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.