• Sorenson Impact Center

From Oncological Sciences to Impact Investing

Srishti Kotiyal

As the daughter of a doctor, I was raised in government hospital campuses across India, where I witnessed significant socioeconomic health inequalities. This led to both a passion for science and an acute awareness of the issues faced by people at the bottom of the pyramid. As a teenager, it became evident to me that technical innovations are one of the most potent tools in our arsenal to alleviate these socioeconomic disparities. So I pursued a degree in engineering, majoring in Biotechnology.

Agriculture forms the backbone of India’s economy, representing around 16% of the country’s GDP. While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I worked on research projects aimed at improving agricultural efficiencies. I also focused on cancer biology, as the promise of biotechnological innovations in cancer therapy was quite appealing. After graduating I was sure that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in oncological sciences. Cancer is a leading cause of mortality worldwide (causing 9.5 million deaths in 2018) and I wanted to contribute to this field while challenging myself.

In 2016, I secured admission into the Molecular Biology program at University of Utah. A year later, I started my Ph.D. thesis at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. HCI, apart from conducting cutting-edge research, helped me broaden my horizons in terms of interdisciplinary career prospects. During our career panels, I was introduced to exemplary personalities who were utilizing their Ph.D. degree to make an impact in the world outside of academia. From policy making to finance, I realized that the skills that I have been honing during my Ph.D. journey are extremely transferable and relevant. A chance encounter with a fellow Ph.D. student, who was working as a student investment analyst at the Sorenson Impact Center, became the turning point in my career.

Being a cancer researcher, I was not fully aware of the growing sector of impact investing. When I applied to the student internship program at the Sorenson Impact Center, all I knew was that in order to make a positive impact in the world, it was crucial to provide resources to innovative solutions aimed at this cause. The Center focuses on early-stage companies whose mission is to improve the quality of life of the people. There is a strong emphasis on social returns while maintaining financial viability for investors. This mutually beneficial relationship of sustainable investing aligned with my values. I felt empowered.

My first experience in the world of finance was at the Center. At first it was daunting for me to transition from basic sciences to finance. Though I was confident that the skill sets that I have learned during my Ph.D. are highly relevant and useful at the internship, I still had to learn the basics of finance and investment analysis to perform well on the job. Investment analysis for early-stage companies is as much art as science because the relevant data points are not easily available, requiring creative due diligence.

I couldn’t have asked for a more nurturing organization during this transition. The management at the Center is invested in developing students’ knowledge base despite varying backgrounds. Every new analyst goes through a comprehensive training program with our manager, Henry Alvarez. After the completion of the training, we are assigned to work on active deals. Henry’s mentorship has been ongoing and critical in helping me attain a deeper understanding of financial concepts and investment diligence. During our weekly meetings, we received invaluable insights from our managing director, Jeramy Lund, as well as Chance Murray and Carl Adams (manager and director, respectively). As a diligence analyst, my most significant moments are while presenting the deals at investment committee meetings. This experiential learning has been instrumental for me in terms of gaining confidence in my technical skills. More importantly, listening to the passionate discussions of industry leaders as they dissect different aspects of deals is informative and helps elevate our approach to the diligence process.

I joined Sorenson roughly six months ago. Since then, I have noticed holistic development in myself. Balancing this internship with my Ph.D. studies has improved my time management skills. Working alongside talented and enthusiastic analysts, I get the fulfillment of being continuously challenged and learning new skills. Drawing on my medical biology training has afforded me opportunities to dive deeper into healthcare startups. Geographically, Indian and African markets are of particular interest to me as purpose-driven finance has the potential to have a catalytic impact in these regions.

I continuously strive to drive changes, no matter how small, that can have a positive impact on vulnerable populations. As I am going through this journey, my means of creating an impact have evolved from designing new solutions in benchside science to ensuring the allocation of funds to startups geared at using technology for reducing inequalities. I believe that science-led innovations will be crucial in uplifting people and ensuring equitable distribution of relevant resources. Combining the skill sets gained during my Ph.D. and this internship at the Center, I hope to make a positive contribution by utilizing the power of impact investing.

The world is full of hope and promise, and we need insights from people with interdisciplinary backgrounds and diverse mindsets to lead the change. My understanding of the world has evolved as part of my journey at the Sorenson Impact Center. I am extremely enthusiastic about what the future brings.

By Srishti Kotiyal, Impact Investing Student Fellow

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