Student Spotlight: Sammy Flitton

Originally a Salt Lake City local, Sammy joined the Sorenson Impact Center as an Impact Fellow from his studies at Oxford University in the U.K.

Graduate Degree: MPhil; Politics, University of Oxford
Concentration: European Politics and International Relations
Anticipated graduation: June 2018
Undergraduate Degree: BS International Studies, University of Utah
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah

What is the most interesting project you've worked on during your time at Sorenson Impact? 

One of the most interesting projects I was involved with was working on a new student loan program for the University of Utah. Often, upperclassmen don't finish their degree because they've taken the maximum amount of federal loans, and they can't pay tuition and fees for their last few semesters, so they leave school with lots of debt and without the benefit of a degree. Sorenson Impact and the University of Utah are trying to improve college completion rates by increasing access to funding for students. I was involved in researching alternative loan programs and researched the Income Share Agreement loan program piloted by Purdue University; I then helped develop economic models to see if this alternative program would be viable at the University of Utah. It was a great hands-on experience.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

I'd like to work in public policy. I want to do something in a similar space to the projects I've been involved with at Sorenson Impact.

What is a cause you're passionate about?

I am really interested in global water issues. I was lucky enough to also work on a sanitation and water project conducting research about financing strategies for sanitation initiatives in India, which gave me some important experience I need to work in this sector.

Why did you get involved with Sorenson Impact?

Sorenson offers the opportunity to work with real money on real projects that have measurable impacts. No other internship program I've come across offers the same opportunities.

What are your hobbies?

I love skiing and soccer. I'd also consider myself a cheese connoisseur.

Claire Thomas
Experimental Education at Sorenson Impact: One Impact Fellow’s Experience

by Jameson Osmond

As Jeramy Lund mentioned in an earlier article, the Sorenson Impact Center “provides a best-in-class experiential education opportunity for the students involved.” I completely agree, and from my perspective as an impact fellow, I’d like to add another word to the phrase: experimental. This adds important context around the education style at the Center.

Experimental education, to me, is a type of tailored experiential education—education adapted to take advantage of the natural potential of each individual student. Teachers and mentors, knowing what basic knowledge certain educational experiences will bring, change and modify experiences to push each individual learner further than if they all were taught in the same way. Each experience becomes an “experiment”—a catalyst for growth, as the breadth and depth of each experience is modified to the individual circumstances of mentor and student.

Experimental Education – The Catalyst for Growth

In my years as a student of finance and economics, I have normally learned through lectures, discussions, theories, and essays, but experiential education has been rare (though my better teachers and mentors have sought to include it in their programs). Yet, I have seen that although experience is a better teacher than lecture, it alone doesn't ensure the true growth of a student.

As American author Napoleon Hill said, “Growth come[s] only through continuous effort and struggle,” which experience does not necessarily provide. I have seen that most experiential learning follows a cookie-cutter approach as each learner undergoes the same process. Since this process is not tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of the students, it often does not create an appropriate challenge for them, and thereby does not force them into a cycle of growth.

Experimental Education at Sorenson Impact

Within the impact investing arm of Sorenson Impact, I quickly discovered that this type of education was in full force. As an impact fellow, I work in teams of various sizes analyzing the economic, financial, and social feasibility of potential investments that, while still searching for profitability, have a “second bottom line”—a positive impact on society. The types and makeups of these investments vary widely, and within a week of my joining the Center, I realized that the speed and intensity of my training was organized but dynamic, and was only limited by my desire and ability to learn.

The structure of a venture capital firm, in part, demands it. The large variety of companies and ideas that pass through the Center require that each individual be able to quickly conceptualize, understand, analyze, and contribute to different projects on a quick rotation. However, my trainers and mentors— Henry Alvarez, Anders Aabo, Chance Murray, and Abby Ivory—created the atmosphere that allowed this type of education to take place.

They have been just as committed to teach as I have been to learn. Even on the first day, as I was being taught the basics of venture capital and impact investing, they were willing to take time to answer questions and teach me principles well outside what normally would be asked or expected of me. Maintaining order to ensure that my education was built on a solid foundation, they have adapted their teaching to give me opportunities and challenges based on my individual progress.

For example, I was first exposed to the broad expanse of venture capital by studying the structure of past investment analyses done by the Center. However, as I became interested in the valuation analyses done in those investments, I was given projects that delved much deeper into the subject. I discovered I was passionate about understanding the complexities of how a company is valuated at different stages in its life. As my training progressed, I was given work in this area, and today I continue to learn how to apply these tools to various methods of investment, even outside the VC space.

One such case was with Appian, where Impact Fellow Jordan Larsen and I used data from competitors and SEC filing documents to understand the company’s fluctuations of its IPO pricing. By using various market sites and analyses, we first set up a matrix to break down the different types of competition. After splitting the matrix into three categories, size, similarity, and industry, we filled the matrix with the 5-year revenue and CAGR numbers and EV/REV multiples of the competitors (and Appian itself), and ran a regression analysis to find trends in the data. Using that information, we were able to accurately replicate the IPO “pop” in Appian’s stock price in our model.

Opportunity and Growth at Sorenson Impact

Through the hard work of its staff, Sorenson Impact is designed to help each individual student grow. Everyone at the Center is consistently approachable and willing to challenge each other. This, combined with the Center’s focus on goal-setting and individual education, allows me and others to learn quickly and progress. I have learned methods of valuation for companies at VC, PE, IPO, and post-IPO stages of life; I have studied the Zambian legal system to understand the investing landscape in order to prepare for potential future investments; I have worked on Red Flag analyses that analyze the fundamental legal safety of an investment in a firm—along with many other projects—all because of my desire to learn.

As an avid seeker of personal development, I feel that growth opportunities at Sorenson Impact abound. Here, I am responsible for undertaking my own experiment, and I trust that the experiences that follow will lead to my growth. I have been impressed at the quality and structure of this company and its members. I hope that as I continue to learn and grow, I can become a significant contributor to the Center, and I encourage any person seeking a similar challenge to do so as well.


Gabe Moreno
Who Gets Out and Stays Out? The Data on Recidivism.

by Daniel Hadley

People cycling in and out of the justice system is one of our country's most persistent problems. The term “recidivism” is a common term we hear in our work with governments and providers, and many Pay for Success projects attempt to lower the recidivism rate for groups of people, including Massachusetts’ pioneering collaboration with Roca. I was surprised, therefore, when I was explaining to my in-laws at a family dinner what I was doing at work and received only blank stares: “what is recidivism?”

“Well,” I started, “recidivism is the rate at which people return to prison.” Then I remembered, “or it could be the rate that they are rearrested, or return to jail, or violate parole, or are convicted of a new crime.” The more I researched the term, the more I realized that it is highly specific to what is being measured and hard to unpack.

The standard US estimate for recidivism is 55% at 60 months, meaning that approximately one in two (!) former inmates is incarcerated again within five years.


However, the recidivism estimate varies: another analysis found that only one in three will return to prison when measured across time rather than by cohort.

Confused? Try answering these questions: if a state were to lower its recidivism rate by 10%, how would that change the number of jail beds they filled each day over a five year period? And on the other end of the spectrum, how many additional arrests would take place if recidivism increased by 30% over five years?

More confused? You’re not alone. Everyone from politicians to Supreme Court Justices seem to get the math wrong.

There’s an App for That

In my work as a data scientist helping to quantify social outcomes, I have found that these types of questions seldom lead to intuitive answers or are solved by simple analysis. Granted, we want them to be—simple solutions are more desireable than complex ones. However, truthful, fact-based analysis should not be eschewed for convenience. What’s more, I’ve reviewed economic models that missed the mark by a wide margin, ascribing benefits to recidivism reductions that were not warranted by the data.

In an effort to help remedy this, I worked with a brilliant University of Utah student named Sam Nelson to develop an interactive model that shows how changes to recidivism rates could impact more concrete outcomes, like arrests and prison time.  

The result is an agent-based stochastic model that takes user inputs as parameters and then visualizes outcomes. In non-geek-speak, this is a simplified version of SimLife for former prisoners, where each of 1,000 “sims” (i.e., simulated people) is tracked over five years to see how changes to the recidivism rate impact the time they spend behind bars.

Recidivism GIF

What’s Next?

As the late British statistician, George Box, wryly observed, “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” We know that the simulation we created is an oversimplification of a very complex system. The outcomes of former prisoners are influenced by any of a million different variables. We do hope, however, that this model at least proves useful for preliminary analysis, when translating recidivism to more concrete measures.

Our application is hosted here, and all of our code is open source. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for help with implementation.

Daniel Hadley is the Chief Data Scientist at Sorenson Impact Center, where he and his team mine the data behind social challenges. To read more about his thoughts on data and recidivism, see this post on this personal blog.

Lisa Cox
Student Spotlight: Conner Ludlow

Conner has been at the Sorenson Impact Center since December 2016 and recently traveled with the Center to Nairobi, Kenya.

Degree: Pursuing B.S. in Information Systems
Affiliation: Undergraduate, Brigham Young University
Anticipated graduation: April 2019
Hometown: Sandy, Utah

What was your most fulfilling experience in Kenya?

Visiting with our portfolio companies felt fulfilling. It felt like we were a part of what they were doing, not just on the outside looking in. For one company, Copia, we got to go and visit some of their agents in small villages. It was fun to speak with them and hear how their lives had improved since they became an agent and see the impact that one of our companies was having. 

How did the trip change you?

The trip definitely gave me a lot to think about. One thing I realized was we typically look at the conditions in Kenya and think, "Wow, that’s third world,” but even though the people we met were living off of far less than we do in the U.S., their happiness didn't seem any less. I wasn’t expecting them to be miserable or anything, but the experience gave me perspective to think about what really matters and what deserves my focus.

Why do you think impact investing is important?

There are lots of great ideas and people in Kenya that are trying to innovate and create change. In a place like Kenya, that goes a long way. They’re not merely searching for "the next big thing," but for ideas that will help improve people's situations and potentially change lives. Impact investing is great because it gives these people power to accomplish what they are trying to do. 

Why and how did you become involved with Sorenson Impact? 

I got involved with Sorenson Impact because of the great experience it offers. I like the Center's cause, and wanted to learn and gain experience in the space.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

I'd love to start my own company or work for a startup.

Do you have a favorite quote/personal philosophy?

"It's better to live a life of oh well's than of what if's."

Tell us your hobbies.
Skiing, hockey, and pretty much anything outdoors; plus a bit of guitar.

Claire Thomas
Student Spotlight: Max Metcalf

Max has been at the Center since the fall of 2016 and recently traveled with the Center to Nairobi, Kenya.

Degree: Pursuing B.S. in Economics
Affiliation: Undergraduate, Brigham Young University
Anticipated graduation: Spring 2018
Hometown: Murray, Utah

Why and how did you become involved with Sorenson Impact? 

I love learning about how to solve social problems via the private sector. Sorenson Impact has helped me learn valuable analytical skills and to look at problems from different angles. It is neat to see different companies solving complex social problems with for-profit solutions that are sustainable and impactful. 

How did the trip change you?

It changed my perspective on the effect the western world has on developing countries. Often times I thought of everything western being introduced to developing countries as a good thing. However, after visiting Kenya I learned the importance of having technological advances come from within the country. I think Kenya has been overexposed in some aspects to the western world, which is why I think it is so important to invest in Kenyan companies rather than bringing the influence of American companies to Kenya.

What was your most moving experience in Kenya?

Driving out to Nanyuki and seeing all of the people living in rural villages and interacting with the farmers that supply the nuts to EcoFuels (which they turn into energy).

Why do you think impact investing is important?

I think impact investing is important because it enables Kenya to develop infrastructure and technology from within their own country, generating more jobs and having a longer lasting effect on the economy.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

A huge senior trip! 

What are you passionate about?

Wage equality.

Do you have a favorite quote/personal philosophy?

"Nobody climbs a mountain to get to the middle."

Who is your idol and why?

Rudy Gobert, a center for the Utah Jazz. I admire his dedication.

Tell us your hobbies.

Golf, wakeboarding, skiing, and waterskiing.



Claire Thomas
Impact Investing: A Focus for Higher Ed

by Jeramy Lund

We all tend to be in self-reinforcing circles of information these days. But, the idea of impact investing entering the mainstream seems to be a uniting vision among various stakeholders. As a Harvard Business School alum and because of my work at Sorenson Impact, I have recently joined an alumni impact investing group at HBS. HBS hired Margaret Busse, a fellow 2001 alum, to lead its launch. Mark Kahn (HBS ’06) of Omnivore Partners, Margaret and I have formed the executive committee for this new endeavor, which has a larger steering committee and a mission to help better connect and expand the field of impact investing. 

While the group is in its early stages, given the depth and breadth of talent in the steering committee alone, this is a team that can fundamentally help shape the conversation around impact investing on a global scale.

When we were students, HBS had social enterprise offerings, mostly geared around the successful business underpinnings of running a not-for-profit. Now, HBS is looking to further understand impact investing on several fronts, including exploring what its alumni are doing in the field.

This mirrors a common spirit with our pursuits at Sorenson Impact at the University of Utah, where I am the Managing Director of Impact Investing. Sorenson Impact was established in 2008 with a gift from James Lee Sorenson to further the practice of impact investing. The then-called Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center had a laser focus on first-class student training in financial due diligence. The students served foundations and other investors by performing due diligence on direct impact investments.

The program was modeled off the University Venture Fund, which pairs student teams with professional management to develop robust due diligence packages on companies at a lower cost than a “professional” consulting shop. At the same time, the fund provides a best-in-class experiential education opportunity for the students involved. 

From this beginning, the Center has morphed from two professionals assisting the student teams in doing due diligence on private companies to a full-time staff of 30 employees—still doing due diligence—but also having expertise in green fixed income, impact measurement, pay-for-success transaction structuring and evaluation, academics, and a team of data scientists to support all of these initiatives. Similar to the HBS alumni steering committee, this is a group that can fundamentally help shape the conversation around impact investing on a global scale.

My hope is that I’m not just sitting in a self-reinforcing bubble but rather that these increased efforts by leading academic institutions signal a true growth in interest in the field of impact investing. While I admit this is somewhat self-serving, I also truly believe shifting more capital to companies attempting to solve social problems—with an eye toward profit and sustainability—not only can make the world a better place, but it can reduce volatility in our business cycles by aligning capital with needs, as opposed to wants. 

I, along with my colleagues, look forward to watching what happens from here.

Lisa Cox
Student Spotlight: Sandra Octaviani

Meet one of our many shining Impact Fellows, Sandra Octaviani.

Sandra has been at the Center since the fall of 2016. She is a global citizen, having lived in Canada, Singapore, Germany, and Indonesia before moving to Salt Lake City to pursue graduate studies.

Affiliation: MBA student, David Eccles School of Business, The University of Utah
Concentration: No official concentration, but I take mostly finance electives.
Anticipated graduation: May 2018
Undergraduate degree: B.A. in Economics from Western University (Canada)

Why and how did you become involved with Sorenson Impact? 
I wanted to do work that is meaningful and that is a personal expression of my values, passion, and commitment to the betterment of business.

What is the most interesting project you've worked on at the Center?
I did due diligence on this really interesting biotech company that is tackling a cure for HIV.

What do you hope to do after graduation?
I have no idea! But probably something related to finance and entrepreneurship.

What are you passionate about?
Sustainable food and agriculture, clean energy, eradication of poverty, and space exploration—like using satellites to improve global internet service, colonizing Mars, and discovering new planets—it's kind of crazy, but I find it so interesting!

Do you have a favorite quote/personal philosophy?
"Grit your teeth and smile."
—Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund

Who is your idol and why?
My future self.

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I am a messy eater!

Tell us your hobbies.
Rock climbing, hiking, surfing, and reading.

Lisa Cox
The Partner to Truth Is Narrative: An Impact Chat with David Bornstein

by Jack Robinson

In our current public discourse, data and evidence are increasingly being misappropriated or altogether ignored. That is to say, data and evidence are not enough: the narrative that accompanies both is incredibly valuable.

At Sorenson Impact, we pursue a common set of ideals: helping communities identify solutions to persistent problems and taking those solutions to scale. Through this work, we seek to empower communities with not only the tools of “what works” to tackle these problems but also with the resources to sustain this work. Project-by-project, investment-by-investment, we are achieving tangible, meaningful outcomes—but there’s so much potential for these successes to inspire and empower others.

Enter solutions journalism.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the leading voices and advocates for solutions journalism, David Bornstein, co-author of the Fixes column in the New York Times and CEO and co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network. If standard operating procedure for journalism is to provide an objective, fact-based reporting of events, think of solutions journalism as that plus, here’s someone who found how to resolve the issue and this is what they did. This approach to reporting on the how can call others to action. It can serve as an invaluable mechanism for increasing citizen engagement and strengthening our democratic society.

Think of this as a platform for highlighting the great work of communities. Solutions journalism is not so much the feel-good story portion of the evening news (yes, some days, we all need a bit more of that). It’s the “top-notch story-driven journalism that helps society understand how problems are being addressed,” as David Bornstein wrote in Forbes. It’s “looking at ideas and models that show promise based on evidence and data.”

In the video below, David and I discuss how people holding themselves accountable—a core asset of democracy—is made stronger when we can provide an understanding of the nuts and bolts of how people and providers are doing better. For people to recognize that they can improve, sometimes we need to show that pathways to improvement do indeed exist.

My colleagues and I strive to contribute to solving problems in communities throughout the world, and I am thrilled to know that there are journalists like David who can amplify the voice of the community champions who make these solutions possible.


See more of our Impact Chats here.

Lisa Cox
An Impact Chat on Gender Lens Investing

by Kimberly Venable

I had the privilege of introducing the Impact Investing through a Gender Lens panel at our 2017 Winter Innovation Summit held in January, with Jacki ZehnerJackie VanderBrug, and Robyn Scott. The panel was a crowd-favorite that left the audience wanting more.

Fortunately, Jacki and Jackie also took a moment to sit down with us for an Impact Chat to discuss their views on gender lens investing. In the video, Jackie asserts that "financing feminism is profitable."

As Women's Month comes to a close, I invite you to watch this thought-provoking Impact Chat posted below. And if you're interested in more on gender lens investing, check out Jackie VanderBrug's bookGender Lens Investing: Uncovering Opportunities for Growth, Returns, and Impact. Also, stay tuned for when we release Robyn Scott's impact chat later this year.


See more of our Impact Chats here.

Lisa Cox
Student Spotlight: Chance Murray

Meet one of our many remarkable Student Fellows, Chance Murray.

Chance has been at the Center since January of 2016. He hails from Utah but most recently called Arlington, Virginia, his home (before returning to his graduate studies).

Affiliation: MBA student, David Eccles School of Business, The University of Utah
Concentration: Finance & Strategy
Anticipated graduation: May 2017
Undergraduate degree: BA and Masters in Accounting from Utah State University

Why and how did you become involved with Sorenson Impact? 
Several professors at the David Eccles School of Business recommended I apply to the Center. I wanted real-life experiences in direct investing while I was going to school. Also, impact investing is a great balance between doing good and making money (to do more good). 

What is the most interesting project you've worked on at the Center?
One of our recent due diligence projects focused on mobile money (fintech) in Latin America. For most of my life I've had an affinity for Latin American culture, and this project gave me the opportunity to analyze how a company could improve financial access for millions of people.

What do you hope to do after graduation?
I want to build businesses, whether from the inside out or outside in.

What is a cause you're passionate about?
Women empowerment.

Do you have a favorite quote/personal philosophy?
Make money, help people, and have fun (my personal motto).

Who is your idol and why?
Right now, it's Adam Brown, a former Navy Seal and member of Seal Team Six. He's a recovered crack addict, father & husband, man of faith, daredevil, and the hardest working person you'll learn of in this decade. He was a gentle warrior, flipping back and forth seemingly at the flip of a switch.

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Most people don't know that I'm deathly shy.

Tell us your hobbies.
Cycling, hunting, fishing, tennis; pretty much anything that entails 'outdoorsing.' Also, I love learning about American history.

Lisa Cox
Welcome to Our Think Tank

An Ambitious Agenda

by Jeremy Keele

Since being named President & CEO at Sorenson Impact in January, I’ve reflected on our past accomplishments as well as a number of exciting opportunities for our future. As friends of the Center know, many great minds have contributed to today’s organization. It’s worth reflecting for a moment on the Center’s path—started by our founder, Jim Sorenson—and his remarkable vision to create a center of innovation that directs resources to proven models in the social sector.

In 2001, the University Venture Fund (UVF), the first experiential student venture fund in the country, began training and educating students on social impact investing domestically. Then, in 2013, Jim endowed the Sorenson Global Impact Investing (SGII) Center. SGII built on UVF’s success of offering students training in impact investing due diligence skills—this time for opportunities worldwide. Undergraduate and graduate students were able to advise on tens of millions of dollars in investments every year. Also, in 2013, I helped launch the Policy Innovation Lab with a combination of public and private grants to bring innovative financing tools to governments and nonprofits in order to make measurable social impact.

These groundbreaking platforms are now under one roof: the Sorenson Impact Center.

We focus our energies on three main areas: impact investing, impact measurement, and social sector performance and innovation. The skills we have developed over the years in data analysis, financial structuring and investment, and implementing new, innovative projects and policies uniquely positions us to help our clients and partners make an outsized impact that outlives our involvement.

Along with developing invaluable skills, we have attracted world-class talent. Over the past several years, we’ve built an incredible team of 30 professionals. Our theory of change is to engage with myriad stakeholders to drive impact. This approach has attracted in-house experts in international development; financial markets and tools; nonprofits, philanthropy and government; and data science. 

This exceptional bullpen of professionals enables us to break down common silos, champion the best solutions from each sector, and work together to solve pressing social challenges that impede global progress.

It is my hope that this Think Tank will be a place to hash out new ideas, form connections, and discover different perspectives on important issues.

I invite you to explore our new website and come back often, as we provide updates on the exciting projects we have the privilege of pursuing.

Lisa Cox