‘Shark Tank’ Effect Real For SAP!

This post was written by Jon Reidel, University Communications, and first appeared at uvm.edu.

The Sustainable Innovation Review has previously profiled SAP! here, and here.

(Photo: Courtesy Disney/ABC)

It has been a whirlwind few weeks since Chas Smith G’15 and his cousin Nikita Salmon, co-owners of maple beverage company SAP!, appeared on ABC’s venture capital/entrepreneur pitch program “Shark Tank” on Jan. 28. Smith, a graduate of the Grossman School of Business’ Sustainable Innovation MBA program, took a break at a local café to talk about his Hollywood experience and answer a few key questions, mainly: is the “Shark Tank” effect real, and does he regret turning down $600,000?

Is the so-called “Shark Tank” effect real?

It’s definitely real. Our online sales right now are insane. We hit over $100,000 in new online sales within 10 days of the show. It has generated a lot interest and gotten people to try it who wondered, “What the hell is this?” They only let us know ten days before it was going to air, so we rushed to rebuild our entire website to make it e-commerce friendly. We had tens of thousands of hits during the show and we were really worried the website was going to crash. Fortunately, we came through the spike well and were able to process a huge amount of orders.

Another upside is that we are learning a lot about consumer behavior and how people make purchasing decisions online. The show re-airs in July, so we’re preparing for another spike.

How did you manage to get on the show?

They actually sent us a message. We thought it was a joke at first because they wrote into our website and it looked like spam, but then they called us up and we said, “Wow, this is real.” Typically, there’s a long application process, and they have casting calls all over the country. I think someone on the show liked our product because an assistant called us and said, “We want you in LA in three weeks.”

It was sort of risky, because did we really want to take the chance of being roasted on national TV? We are a small company and know what we need to improve on. Ultimately, as we thought about it more, we said, “how many opportunities do you get to talk to four million people about your brand?” All press is good press as far as we are concerned.

Speaking of being roasted, what did you think of some of the jokes and harsher comments the judges dished out?

It may have looked harsh a times, but they do that to everybody. You are not going to come out of there unscathed, this is reality TV! It is supposed to be sensationalist.

They joked about us looking like stereotypical Vermonters. One of them said, “you guys look like you are straight out of central casting. Are you sure you aren’t from LA?”

The most infuriating moment actually was when Mark Cuban said, “Oh, this tastes like Aunt Jemima.” Our products taste nothing like that; he was trying to create an association with something and he clearly just didn’t grasp what real maple is. For the Vermont maple community, there is nothing more offensive than saying that, right?

But you take the good with the bad, and this has been a hugely positive experience for us and our company.

It seemed like a quick pretty decision to reject the $600,000 offer and 30 percent stake in SAP! from judge Robert Herjavec. Did you have a pre-set number that you weren’t willing to go below?

Well, that negotiation happened over about 20 minutes. The producers just have to cut it down for the episode. We were actually in the “Tank” for about 90 minutes overall. We came in with the mentality that if the deal is not perfect, we were not going to do it. We’re fortunate to be in a position where we didn’t need a deal. Sure, we could have used the money, but we have a core set of investors who are really supportive and there’s a lot of new interest in the business since we’ve been on the market.

Overall, though, it sounds like the positives of being on the show outweighed the negatives?

People have asked if we thought it helped us or hurt us by going on the show. The answer is that this has been resoundingly positive for us when you look at how many people are now interested in our business and how our sales have spiked. I think being from Vermont you are more grounded in reality. We were like, “yup, our marketing does need some work, and we know that, and we’re figuring it out.”

It’s this really unique moment in time where all of these people from across the country are trying our product for the first time, so we’re developing a new e-commerce strategy behind it. A one-time sale is great, but it’s not the basis of a company. We have the opportunity to cultivate a huge amount of new customers and we intend to do just that.

How did you and Nikita come up with the idea for SAP!?

His side of the family has a deep history in the maple syrup industry. We’re both 28, but come from very different parts of Vermont. I’m from Burlington and he grew up on a farm in Enosburg. He started his own businesses right away and is smart in so many ways that I’m not. He has a very practical mindset and can just solve problems and get things done where I have more of an analytical mindset, so I think that’s why we make such a good team. We’ve been making these types of drinks in our family for a long time. We were experimenting with it for a few years and then got more serious when I came back to Vermont for the SIMBA program, which is really where all of the pieces came together.

Did your Sustainable Innovation MBA experience help you with SAP!?

I learned a lot of the necessary skills in the Sustainable Innovation MBA program, but what really attracted me to the program was its focus on how to create a virtuous business model. If our product can ascend and be really successful, it could be a second outlet for maple sap in the State of Vermont, which could help stabilize maple prices and create prosperity throughout the rural Vermont economy. Secondarily, if birch sap takes off it could be a whole new industry in Vermont where you are making birch trees productive instead of cutting them down. The social aspect of providing healthier products for people to consume is important to us. It’s really about how to create business models that create mutual value.

If you could do the show again, would you do anything differently?

If we could rewind, I would just simplify our pitch more. I think we tried to over explain the products a bit and it got confusing for the Sharks. When you are in the Tank, it gets chaotic very quickly with questions flying in from the Sharks non-stop. You have such a short window of time to control the narrative and get your main points across.

But ultimately, the Shark Tank experience has really forced us to be better in a lot of ways. We had to sit down and say, “OK, this really confirmed some things we already thought and this is the direction we really want to take it.” What didn’t get aired in the episode, but was part of the discussion in the Tank, was a lot of the positive reactions on where we want to take the company in the future with new products.  We are fortunate to be off to a great start with our company, and are excited to take the next steps with our business in 2018.

Alumni in Review: Caroline Hauser, Class of 2016

Caroline Hauser ’16 is an Associate Director at Global Evolution. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

What have you been up to since graduation?

I work in NYC as an Associate Director at Global Evolution, an emerging and frontier markets investment manager. The company is headquartered in Denmark, but I’m out of the NYC office. I like being at a small company because day to day, my job varies significantly. I meet with potential investors, handle client requests, attend conferences, and get to work on a number of exciting side projects as well. For example, in November I planned an impact investing symposium that included speakers from the World Bank, the UN-sponsored Principles for Responsible Investment, and the International Monetary Fund.

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I’d worked at non- and for-profit organizations in the past, and I found the program while searching for an opportunity that combined the mission focus of a non-profit with the resources and structure of a for-profit. I had considered business school for a while, but wanted to find a program that was a good fit for my values. I loved the combination of the innovative curriculum, the small class size, and the opportunity to live in Vermont.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

It’s hard to pull out one favorite piece. The class discussions were consistently engaging and thought-provoking and the small class size provided opportunities to build close relationships with classmates, professors, and guest lecturers. The practicum allowed us to take everything we learned throughout the year and put it into practice in a real world business challenge. As I’m now almost two years out of the program, I’d say my favorite part is the network I built during and since the program that includes a group of people across a broad range of industries that are dedicated to using business as a force for positive change.

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

The tools/skills from the program come in handy on a daily basis. One big example is the emphasis on both systems thinking and long-term thinking, as opposed to a focus on short-term shareholder returns. A more specific example is in the fall, I attended the UN Principles for Responsible Investment Conference in Berlin, which focused heavily on the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). I attended sessions such as “Social cohesion and inclusive growth: the investment risks and opportunities.” It was energizing to see a large network of leaders so passionate about incorporating sustainability into everyday business, and my experience in The Sustainable Innovation MBA gave me a good knowledge base to jump in to those conversations without feeling like a newcomer to the field.

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

This MBA program emphasizes a global, long-term approach to business strategy, with a core emphasis on the fact that we are all connected and living in a world of finite resources. It will force you to look at business beyond short term success metrics. A manufacturing plant providing jobs in one community may be poisoning the water in another community. A farm that’s feeding thousands could be depleting the soil of nutrients for the next generation. What externalities are we not taking into account when we make business decisions? How will this project look five, ten, or twenty years down the road? What happens to this product at the end of its useful life? How will this organizational change impact employee turnover? We need businesses to start asking the right questions today so that we can create sustainable, regenerative organizations that will positively influence the world for generations to come.

Alumni in Review: Dana Gulley, Class of 2017

Dana Gulley ’17 is a consultant in private practice. She was the valedictorian of the Class of 2017. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

What have you been up to since graduation?

Making a whole new life for myself! I launched my own consulting practice, Third Peak Solutions, and spent much of the fall working from the road while my partner and I traveled around the west (Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico) figuring out a new place to call home. In November my partner landed a position at a very cool organization called Adventure Scientists and just after Thanksgiving we moved to Bozeman, Montana. After spending 30 years living in the Northeast, moving to big sky country is a pretty big life change. It’s somewhat terrifying, but mostly thrilling. Now that I’m settling into my new home, I’m focused on defining exactly what Third Peak Solutions does: organizational development consulting with conservation non-profits? Sustainable strategy consulting with for-profits? A little bit of both?

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I’m passionate about environmental conservation and eager to see this work improved by a) building more effective and sustainable non-profits and b) engaging the business community to do their part in innovative and impactful ways. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has the values that match my own and attracts a community of students, faculty and business partners that we must lean into if this important work is going to gain the momentum it deserves.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

Developing relationships with the people in my cohort academically, professionally and personally. As I work to build my own practice, I’m eager to emphasize team work in the way that The Sustainable Innovation MBA modeled it. Working with a team strengthens work products and makes the experience more rewarding.

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

I’m taking risks, staying true to my desire to transform business as usual, focused on building teams to tackle big problems, and figuring out how to balance an emphasis on non-profits and for-profits.

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

The program is not for everyone. You will not emerge with a clear set of pre-described next steps for making the world a better place. Instead, you will have a mindset, a network, and a toolkit of skills that will enable you to be entrepreneurial in building your own, unique path forward. The Sustainable Innovation MBA will serve you if you’re someone who is committed to keeping your brain switched on to constantly find better ways to make a difference. It’s a degree for movers and shakers.

Alumni in Review: Taylor Ralph, Class of 2017

Taylor Ralph ’17 is a project manager with SSG Advisors, leading engagement with multi-national food and beverage corporation investigating opportunities for partnership within its agricultural supply chain across emerging markets, with focus on small-holder farmers in Latin America, North Africa, and South Asia. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

Image result for taylor ralph

What have you been up to since graduation?

I’ve had the privilege of working with SSG Advisors (based right here in Burlington), an international development firm that seeks to harness the power of partnerships to achieve sustainability objectives. I’ve been project managing on a small team working closely with PepsiCo’s Sustainable Agriculture team who is eager to build partnership muscle across their procurement and sourcing departments. At it’s root, PepsiCo is an agricultural company, procuring fruit, vegetable, dairy, and commodity crops across over 40 countries and from a variety of farmers (from large commercial operations to small-holder farmers in emerging markets), as you might imagine this opens up PepsiCo to a variety of challenges and risks — and of course, opportunities. Our team has been developing a Partnership Playbook to help the organization engage the necessary stakeholders to address these challenges and ultimately achieve their Performance with Purpose goals around sustainable sourcing; necessary stakeholders might include anyone from bi-laterals to development banks to impact investors to research organizations to foundations to NGOs to civil society organizations and of course, the producers themselves. We are also going into the field to develop three specific partnership concepts around sustainable agronomic practices in emerging market contexts.

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I was looking for a program that aligned with my values: that business can and should be used as a force for positive change. I also knew that I needed to learn the language of business to have the impact I wanted to have in the world.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

The collaborative nature of the work environment, by far. Learning to work with diverse personalities was enriching and also helped prepare me for the work I seek to do going forward: create a common language among diverse actors to achieve sustainability objectives.

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

My practicum involved working with a large multi-national corporation to develop business strategies that address the needs of emerging market actors. I was able to dig into a specific value chain (small-holder farmers producing fresh vegetables from farm to retail in São Paulo, Brasil) and explore ways that a large, matrixed refrigeration corporation could provide cold-chain solutions and prevent food waste in that context. At PepsiCo, I am engaging in similar market research and working to investigate how a large group with seemingly disparate objectives might align with other actors in the value chain to achieve development goals. In my experience, it’s been about creating that common language, and SEMBA helped me learn how to translate.

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

What SEMBA lacks in scale of alumni network, they make up for in richness of connection. If you’re looking to challenge your assumptions about the way the world works, this is the program for you. Also – I’m happy to speak more with anyone interested in learning more.

What Is The Value of Social Capital?

This post was written by John M. Turner and originally appeared on the Grossman School of Business News Page.

Program Alums Diane Abruzzini ’17 and Ben Tacka ’15 Share Experiences With 2018 Cohort

There are many definitions of social capital, but one of our favorites is:

so·cial cap·i·tal

noun

1.   the network of social connections that exist between people, and their shared values and norms of behavior, which enable and encourage mutually advantageous social cooperation.

Capital can take several other forms including natural, human, financial and manufactured, however, for the current Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort, one way the concept of social capital is reinforced in the classroom is with the presence of several program alums.

Recently, as part of Associate Professor and The Steven Grossman Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship Erik Monsen’s Start-Up Experience Panel, the class was joined by two program alums, Ben Tacka ’15 and Diane Abruzzini ’17.

By returning and sharing their experiences, Ben and Diane, along with the considerable number of other alums who have returned in one capacity or another, surfaced one of the programs great strengths: i.e. the power of the social capital inherent in a common sense of purpose, of community, of collaboration and the network they have now joined. A network devoted to creating profitable and sustainable business opportunities in a world undergoing transformational change.

That’s one reason why our Sustainable Innovation MBA program continues to bolster its growing reputation as one of the nation’s most innovative business programs by climbing to the No. 1 spot on The Princeton Review’s “Best Green MBA” list.

If you are ready to use business to change the world, find out more here.

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. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

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.

Alumni in Review: Margaret Arzon, Class of 2017

Margaret Arzon is currently working with the Ethical Shareholder Initiative (ESI) as a business consultant. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

To learn the skills and tools necessary to build and run social enterprises.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

Networking, learning about teamwork and leadership, and how to run a business.

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

I apply tools and skills from the program every day. Just today I was in a meeting and referenced the business canvas model I created with my team in Module 2, for RevitaFiber, and how some of the questions we received about the business applied to the project I am working on now.

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

Definitely do it.

Alumni in Review: Meghan Whirley, Class of 2015

Meghan Whirley ’15 is currently working as a Sustainability Procurement Manager for Food Service Partners Inc. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

What have you been up to since graduation?

Following graduation, I moved to northern California and been working in sustainable food systems and institutional purchasing. I first worked at the University of California – Davis as Dining Services’ Sustainability Manager, then in December 2016, I took a position as the Sustainable Purchasing Manager and Account Manager for FoodService Partners based in South San Francisco.

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

I chose the program for multiple reasons. Primarily, I was seeking to transition into a for-profit business role and to take my experience to the next level. The Sustainable Innovation MBA is unique because it provided me with business skills, and the way to leverage my knowledge better, but truly it trained me to look long-term and with a systems-based mentality in every respect.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

Working in teams taught me a lot in how to communicate and work together in a professional capacity, as well as furthering lessons beyond the classroom. I learned so much from all aspects of the practicum experience, not simply from the material but also by working with Aaron Sonk, my practicum partner.

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

I learned so much about myself during the year in The Sustainable Innovation MBA, about my strengths and weaknesses. I carry this love of the truth and feedback — as Joe Fusco would put it — everyday. Applying that to each interaction, and reflecting afterwards, has been so helpful. But also I find that I have more skills in project management and thinking broadly and systemically than many of my colleagues.

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

I have told prospective students that if you’re looking for an MBA there are so many great programs, but if they’re seeking to marry business skills with creating positive impacts, long-term results, and problem-solving in a way that isn’t “business as usual,” then UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA is the place to go.

 

Alumni in Review: Chris Howell, Class of 2017

Chris Howell ’17 is currently working as a finance and investment consultant. He was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.  

What have you been up to since graduation?

I’m currently working with mission-driven businesses who are raising investment money to fund expansion: structuring a Series A for a SaaS business, working with a farm to purchase additional land, and advising an equity crowdfunding platform.

 Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I chose the UVM MBA program to deepen my Vermont network and broaden my business skill set.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

My favorite part of the experience was the people. The academic experience was top notch—thanks to the professors, staff, and classmates who worked hard to create a supportive and engaging learning environment.

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

Working on diverse consulting projects after the program has allowed me to use the broad range of tools we learned—from organizational design to finance and venture capital.

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

Dive in. The program was an exceptionally challenging and immensely rewarding learning experience.

 

Tech Start-Up Helps Farmers Grow More, Waste Less

This article was written by Margaret Arzon ’17 and originally appeared at PYXERAGlobal.org. Margaret is currently a Business Strategy Consultant.

Accessing Information through Mobile Technology Gives Smallholder Farmers Much-Needed Support

Walking through the streets of India, it’s hard not to notice the plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables that line the sidewalks, pretty much everywhere you go. Just a short 30-minute drive out of the city center lands you in acres of cultivated fields where many of these crops originate.

Roughly 50 percent of India’s workforce is devoted to agriculture. This demographic is common in many other emerging and frontier countries where a dominant proportion of the population relies on farming for its livelihood. Smallholder farmer is a title given to people who own less than five acres of arable land. The vast majority of smallholder farmers live in a cyclical pattern of poverty as they struggle to access markets and sell their products at the best price. Lack of market access means that farmers often lose money, even in a high growth season, and a perfectly good harvest goes to waste. With such a fragmented system in rural areas, it is extremely challenging for farmers to generate a profit to support themselves and their families.

Lack of market access means that farmers often lose money, even in a high growth season, and a perfectly good harvest goes to waste. With such a fragmented system in rural areas, it is extremely challenging for farmers to generate a profit to support themselves and their families.

Smallholder farmers are not insignificant. Collectively, they represent 500 million farms around the world and employ approximately 2 billion people. They are responsible for about 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. As the global population size charges toward an estimated 9 billion by 2050, the demand on smallholder farmers to increase crop yield will only continue to rise, along with the critical need to mitigate post-harvest losses. Analysts predict that food access will need to increase by 70 percent to feed 2 billion additional people on the planet, and production in developing countries would need to almost double. Food security is a global issue, and one that requires partnerships across all sectors to solve.

Continue reading “Tech Start-Up Helps Farmers Grow More, Waste Less”