Bringing an Entrepreneurial Perspective to Impact

Adapted from Sorenson Impact Center founder Jim Sorenson’s talking points at the U.S. Senate Roundtable on Impact Investing and the Investing in Opportunity Act, organized by the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance.

It’s a sad fact that entrepreneurship has taken a sharp decline over the past decade. This waning economic dynamism has left communities across the country in distress and has closed the doors of economic opportunity to millions. One of my objectives in endowing the Sorenson Impact Center and other endeavors is to help build the ecosystem of social entrepreneurship in this country.

Research shows that new business creation is the principal driver of job and wage growth. Moreover, the dream of starting a business—of paving your own path to economic security for your family and your community—is at the heart of the American Dream and something I hold dear.

As an investor, it’s clear to me that not every good idea comes from Silicon Valley or New York City. If the vast majority of funding for startups continues to support just a handful of places, we will be missing valuable opportunities, not just for investors, but for business owners, their workers, and their workers’ families. Moreover, areas that have been hardest hit by globalization and other economic factors are at risk of slipping further and further behind.

I believe there are motivated investors who want to help the people in these communities get back on their own feet. A helpful incentive from the government can play a key role in bringing down barriers to investments flowing to the areas of our country that need it most.

One low-cost opportunity to nudge investors to commit funding to communities that are often overlooked by traditional investors is the Investing in Opportunities Act (IIOA), introduced in Congress in February of this year. The Act would present a real opportunity for state and local governments to leverage private capital to help address social problems in their communities by creating “Opportunity Zones” across the country to attract investment by offering participating investors deferred capital gains recognition.

Like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, the New Markets Tax Credit, the Community Reinvestment Act, and other prominent federal regulatory frameworks, IIOA has the potential to move a significant amount of private capital and resources into the social sector. I’m hopeful it will pass in the coming months.

Lisa Cox
On the Ground in Jakarta

by Curtis Clawson

Since joining Sorenson Impact nearly two years ago, I am frequently reminded of the nascent state of social impact investing.  Earlier this fall, I attended Sankalp’s third annual Southeast Asia Summit hosted in Jakarta, Indonesia. While there, I met with dozens of social entrepreneurs, on-the-ground investors, and local incubators. As the field is maturing, many conferences I attend debate the same three questions: What is social impact investing? How can we help others get more involved in this space? and finally, What is the future of impact investing?

Providing answers to the first two questions would not only require a more seasoned writer but also an extremely nuanced understanding to craft a holistic definition for social impact investing in all its diverse forms. As a student, I am still learning about all of impact investing’s configurations. However, on the future of social impact investing, I am confident my unjaded perspective will be useful, particularly in identifying trends from my recent experience in Indonesia.

Home to one of the most populous islands in the world—and the largest archipelago within  a single nation, Indonesia produces an environment for social entrepreneurship unlike any other in the world. The country encompasses over 17,000 individual islands, and its fourth-largest island, Java, is home to over 100 million people. This complex demographic forces businesses of all industries to prioritize a solution to logistics, which creates a peculiar race for early ventures to shift focus from creating new products to creating innovative distribution models. This applies to social enterprises as well, who provide solutions ranging from closing small-holder farmer distribution loops to providing rural community clinics with affordable health monitoring devices, typically only available in urban hospitals.


Another characteristic I saw in the social entrepreneurs I visited with in Jakarta was the vast diversity in age. Ranging from their early-twenties to late-fifties, founders created a wide range of enterprises from mobile wallet solutions for migrant workers to water sensors for aquaculture fish farmers. The passion for social impact among both older and younger generations is not unique to Indonesia, but has grown during the previous two decades because of the extraordinary opportunities and mindset cultivated by pioneering social entrepreneurs. This mindset of “doing good better” produced a ripple effect that has led fellow undergraduate colleagues of mine across the nation to aspire to long-term careers in social finance.

Like any aspiration, this interest needs to be given the opportunity to be tested. My work as an undergraduate for Sorenson Impact has cultivated a deep determination to make social good a priority in my career. I am confident that as other foundations, policy labs, impact oriented funds, incubators and companies provide similar opportunities, future sector leaders will continue to be developed, leading to the perpetual expansion of socially-oriented finance for decades to come.

Claire Thomas
Behind the Scenes at the Winter Innovation Summit
  Kaitie Jowers (left), Jeremy Keele (center) and Kimberly Venable (right).

  Kaitie Jowers (left), Jeremy Keele (center) and Kimberly Venable (right).

The Winter Innovation Summit is the convening that busts the conventional conference mold and brings together leaders in government, non-profits, social enterprises, venture capital, private foundations, family offices, data and evaluation experts, philanthropists, and the private markets to discuss innovation and impact for social good (and did we mention skiing?). With over 700 people in attendance this past January, the third iteration of the Summit has set high expectations for the upcoming 2018 Summit. As the project managers for the 2017 and 2018 Winter Innovation Summits, we thought we’d give you a behind-the-scenes look at how it all comes together.

Kimberly Venable: Months before guests receive the save-the-date for the Winter Innovation Summit, Kaitie Jowers and I sit down with Sorenson Impact’s President & CEO, Jeremy Keele, to hear his vision. We whiteboard and appraise ideas and gather input from our thought-provoking colleagues and partners. Before too long, we have more ideas than time allows, and we iterate programming until a full picture emerges, doing our best to include each contributor. Kaitie and I meet regularly with our partners at the Sundance Film Institute and view trailers of the films to be shown at the event, and then we narrow down the selections best suited for our audience. By January, everything falls into place, and we are ready to welcome guests to Salt Lake City.

Kaitie Jowers: As you can imagine, we pull a lot of late nights and early mornings in the weeks leading up to the Summit. Before working on the Summit, I had no idea what an undertaking it would be to pull together such a large conference! We had over 100 speakers at the 2017 Summit, so coordinating schedules, travel, and speaking topics was quite an endeavor. But as trite as it may sound, it was really exciting to see it all come together.

Kimberly: We were thrilled to see the keynote speakers, panelists, and attendees fill our venues, embrace one another, and excitedly discuss personal and professional matters. Jim Sorenson opened the 2017 Summit and we had two days of incredible, stimulating content. Throughout the event, we worked hard to capture a lot of the content so that we could make it available to a broader audience. One of my favorite sessions was the last session of the Summit, when Jackie VanderBrug, Jacki Zehner, and Robyn Scott took the main stage to discuss impact investing through a gender lens.

Kaitie: I also loved all the panels, and I especially appreciated being able to interact with speakers from across the country and globe. What strikes me about the Summit is that the attendees and speakers alike are there to learn from one another, share ideas, and make real progress on key issues. But my other favorite part of the conference is the “extracurricular” activities. We have a great partnership with the Sundance Institute and got to take in some incredibly powerful documentaries.

Kimberly: No one ends their cross-industry event quite like Sorenson Impact. Before our guests make their way home, we bus everyone up to ski the greatest snow on earth. Salt Lake City is within a short distance of 10 ski mountains, and we treat everyone to a day on the slopes. Guests take turns networking on the chair lifts and enjoy the soft powder ride back to a group lunch at one of the mountains lodges. Guests informally sit together to compliment or critique each other’s ski runs, exchange business cards, and wrap up conversations from the week.

Kaitie and I take a few days to recuperate from the excitement of the conference, but before too long, we are back at it for the following year. I can tell you already—the 2018 Winter Innovation Summit is going to be bigger and better than ever. You won’t want to miss it! But don’t take it from us, take it from a few of last year’s participants:


“The Summit was incredible—better every year (even when that doesn’t seem possible!)  I love that you keep expanding the network of people who attend and keep the content relevant and fresh.”

“As you know, I attend more conferences than I would like to admit. And it is my genuine pleasure to tell you that, in my experience, the Winter Innovation Summit is in a class by itself. Professional. Thoughtful. Interesting. Challenging. Just fantastic, on every level. In particular, it was great to hear the speakers from government. I've long been skeptical (if not outright dismissive) of government, so it was super to hear from elected and appointed officials focused on making government work better. Heck, I am tempted to submit my resume to the guy who runs DC water!”

“I just wanted to thank you, as you folks put on a wonderful conference. It was great fun, and I really found it incredibly informative, both within the sessions and in chatting with the other guests.”

“The WIS was a real inspiration and wellspring of insight and information. I was so glad to be included.”

“As always it was a highly worthwhile event—with great content and great networking and business development opportunities”

“Before one more day passes, I want to offer my most heartfelt congratulations for executing such a remarkable event, and my thanks for including me.”

“From a purely personal perspective, I'd say that this was the most welcoming, high-class event I've ever attended. From Jeremy's first invitation email to my hotel check out, my experience was... perfect. Full stop.”

“I write to thank you for hosting such a successful summit last week and for inviting me to be part of it. As I imagine you do, I go to many convenings and yours was significantly more interesting and more serious than most. I’m honoured to have been part of it.”


For more information on the 2018 Winter Innovation Summit click here. We hope to see you in January!

Lisa Cox
Sorenson Impact and David Eccles School of Business Launch First Early Childhood Innovation Lab
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by Courtney McBeth

"Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, one teacher can change the world."

—Malala Yousafzai; education activist and youngest Nobel Prize Laureate

Executive leaders of early childhood education programs are in the same league of world-changers. But it can be tough juggling myriad of program challenges such as funding, access, quality, staffing, compliance, and changing community needs.

To overcome increasing pressure to diversify revenue streams and innovate their models to address complex community and client needs, early childhood educators from around the country came to Salt Lake City for the inaugural Early Childhood Innovation Lab (ECIL) launched by the Sorenson Impact Center and the David Eccles School of Business Executive Education program, in collaboration with the National Head Start Association.

Collaboration for innovation.
The first cohort of Sorenson Innovation Fellows — a distinguished group of early childhood professionals from more than 10 U.S. states — attended the week-long Lab on the University of Utah campus. Designed to incite an entrepreneurial mindset shift, the Lab equips participants with tools to create and pursue innovative strategies and financing. The Lab was grounded in the importance of using data and employing impact measurement to improve practice and demonstrate positive change.

Training for the front line.
Prepared with pre-seminar readings and exercises, the participants arrived ready to address their identified organizational challenge and to garner new knowledge to create an impact plan. Through four intense days of classes on entrepreneurism, impact measurement, strategic leadership, social innovation, and other topics, participants tackled their organizational challenge head-on. Taught by David Eccles School of Business faculty and Sorenson Impact researchers and professional staff, the Lab’s curriculum included case study work and tours of innovative organizations.

In a session on the entrepreneurial mindset, Kathy Hajeb, Director of Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, led an engaging innovation tournament with the participants. The participants said they "enjoyed the activity; it’s something I will do with my team!" Participants said the Lab was an opportunity to escape the day-to-day grind and have an intellectually stimulating space to think strategically and innovatively with a community of like-minded professionals. 

Tying it together.
In the culminating event of the Lab, participants presented their “Impact Plans” to an expert feedback panel and to their cohort-mates. One Innovation Fellow shared a particularly poignant mind shift — she came into the program interested in STEM-focused early childhood education but quickly realized this approach was not solving a pressing problem. Instead, she created a robust and data-driven plan for a holistic, wrap-around service center for heroin users and their children age 0-5, which would be funded in partnership with a private hospital already engaged in solving the opioid epidemic in the community. Other participants pitched compelling plans that focused on topics such as increasing access and improving high-quality pre-K for children of migrant workers. Many of the Innovation Fellows hope to implement their impact plans upon returning to their organizations.

But it doesn't end there.
The Lab strategically employed a cohort-based learning model to foster an ongoing community of innovative early childhood educators. The cohort model will continue beyond the Lab and will engage a continuous online learning community that will include an ongoing public forum to share ideas and resources. The cohort will also receive continuing technical assistance on impact measurement and how to effectively communicate impact for participants from the Sorenson Impact Center.

The Sorenson Impact Center and the David Eccles School of Business Executive Education program will offer two more Early Childhood Innovation Labs in the spring and fall of 2018. The Sorenson Impact Center is excited to grow the cohort of Sorenson Innovation Fellows to a community of nearly 100 early childhood leaders in 2018.

For more information, contact: Courtney McBeth at

Claire ThomasComment
Clearing the Path to Educational Empowerment for Refugees
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By Katie Houser

As a recent graduate from the University of Utah, I’ve experienced firsthand how empowering receiving a diploma is. A small, 11x14” piece of paper represents four years of learning about topics you didn’t know existed, building lasting connections with professors and peers, and an unbelievable amount of hard work. The same small piece of paper also represents overcoming the hurdles that come hand-in-hand with higher education: rising tuition costs, student debt, and an increasingly competitive environment.

In addition to these challenges, students with refugee backgrounds arguably have more obstacles to tackle when it comes to attending college, including language barriers, culture shock, and traumatic pasts. But thanks to Roger Boyer, the underwriter of One Refugee (formerly known as the Refugee Education Initiative), student refugees have the opportunity to experience the empowerment gained from a diploma.

The graphic below shows the path that One Refugee aims to help refugee students along with their three initiatives—the first focuses on education, and the second on employment. One Refugee provides support to students to finish school from enrollment counseling and tuition aid, to computers and books. Since the initiative began in 2014, 95 refugees have acquired bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and education certificates, and the program has received national attention for its success (see One Refugee's feature on CNN: Utah nonprofit helps hundreds of refugees go to college).

The One Refugee's third initiative, focusing on ESL, is where Sorenson Impact plays a role. One Refugee's Executive Directors shared an interesting trend with us: refugee students are applying for One Refugee support with impressively high GPAs, but shockingly low ACT and ACCUPLACER scores. To put this into context, One Refugee only supports students who have been accepted into a college or university as full-time students and are eligible for English and Math 1010, which is determined by ACT or Salt Lake Community College’s ACCUPLACER test scores. This past application cycle, roughly 30 students were not able to receive One Refugee support because of their low test scores.

REI Pathway.png

The One Refugee team presented an innovative solution to help this year’s ineligible students and future applicants: intensive ESL courses to prepare refugee students for standardized testing and academic English. If you remember taking the ACT or the ACCUPLACER, the tests aren’t simple—even if English is your first language. The wording is confusing, there’s never enough time to finish sections, and test fatigue hits at the worst times. By preparing refugee students with standardized testing tips and teaching the English that is seen in test sections and college courses, the chances of higher test scores increase, which in turn, means more students going to college through One Refugee.

There was an obvious opportunity for partnership when we met with the One Refugee team, who wanted to ensure the ESL courses were actually effective. Like any Pay For Success or social impact project I’ve taken part in at Sorenson Impact, questions arose to which our team began solidifying answers. We determined the concrete goals of the ESL courses: academic readiness (meaning getting students familiar with academic English) and higher ACCUPLACER scores. We also examined how we could use student work to determine progress towards those goals. Lastly, we wanted to know if anyone else in the country was or has done anything similar. We quickly found that One Refugee is leading the field in targeted ESL courses for high school-aged refugee students, making research much more difficult.

Our research was executed by a team of Sorenson Impact Fellows—university students working on a variety of government and nonprofit consulting projects at the Center. I was fortunate to have the help of Impact Fellows Jayla Lundstrom, Gabe Moreno, and Lupway Doh, who is also the benefactor of a One Refugee scholarship. We intersected evidence-based practices with refugee education and general ESL education to:

  • Develop an alternative student portfolio assessment technique to supplement simply evaluating students with standardized testing
  • Build a comprehensive pre- and post-course survey to gather student demographic data points

  • Suggest future course developments, such as a collaborative mentorship and tutoring program

Implementing best practices is always easier on paper, especially when the intervention is so new; however, our research shows the value of these practices and the One Refugee team has begun to incorporate them into the ESL courses.

Two courses, held by the Utah International Charter School and the Salt Lake School District, began in late June and are working with refugee students who have not yet applied to the One Refugee program—all in hopes that their test scores will be high enough for a future scholarship. The third course, held by a private organization, began in mid-July and is working with the students who were initially not eligible for One Refugee support this past application cycle. The team of Impact Fellows and I helped administer the pre-course and post-course survey, and are analyzing the data, hopefully to show measurable impact.

The Center also partnered with One Refugee to work with student career development through bringing on One Refugee students to our team and hosting résumé and interview workshops. Sorenson Fellow Lupway Doh experienced One Refugee's impact firsthand, which is part of the reason our research felt so meaningful. He said of the program:

One Refugee is a program that is helping their students, someone like myself, with more than just providing education supports. They are providing the resources necessary for us, so that we can be successful in life. Being a part of this team has given me the opportunity to see and appreciate them more than I already have, all the trouble and hard work they have put in so that someone like me can have an education.

I’ve helped with numerous PFS and social impact projects since I’ve been at the Sorenson Impact Center, but working on the ground with One Refugee has shown me how much tangible impact the social interventions that we help develop actually have. You can read about programs from afar, but until you hear a story about a refugee student’s education or see the ESL course being taught, you can only imagine the importance of sustainable social change and innovation. I look forward to watching One Refugee's impact grow with their ESL courses.

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 CoxComment