Alumni in Review: Aditi Datta, Class of 2017

Aditi Datta ’17 is an Account Manager at Select Design, a strategic brand consultancy and design agency located in Burlington, Vermont whose clients include Doritos, Mountain Dew, Jim Beam, and Dunkin Donuts.

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I always knew I wanted to go back to school eventually but I wasn’t exactly sure for what. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program actually fell into my lap (because I was moving to Vermont one way or another) but I ultimately decided to do the program because of the emphasis on looking at things differently. Though I couldn’t articulate it before the program, I’ve learned that I am naturally inclined to solve problems through an atypical lens and encourage my peers/colleagues to do the same. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program was attractive because it seemed to be more focused on perspective and less focused on quantitative jargon, like traditional MBAs.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

I feel like this is a trick question! Above all else, the friends I’ve made through The Sustainable Innovation MBA program (past and present cohorts) are invaluable. Even though we aren’t sitting in the same room all day, every day I know that every person in my cohort has my best interest in mind and genuinely supports me in everything I do. Additionally, it was incredibly unique to be a part of a program — focused on sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship — that was actually a startup itself. It was both challenging and rewarding to take an objective look at the program and provide feedback that would continue to enhance the experience for future cohorts.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

More than anything, I find myself using the vocabulary and tools learned in our various leadership and teamwork classes. Things like “how do I do this on Excel” are easy enough to Google but not everyone is well-equipped to discuss why a certain co-worker is rubbing so many people the wrong way or what actions can be taken to remedy this. Especially in a flat organization like Select Design, I’ve found that everyone is a leader in a sense so I try to offer assistance to my co-workers who are trying to navigate this unusual structure by using tools/skills learned in the program.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

1.  The year will be over before you know it so take time to get to know your classmates outside of the classroom. They will be your biggest advocates and best “letters of recommendation.”

2.  It’s OK to not know exactly what you want to do after the program is over but don’t wait until August to start introducing yourself to the right people.

3.  Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself; everyone is new and everyone is nervous.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Lauren Emenaker

Lauren Emenaker ’18 came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA after spending time in Colorado as a Marketing Manager at the Vail Valley Charitable Fund.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I had been working in marketing roles since undergrad and wanted to learn more about the other aspects of running a business. I was drawn to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program because of its focus on sustainability and entrepreneurship, specifically creating long-lasting businesses that will do good for the community and environment.

What has been your favorite part/element of the program thus far?

My favorite part has been learning from our diverse cohort and faculty, both in and out of the classroom. I also really enjoyed hearing from the guest speakers about their experiences in the field and their desires to create a more sustainable world.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

1. It is an accelerated program so be ready to put lots of time and energy into classwork and team projects.

2. You will form lifelong friendships and connections.

3. That everything takes place in one classroom.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has helped me have more meaningful conversations, think more strategically, question assumptions, and learn the foundations of business and sustainability. This program has helped me to better understand why some companies succeed and some companies fail.

Is Wall Street Waking Up To The Benefits of Sustainability?

There’s something brewing among our economy’s biggest institutional investors, risk analysts, and economic forecasters.

Larry Fink is the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment firms with over $6 trillion in assets under its management. Each year, Fink writes to the CEOs of leading companies in which its clients are shareholders. “As a fiduciary,” Fink states, “I write on their behalf to advocate governance practices that BlackRock believes will maximize long-term value creation for their investments.”

In this year’s letter, Fink urges business leaders to focus on “long-term value creation”. BlackRock also said its “engagement priorities” for talking to CEOs would include climate risk and boardroom diversity.

Also included in the letter is this paragraph:

“Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors relevant to a company’s business can provide essential insights into management effectiveness and thus a company’s long-term prospects. We look to see that a company is attuned to the key factors that contribute to long-term growth: sustainability of the business model and its operations, attention to external and environmental factors that could impact the company, and recognition of the company’s role as a member of the communities in which it operates. A global company needs to be local in every single one of its markets.”

As they say, read the whole thing.

BlackRock is not alone.  Fund giant Vanguard, which led a successful shareholder resolution on climate disclosure and strategies at ExxonMobil, also declared climate risk and gender diversity “defining themes” of its investment strategy.

Our mission at The Sustainable Innovation MBA is to build and launch the next generation of business, enterprise, and organizational leaders who are exceptionally well-equipped to create, and lead in, this new world.

A Few Of My Favorite Things…About The Sustainable Innovation MBA

This post was written by Randy Baron ’18

The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has created an environment where I can become the best version of myself. I am surrounded by a passionate and supportive group of teachers and students that challenge my viewpoints and help me move out of my comfort zone.

There is a diverse group of students in the cohort from many different walks of life. Students of the current cohort have experience in non-profit, law, engineering, science, education, agriculture etc. This diversity allows us to creatively solve problems and attack challenges from different angles. Throughout the program all of our professors have been stressing the importance of living a balanced lifestyle and focusing on mindfulness. This has been key to my personal development so far throughout the program.

Members of the Class of 2018 working together on a UVM Adventure Ropes Course challenge

One of my favorite aspects of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is the collaborative nature. We get to work with four different groups of 3 to 4 students throughout the year. I find this valuable because it allows me to gain experience working with different types of people, network with my fellow classmates, and practice my leadership skills. Traditional MBA programs are more competitive and don’t encourage as much collaboration. In addition to collaboration with students there is also collaboration with thought leaders and change agents from all over the globe. This world-wide network is what makes The Sustainable Innovation MBA program the #1 Green MBA in America.

Another aspect of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program that I really enjoy is the focus on finding and developing passion. In our Leadership Seminar class with Joe Fusco we have learned that passion is one of the keys to great leadership. Life is filled with problems and, instead of fighting them and fearing them, we need to embrace them. Leaders love problems. A person needs to find problems that they enjoy solving every day. Another key aspect of leadership is being committed. A leader should be so passionate about their job that they wouldn’t quit even if they won the lottery. In order to find and develop this passion The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has created a career launch program where we get to listen to successful CEO’s, set SMART goals, refine our mission and vision, job shadow, attend career counseling sessions as well as attend conferences about sustainability.

I feel lucky and happy every single day to be a part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. I find learning about entrepreneurship, sustainability, and innovation fascinating. During one of the Sustainability Toolkit sessions we had the privilege of listening to Sherwood Smith, the Senior Executive Director for Engagement & Professional Development at UVM, talk to us about privilege/bias. This Toolkit Session inspired me to refine my personal vision. My vision is to see people of all ages and cultures come together unified and empowered by sharing the belief that they hold the power to solve the world’s greatest social and environmental problems on an individual level.

Perfect Pitch: A Workshop with Cairn Cross

This post was written by Kevin Hoskins ’18

The members of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM were recently treated to a workshop on pitching by Cairn Cross. Cross is the co-founder and managing director of FreshTracks Capital, a venture capital firm based in Vermont that invests in early stage entrepreneurial companies. (He is part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program’s Changemaker Network, as well as teaching the program’s class on venture capital.)

What is pitching? It is the art and skill of describing one’s project, entrepreneurial venture, or oneself in the minimal amount of words that communicates your message to the listener.  For startups and entrepreneurs, it is a skill that can be developed and honed over time with practice and feedback.

Cross began the workshop by outlining a number of different pitching styles. The first, is the one sentence pitch, as illustrated further by Adeo Rossi. It answers the question: “If you had to describe your company or mission in one sentence, what would it sound like?” For entrepreneurs, that response could look like this:

My (company) is developing (a well-defined offering) to help (the audience you’re targeting) (solve this problem) with (your secret sauce.)

The second style is the mantra. A mantra is a sacred verbal formula repeated in prayer, meditation or incantation such as an invocation of a god, a magic spell or a syllable or portion of scripture containing mystical potentialities.  Entrepreneurs and start-ups can use mantras to explain their mission in only a few crucial words. Guy Kawasaki, in his video Don’t Write a Mission Statement, Write a Mantra, gives a few helpful examples:

  • Starbucks: rewarding everyday moments
  • eBay: democratize commerce
  • Disney: fun family entertainment

The class was then asked to come up with mantras for The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. It’s important to remember that mantras should be short and sweet, but also outwardly focused. Your mantra should focus on the benefits that you provide to the customer.

Thirdly, Cross discussed the Art of the Pitch for entrepreneurs. The idea behind this is that entrepreneurs should always be prepared with a pitch handy for potential investors, co-founders, or partners. The pitch outline Cross illustrated and the questions you should answer in your pitch is as follows:

  • Title (name, organization, contact information)
  • The “Ask” (I am here today to ask you…)
  • The Problem (what is customer pain you will alleviate?)
  • Your Solution (why are we better?)
  • Your Management Team (why are you the one(s)?)
  • Your Business Model (how will you make money?)
  • Any Underlying “Magic” (what is your secret sauce?)
  • How Will You Reach the Customer? (sales/marketing)
  • Repeat the “Ask”

Cross noted that pitches should be as concise and succinct as possible. Remember that you can only speak at most 150 words a minute comfortably. It’s also helpful, Cross noted, to think of someone on your shoulder whispering “so what?” to better focus on the value your offer needs to create for others.

Lastly, Cross touched upon the idea of the personal pitch. Have a way to describe who you are what you do clearly and succinctly in a way that resonates with people. As a way to frame your personal pitch, think of these questions:

  • What’s your motivation?
  • What do you do well?
  • Why you?

Answering those questions is key to communicating your personal secret sauce.

Do you have a business idea that you’ve been working on? Can you say it in 140 characters or less? Tweet your business idea to @vtcairncross. Just remember to keep it concise!

Editor’s Note: What should we call a business pitch delivered by tweet? A “twitch”? Or a “peetch”?

The Year In Review: The Grossman School of Business

In addition to being ranked as the best Green MBA in the United States by the Princeton Review, The Sustainable Innovation MBA is a flagship program at the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business. The Grossman School of Business has as its mission to prepare students — undergraduates as well as post-graduates — to be thoughtful, agile business leaders in a complex and dynamic global environment.

The just-released Dean’s Report for 2017 details a year of continued accolades, growth, and student success for the School. Click here — or the picture above — to read the Report.

Learn more about The Sustainable Innovation MBA, or download our e-book here.

Yes, VECAN: Exploring Local Climate Solutions

This post was written by Henry Rabinowitz ’18

I had the chance to attend the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network (VECAN) conference December 2 along with fellow Sustainable Innovation MBA candidate Sam Carey. The event, which has been held annually for the last ten years at the Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, VT, offered a chance to meet and network with an eclectic group of activists, energy committee members, state employees, and business people, who are all working to solve the problem of climate change on a practical, local level here in Vermont.

A large portion of the conference’s attendees were people serving on local energy committees — people looking for ways to identify action plans for their towns and communities to implement specific environmentally minded policies and improvements.

In the first session, I attended a panel on engaging low income communities with climate solutions, where representatives of three organizations promoting building and home weatherization and efficiency improvements presented their activities. After lunch, I went to a workshop focused on bringing together green energy and agriculture. Three representatives of the Vermont Agency for Agriculture Food & Markets presented on a variety of techniques for farmers to improve their energy efficiency, from installation of mixed use solar (where animals can graze alongside or under solar panels) and pollinator friendly solar installations (where a variety of native grasses and plants are included in a solar project) to biomass energy projects like large scale methane digesters and high-efficiency wood pellet and chip burning furnaces to replace oil heat in structures of varying size.

In my opinion, the most transformational element of the day’s activities was the keynote by former EPA head Gina McCarthy, who was impassioned, extraordinarily knowledgeable and, frankly hilarious—if you haven’t had a chance to hear her speak, I highly recommend finding one of her speeches online.

The day was a reminder to me of just how engaged Vermonters are with climate change, and how excited people you encounter here every day are about the opportunities that come with the challenges it brings.

Photo credit: VECAN

Burlington Hosts “Slow Money” Food Economy Entrepreneurs

This post was written by Ariella Pasackow ’18

On December 6, Slow Money Vermont hosted its 3rd annual Entrepreneurial Showcase at the Main Street Landing Performing Art Center in Burlington. Together with the Moulton Law Group, Milk Money, Flexible Capital Fund, City Market, and other sponsors, the program brought together entrepreneurs and investors with a shared vision for local, sustainable food and farms. Slow Money Vermont “catalyzes new investment opportunities in the people, businesses and community that contribute to a sustainable food economy.” A project of the Farm to Plate Network, Slow Money Vermont is part of a national movement headquartered in Boulder, Colorado.

The Entrepreneurial Showcase presented two panels, along with opening remarks by Slow Money Vermont chair Eric DeLuca. The plenary panel was introduced by Janice St. Onge, president of Flexible Capital Fund, who discussed the life cycle of businesses and the need for a succession plan. Allison Hooper from Vermont Creamery and Bill Cherry from Switchback Brewing Company both spoke to their own exit strategies, and the challenges of thinking about selling your business before you even begin. After years of discussion and possible “suitors,” Vermont Creamery was purchased by Minnesota based Land O’Lakes in March 2017. Switchback Brewing became employee owned in February 2017, and changed their logo to reflect that decision: “Employee & Vermont Owned, Forever.” Matt Cropp from Vermont Employee Ownership Center also joined the panel to discuss broad based employee ownership programs and the ESOP model. Panelists offered advice to aspiring entrepreneurs to think about the culture that want to cultivate within their company and the legacy they want to leave behind.

Following the panel, five entrepreneurs presented a brief pitch, including an “ask” for capital and other resources, with time for questions and answers. Kimball Brook Farm, Zenbarn, Metta Earth, Kingdom View Compost at Tamerlane Farm, and Eden Specialty Ciders shared their story and plans for future growth, and showcased the diversity of businesses throughout the state. Audience members asked about the opportunities and challenges the entrepreneurs faced, and what they needed to help them succeed. Though each entrepreneur was seeking to solve very different problems, they were all committed to growing companies grounded in local, sustainable, and innovative business practices and beliefs. Additional information about the Slow Money Movement can be found here.

Localize It! Conference Highlights Reinventing Local Economies

This post was written by Ian Dechow ’18

The Localize It! Conference convened earlier this fall in South Royalton at Vermont Law School. The conference brought together speakers and participants who were passionate about system change via reinventing and reinvigorating local economies.

One of the key points many of the speakers made throughout the weekend was on mindset. Changing mindsets about the current globalized economy is the first step towards changing the system as a whole. One of the ways speakers encouraged a change in mindset was to recognize that in our current system we commodify all aspects of our life. Indigenous Leader Sherri Mitchell pointed out that when people are “single,” one might say they are “on the market.” With this commodification comes the idea that acquiring money is the only part of the economy that matters. The Localize It conference sought to put this notion to rest.

Continue reading “Localize It! Conference Highlights Reinventing Local Economies”

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Trade Show: Showcasing Innovation

This post was written by Seth Gillim ’18

On the last day of November, the students of The Sustainable Innovation MBA hosted their annual Business Model Trade Show in the bustling lobby of Kalkin Hall. Visitors toured booths, sampled products and learned about the creative enterprises students have been working on throughout Module 2. For the students, it was a great opportunity to hone their elevator pitch and get feedback for their business ideas from noted visitors like venture capitalist and UVM alum David Aronoff, a general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners.

The Trade Show is the brainchild of professor Erik Monsen. His course, Crafting the Entrepreneurial Business Model, focuses on developing and assessing the viability of a business from the ground up. Students draw on their core MBA toolkit in finance, accounting, marketing and business strategy to dream up new, sustainable ventures that create value in innovative ways. The goal is to become more comfortable thinking entrepreneurially, as well as understand the inherent challenges and complexities of launching new ventures.

Many of the businesses focus on creating consumer goods that fill an unmet or underserved need in the marketplace. For instance, B3 is a consumer health company that offers simple, effective and environmentally friendly shampoo products made entirely from water, baking soda, and essential oils. Visitors to the trade show learned that the average shampoo contains more than 30 ingredients, many of which are known to cause adverse health and environmental effects. Another team of students with science and engineering backgrounds created Conscious Coffee Pods: small on the go servings of coffee in an algae-based pod that are shelf-stable, easily dissolved in water, and produce no packaging waste. Yet a third team created Flip Balm, an on the go algae-based sunscreen that attaches to a wristband made of recycled ocean plastic.

Other groups of students focused on using the for-profit model to deliver consumer services efficiently and equitably. A team of students founded Pathways, an organization that works to connect with place high school students in gap year programs around the world. In addition to placements, Pathways teaches critical life skills like cultural competency, work-life balance, focus and healthy risk-taking. Still another group have formed Tiny Bliss, a micro-community of Tiny Homes offering a unique rent-to-equity model where tenants have a portion of each month’s rent set aside and invested.  One of the biggest challenges facing millennials is they cannot set aside enough for a mortgage down payment due to the high cost of rent. Tiny Bliss’ flexible financial model seeks to solve this problem while offering fun, alternative and low-carbon living at the same time.

Other start-ups included a shared workspace venture, a location-based app that matches consumers with their social interests, and a novel building supply company that sources reclaimed materials like pallets and glass bottles for DIY construction projects.

The Business Models trade show is quintessential SIMBA: students’ imagination and entrepreneurial grit is on full display, as is their hard-nosed attention to financial cost models and real-world constraints and challenges of launching a start-up.