This week in London, UK impact investment bank ClearlySo marks its 10th anniversary. Since inception the firm has helped raise £230m, driven by a belief in the power of business to deliver positive change. Chief executive Rod Schwartz reflects on the landmark.
ClearlySo – which celebrates its 10th birthday this week – defined its role in the investment world from the very start.
To this day it works only with high-impact businesses, charities and funds, supporting their capital-raising activity through its financial advisory work. It introduces them to institutional and individual investors who share their objectives and values.
Backed by scores of angel investors alongside institutions Big Society Capital, Nesta and Octopus Investments, ClearlySo arranges investment from £300,000 to £30m. To date it has done more than 150 deals for 130 clients – among the most high-profile recent deals was a £5.7m series A last year for Bulb Energy.
Other notable investments include fundraising platform JustGiving and carer platform SuperCarers.
Rod Schwartz (pictured) founded ClearlySo in 2008 after emerging from the ‘dark side’ of investment banking with Lehmans. It is also now exactly a decade since the collapse of Lehmans, triggering the global financial crisis. Though Schwartz’s time there long predated 2008, the coincidence of the two anniversaries draws contrasts between the positive financial outlook of ClearlySo and a far more toxic model of investment banking.
Today Schwartz is on a mission to bring impact as the ‘third dimension’ into investing, where all investors consider risk, return and impact too. This, says ClearlySo, creates an environment for entrepreneurs and businesses that make a difference to thrive.
So what does ClearlySo hitting 10 mean for Schwartz, the organisation, and the UK impact sector more generally? “It means we have survived! Most startups struggle and we were no exception,” he says. “But now we are growing fast and thriving as momentum in impact investment is building very dramatically.
“From something which people were curious about, and spoke about endlessly, now impactful enterprises are raising significant capital from investors and changing the world for the better.”
What’s does Schwartz regard as his proudest achievement in the 10 years? “Surpassing the £200m mark in terms of capital we have helped our clients raise,” Schwartz says without hesitation. “As our impact is correlated to the amount we help firms and funds to raise, this was an immensely satisfying milestone to have passed.”
That landmark – hit this summer – was quite a milestone. Even since then the figure increased to £230m.
Looking more widely, impact investing across the world is thriving. But individual business growth remains tough and we have yet to see our first billion-dollar impact unicorn. What does Schwartz see as the biggest challenge still faced by UK impact ventures looking for investment?
“The slow response of British financial institutions means that the UK’s impactful enterprises don’t always get all the capital they need,” he says. “We are able to introduce some to European investors, but with Brexit looming the UK is hardly the flavour of the month.”
Schwartz is upbeat, but retains a sense of realistic perspective. “The UK’s impact enterprise sector is robust, probably the world’s most developed, but institutional investors are far behind,” he says.
ClearlySo – impact portfolio highlights