Impact Investing | June 21, 2022

Sorenson takes over SOCAP to restructure its finances and produce its flagship event

David Bank
ImpactAlpha Editor

David Bank

ImpactAlpha, June 21 – SOCAP, one of the earliest and biggest impact investing events, is under new management.

A cash crunch caused by the two-year, Covid-induced shutdown of its flagship gathering in San Francisco has forced a restructuring of SOCAP Global, the parent company. This year’s event, set for October, will be produced by the Sorenson Impact Center, based at the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business.

In: Robert Munson, managing director of the Sorenson Impact Center, who will take over SOCAP’s day-to-day operations. Out: Robert Caruso, who led the group of investors that acquired SOCAP from its founding team in 2017. Caruso will remain an advisor and investor. 

“As we emerge from the pandemic and re-start physical convenings, we need a strong partner who can help us scale, grow and engage our community most effectively,” SustainVC’s Tom Balderston, a member of SOCAP’s board of directors, wrote in a letter to shareholders.

Over 15 years, SOCAP, short for Social Capital Markets, helped build the field of impact investing, bringing an eclectic mix of entrepreneurs and investors to the funky piers and warehouses of a former Army base overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. This year’s event is moving downtown, to San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

But Covid-related shutdowns tanked the company’s revenues, which fell nearly 70% in 2020 from approximately $4 million in 2019. SOCAP got a bridge loan from Open Road Alliance, which specializes in financing to help social enterprises weather “unexpected OMG moments.” The Sorenson center also provided a loan. That debt load is now being restructured as SOCAP seeks to raise another round of financing.

Munson, who joined the Sorenson center last year, is a former political consultant and sports marketing executive. He said the new management team is “committed to protecting and preserving SOCAP’s culture while evolving the platform to reflect the rapid transformation of impact.”

Strategy setbacks

As a business, SOCAP has had a rough few years. It acquired Conscious Company magazine in 2017, only to shut it down in 2019. The umbrella branding changed several times. Lindsay Smalling, who produced the annual event for many years, left to join 60 Decibels in 2020. Media executive Kate Byrne, who joined SOCAP in 2019, left last year to become CEO of KatapultX, the events arm of an Oslo, Norway-based investor and accelerator. 

Last year, some investors staged a short-lived uprising challenging Caruso’s leadership. This year’s Total Impact, a SOCAP spinoff event in Philadelphia aimed at financial advisors, was produced primarily by ImpactPHL, a local impact investing network.

The company’s pivot to virtual, digital events during the pandemic was not able to replace lost revenues from the live events.

“Honestly, it’s a miracle that we’re still alive,” Caruso told ImpactAlpha. “It’s been really hard keeping everything going these last two-plus years and was only possible due to our amazingly committed team and community. But now we’re at the end of the pandemic and finally coming back. SOCAP’s future is bright and it’s very exciting.”

The Sorenson Center last week hosted its own impact investing summit in Park City, Utah. Jim Sorenson, who developed early videoconferencing technology to help deaf people communicate, said the combination of the SOCAP and the Sorenson team “can achieve much more than the sum of our parts.”

“Impact is in need of a north star, a galvanizing force that can catalyze the sector to greater action,” Sorenson said. “Through our partnership, we can ensure that SOCAP will play this role.”