has taken courage.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Tablecloth is a technology company dedicated to helping investors, fund managers and portfolio companies measure and manage for ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance factors), sustainability and impact through expertise in data science and social science.

Is there a quality that you most attribute to your success?
One key differentiator that we’re incredibly proud of: everyone has a seat at the table. Every stakeholder has a voice. Hence the name, Tablecloth. Our core values run deep throughout the company culture and continue to drive our work today.

– Transparency: Knowledge is power, so share it.
– Inclusion: Solutions must include the communities they affect.
– Empowerment: Use know-how to discover the how-to.
– Adaptability: Failure is a chance to succeed with better information.
– Accountability: You can’t change what you can’t measure. Data drives decisions.

By working with Tablecloth, our customers are able to fundraise faster, unlock new sources of capital, build investor trust by communicating their impact story, and help catalyze the shift towards stakeholder capitalism.

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