Investing in Middle America: David Robinson on the Record

 

Forbes OZ Summit Series: David Robinson, Founder, The Carver Academy and Admiral Capital Group

On May 21, the Sorenson Impact Center interviewed key opportunity zone players at the inaugural Forbes OZ Summit in Newark, New Jersey.  

David Robinson has been many things over the course of his remarkably interesting and successful career: NBA All-Star, venture capitalist, US Navy service member, and preeminent philanthropist. It’s these experiences that have solidified Robinson’s view of the potential in Middle America. When asked about investing away from the coasts, he says, “It does take a little bit more effort, you know? We’ve got to gather data, we’ve gotta take a little bit more time and find the opportunities in those areas, but that doesn’t mean that the... returns aren’t going to be there… There are opportunities out there, if you’re willing to go out and… take a little bit more risk… there are some phenomenal opportunities.” 

Robinson’s experience bears this out; 15 - 20 years after he began working to build opportunities in the disinvested neighborhoods of Texas, new investors have started entering the same areas to take advantage of the value that’s been created. According to Robinson, while these blue ocean investments may entail a little more risk, both communities and investors can benefit. In fact, the St. Louis Federal Reserve estimates that “double-bottom line” investing can yield returns for investors of 15.5% annually or even higher.  

Partnering on Opportunity Zones

Robinson sees Opportunity Zones as an important tool for allocating capital to underinvested areas. By providing a tax incentive for this investment, Opportunity Zones encourage investors to look beyond the coasts. He states, “This is the best vehicle I’ve seen to be more holistic about our investing.” Additionally, the support that Opportunity Zones can bring to disinvested communities is multi-faceted. “They need the money, the infusion of capital,” he says, but also, “they need the collaboration with the community, and with the local government and... with the local businesses, and I think that this is a wonderful vehicle to do that.” 

Robinson is working to support successful outcomes in Opportunity Zones by partnering with Blueprint Local through his private equity firm, Admiral Capital. Blueprint Local is dedicated to rebuilding local communities by bringing stakeholders together and investing in local “ecosystems.” The partnership, known as Blueprint Texas, will be focused on investing in locally operating businesses that positively impact their community, and commercial infrastructure, such as housing that supports workforce development. Its a project that is well-aligned with Admiral Capital’s mission, “Making investments and forming strategic partnerships that help us reach our goals of maximizing returns while creating a positive social impact.” The collaboration also represents an important part of Robinson’s personal legacy, as his son, David Robinson Jr., is a member of the founding team at Blueprint. 

Track Record in Supporting Communities

Admiral Capital is well-known for its focus on social impact and donating 10% of its profits to social causes, and Robinson has received acclaim for his philanthropic efforts since his days in the NBA. In one example, he challenged 94 elementary school children in Texas to finish high school, and then presented each of the 50 students who graduated with an $8,000 scholarship. He also founded the Carver Academy in San Antonio, which was created to help students achieve success in the midst of challenging circumstances, with a personal donation of $10 million. The school now serves over 1,000 students who consistently score near the 70th percentile on standardized tests. These examples reflect Robinson’s belief that impact begins at the local level. “The nation doesn’t get better unless our communities get better,” he says