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Client Q&A

Client Q&A – Big Path Capital

Big Path has the best – and largest – impact investor network in the world. Our recent convenings showed how important it is to come together during times like these. Investors can share their challenges and what they are doing and in some cases co-invest with each other.

Big Path has been called “impact investing’s investment bank” and works with impact investors and funds as well as socially conscious companies. Can you describe the role that you play in the burgeoning impact investing industry?

Shawn Lesser:

Big Path Capital is the only purely focused impact investing bank in the industry. We were founded in 2007. Our mission is to move the needle to get smarter money to companies and funds so they can manage business in a smarter way to maximize returns while simultaneously maximizing impact.

As the center of the impact investing ecosystem, you could think of us as the industry’s conduit. We work as an investment banker for impact and sustainable companies and as a placement agent for impact private equity funds. Our job is to scout talent and bring our investor base the best-of-class impact companies and funds so they can invest their capital, both maximizing impact and maximizing return. We’ve built a vast network and have worked with over 180 private equity funds – more than any other in the world.

Big Path also hosts several curated investment convenings each year on impact investing. Due to COVID-19, your in-person conferences this Spring had to be cancelled. Can you tell us what you’ve done to shift gears?

Michael Whelchel:

We host two types of events. One for institutional impact investors like family offices, wealth advisors, foundations and one for CEOs of impact companies. For both events, we curate the attendees to ensure high-quality networking. We utilize our central position in the market to be a conduit, connecting mission-aligned investors to funds and to companies all with a focus on maximizing return and maximizing impact. These summits demonstrate how impact investing is simply a better, smarter way to deploy capital.

As the COVID-19 pandemic escalated, we quickly transitioned our first summit, Diversity Driving Alpha, featuring all women speakers, to a virtual conference format. The market downturn had just hit the global economy and social distancing had begun. In the wake of these drastic changes, there was a great need for investors to discuss the state of the global economy and many were feeling isolated from adjusting to working from home.

The feedback to the event was incredible and we had over 400 attendees. The attendees found the discussions and new perspectives to be useful. Moreover, they felt a fulfilling sense of community. Due to the event’s success, we added an additional summit, Global Impact Capitalism, that specifically tackled the response to COVID-19 and resulted in over 150 investor meetings.

At the most fundamental level, it’s an uncertain and isolating time, and bringing the community together through these summits, with everyone seeing each other also lifts spirits in addition to facilitating collaboration.

Why do you feel you’ve been able to pivot so quickly and seamlessly to virtual events — and why have you chosen to put on several additional virtual conferences that weren’t previously scheduled as live events?

Shawn:

Big Path was founded in 2007, right before Great Recession and I think the timing of our founding has helped make us flexible and good at problem-solving. We’re a small, nimble firm. If other firms are super tankers, then we’re a speedboat, so we were able to pivot faster than others. As the center of the impact ecosystem, being able to utilize our position in the market helped us quickly bring in speakers and draw in participation.

Michael:

While some companies are still adjusting to virtual business, Big Path Capital has always been digital so this situation is natural to us. Honestly, it seems like we’ve been ahead and because of the business world’s transition to digital, the industry has finally caught up with us. Once we figured out the conferencing platforms, it was a fairly smooth transition. We quickly pivoted our existing summits and even added two additional summits. We’ve received a great deal of positive feedback. A recent attendee to our MO Summit remarked that, “I feel like you guys are a year ahead on this.” So we count it as a success.

Your recent virtual summits have discussed how impact leaders are reacting in real-time to rapidly changing business practices in light of COVID-19. How does your role in the impact space specifically position you to help steady the economic-fallout?

Michael:

We’re veterans in the industry and have been doing this for 13 years. Big Path has the best – and largest – impact investor network in the world. Our recent convenings showed how important it is to come together during times like these. Investors can share their challenges and what they are doing and in some cases co-invest with each other. Our CEO summit was beneficial as CEOs could better understand how to problem-solve and be creative during these difficult times. As the conduit within the impact ecosystem, we’re best positioned to understand the unique and powerful offerings of the firms we partner with and can leverage our expertise to create growth. This crisis drives home the undeniable fact that impact matters. It is fundamentally impossible to separate finance from the realities of its impact, and we work to simultaneously maximize both.

How has your marketing/PR strategy evolved to engage with your clients and the industry? What are some key elements that have advanced your company to the next level?

Shawn:

Since we’re a small team, it’s been critical to have BackBay to help us ideate, and use their knowledge, and their manpower to execute initiatives that were previously beyond our capacity and expertise. BackBay is also a veteran in the impact investing space. Their ability to leverage 1) knowledge of the industry, as well as 2) their connections with the media within the impact space is invaluable.

Michael:

Getting out into the media to explain who we are has helped us spread the word and reach new audiences. We still like to keep our summits fairly exclusive, but raising our profile helps us reach new clients and make new connections.

What opportunities do you see for Big Path going forward?

Michael:

Institutional Investors, Family Offices, and other members of the industry trust Big Path Capital because they know we deal with only high-quality companies. Our ability to adjust to the market during the COVID-19 transition, allows us to continue to expand and identify more high-quality companies to bring into the network. Our private investor portal currently has 600 investors and it’s growing. Through our virtual summits, we’ve had about four times as many attendees as in person – companies from all over the world.

Since the industry is more thoroughly connected through digital technology, we’ve been able to curate events based upon more specific cross-sections of the industry or based on individual topics. For example, we added a new summit: US Impact Capitalism Virtual Summit – “American Resilience & Recovery.”

Shawn:

The feedback so far has been fantastic, and the ecosystem has been very appreciative. As the industry’s conduit of capital, we appreciate being able to harness the industry to help deliver maximum returns and impact. Additionally, it’s been gratifying to bring people together when everyone is feeling isolated.

As leaders in impact and across the financial industry seek to rebuild the global economy and livelihoods of affected communities, collaborating to connect unique, thriving businesses with successful investment strategies is more critical than ever before. We’re prepared to keep adjusting to the market’s needs and excited to continue our momentum forward.

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