The Cap Raise: Valuation

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a collaboration between Cairn Cross of FreshTracks Capital and Diane Abruzzini ’17 of VENTURE.co Holdings, Inc. It is one of a series we will be publishing concurrently with FreshTracks Capital.  Cairn Cross co-founded FreshTracks in 2000, and has worked as Managing Partner of the firm since that time. Notable FreshTracks VC investments include SunCommon, Mamava, and Eating Well. Cairn has helped to build a true Vermont entrepreneurial ecosystem by hosting pitch events, accelerator programs, workshops, and teaching at multiple Vermont universities and colleges. He is a former co-chair of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Advisory Board.  Diane Abruzzini has built her career as a food and agriculture entrepreneur and business consultant. She was a student of Cairn Cross during her time at UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program. After completing her degree, she spent time working for FreshTracks partners as an analyst. She currently works in marketing and communications at VENTURE.co Holdings Inc, who’s wholly owned subsidiary VENTURE.co Brokerage Services LLC is a FINRA-licensed broker-dealer.

The valuation process can be murky for both entrepreneurs and investors. Private company stock is typically a “Level III” asset under ASC Topic 820 and its value “cannot be determined by using observable inputs of measures such as market prices or models.” Fair value is estimated rather than observed through readily observable market prices.

Entrepreneurs and investors often disagree on the valuation approach that should be used in a particular transaction. Should one base a private company’s valuation on the comparable metrics for publicly traded companies operating in the same industries, or should one base valuation on the estimated present value of a projected stream of cash flow? If you use public market comparables, which metric is most important to valuation? Revenue? EBITDA? Users? Growth Rate? If estimating the net present value of a stream of cash flow, which discount rate do you choose and are you being too aggressive or conservative in cash flow estimates? Do you arbitrarily choose the mid-growth position? Every entrepreneur, venture capitalist (VC), broker-dealer (BD), and investment bank will use a variety of criteria in order to determine valuation. None of the approaches are perfect–there is no secret sauce–but there are important differences to how VCs and BDs tackle company valuations.

First, we must consider to whom VCs and BDs have responsibilities. VCs are trying to create strong investment returns for the Limited Partners (LPs) who are the investors in the VC fund. Valuation and other terms such as dividends will be negotiated to give the venture investors an investment return commensurate with perceived risk. Before making an investment, VCs rely on the business plan and financial projections supported by company documentation as well as prior investment experience among the VC partners and external due diligence efforts to determine a reasonable company valuation. Continue reading “The Cap Raise: Valuation”

The Cap Raise: Introduction

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a collaboration between Cairn Cross of FreshTracks Capital and Diane Abruzzini ’17 of VENTURE.co Holdings, Inc. It is one of a series we will be publishing concurrently with FreshTracks Capital.  Cairn Cross co-founded FreshTracks in 2000, and has worked as Managing Partner of the firm since that time. Notable FreshTracks VC investments include SunCommon, Mamava, and Eating Well. Cairn has helped to build a true Vermont entrepreneurial ecosystem by hosting pitch events, accelerator programs, workshops, and teaching at multiple Vermont universities and colleges. He is a former co-chair of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Advisory Board.  Diane Abruzzini has built her career as a food and agriculture entrepreneur and business consultant. She was a student of Cairn Cross during her time at UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program. After completing her degree, she spent time working for FreshTracks partners as an analyst. She currently works in marketing and communications at VENTURE.co Holdings Inc, who’s wholly owned subsidiary VENTURE.co Brokerage Services LLC is a FINRA-licensed broker-dealer.

U.S. Companies in multiple industries seek private capital to kindle a startup or fuel growth. Most entrepreneurs are aware of venture capital and angel investors as target sources of funds – pop culture shows such as Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den, as well as press-earning “unicorn” valuations – have earned ‘Venture Capital’ a spot in layman’s language. Far less understood is the work of investment bankers – particularly those raising capital in the private market.

We intend to discuss the differences between raising funding from venture capital firms and raising funding via broker-dealers. We’ll start with some general definitions.

A Venture Capital firm is most often a Limited Partnership (LP), managed by a team of General Partners (GPs). General Partners first obtain committed capital from accredited investors or qualified purchasers–Limited Partners–and use these commitments to form a fund. Each fund usually has a defined lifespan and specific industry or geographical focus. Typically, General Partners have full investment decision-making discretion over their Limited Partner funds, the funds have a defined life (typically 10 years) and investments in portfolio companies are made during the “investment period”, which is usually the first two or three years of the fund’s life. VC fund returns are reliant upon the sale of the fund’s stake in portfolio companies to private equity firms, strategic acquirers, or occasionally via an Initial Public Offering (IPO).

The number of U.S. Venture Capital deals per annum (post the economic recession of 2008) increased from 4,458 in 2009 to a peak of 10,444 deals in 2014 before slipping to 8,637 deals in 2017.  But despite the decrease in the number of VC deals per year from 2014 through 2017, there has been a marked increase in the dollar size of individual deals. This growth, in terms of investment and capital deployment, came alongside a rise of disruptors: technology-enabled companies whose business models cut long-standing, high-profit industries off at the knees. Continue reading “The Cap Raise: Introduction”

Family Matters

This post was written by Jeffrey Lue ’19.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For an enhanced experience with this post, please take a listen to this 1990’s throwback.

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Advisory Board member Don Droppo, CEO of Curtis Packaging (and UVM ’96) accepted the U.S.-based Multi-Generational Family Enterprise Award.

It’s a rare condition, this day and age, to find emphasis being placed on the importance of family businesses. But at the Family Business Awards in early October, the Grossman School of Business and supporting community has the opportunity to acknowledge family businesses who are leaders in their respective industries. This year, we celebrated Lake Champlain Chocolates, Curtis Packaging, and Foster Brothers Farm / Vermont Natural Ag Products Inc. for their innovation and commitment to sustainability.

Hearing the stories of the three 2018 winners and their 2017 counterparts were a beautiful example of love and tradition of the grand design. Since 1983, Lake Champlain Chocolates has been aspired to providing extraordinary chocolate moments. In addition to creating wonderful chocolates, LCC has demonstrated their commitment to sustainable business practices with their certifications (B Corps, Fair Trade) and community service.

It’s impressive enough to find a business in operation since 1845, but some people say it’s even harder to find one with the vision to incorporate environmental stewardship into its core competencies after all those years. Curtis Packaging achieved both accolades, becoming the first packaging company in North America to use 100% renewable energy, be carbon neutral, and a zero-waste-to-landfill facility.

The Lampman family of Lake Champlain Chocolates.

What’s the secret to the success of these small businesses? Well there must be some magic clue inside these gentle walls in the new dairy barn at Foster Brothers Farm. This fifth-generation farm has innovation engrained in their DNA. They built one of the first of New England’s methane digesters back in the early ’80s, expanded their portfolio to include an organic line of compost (MOO), and recently implemented a heat recovery system designed to capture and repurpose the heat created during the aerobic composting process.

These families are an inspiration of how business should be done. At today’s ceremony, there was real love burstin’ out of every seam of Ifshin Hall, and it was clear to see that it’s the bigger love of the family that will keep these businesses going strong. Congratulations again to all the 2018 winners!

“Enjoy the Ride”

Editor’s Note: The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2019 arrived on campus this week for orientation, the beginning of an intensive year of learning, discovery, and shaping of their futures. The following message to the new cohort was written by Kevin Hoskins ’18, reflecting on his own orientation week, his class’s recent graduation, and everything in between.

It’s hard to believe it’s over. It all went by so fast.

Last August, I packed up a van filled with my belonging and headed north, first on I-93 and then on I-89. I had come to Burlington to participate in a one-year, intensive MBA program. I had resisted graduate school and more formal education for a while, but something about this program spoke to me.

I soon found myself in a room surrounded by people that felt the same. We had come from different backgrounds, different work experiences, and from different areas of the country, a few from other nations.

What we soon found out is that we shared a similar feeling: that business-as-usual was no longer working and that it is time to transform and, if necessary, create businesses to respond to society’s challenges in a way that is more sustainable. That is, we need more market-based solutions to the challenges that face the world today.

“It all goes by so fast.”

In fact, it was a year ago today that I first met the other members of my cohort. They are, and remain, some of the most amazing people I’ve met. And I feel honored to have spent a year in a windowless room with them.

We began the year with a quintessential UVM activity: a trip to the university’s ropes course. In the first of many surreal moments this year, we also took turns looking at the solar eclipse that happened to be taking place that day. Then we played games to get to know each other, followed by other trust-building activities on the actual course. As I walked home that evening, reflecting on the experience and the first day of class, I remember thinking, “This is going to be a wild year. Enjoy the ride.”

We began the year studying business foundations: finance, strategy, brand marketing, and organizational behavior. We learned about the sustainability challenges facing the world. But soon enough, we found ourselves exploring topics that get at the heart of those challenges: strategic CSR, entrepreneurship, innovation, supply chain issues, public policy, and community development. And before we knew it, we were applying what we had learned in the classroom with businesses and organizations with real world challenges.

I tried to go into this year with no expectations for the experience. My initial goals were only to work as hard as I could and enjoy every minute of it. We know not if we’ll ever pass this way again…or something like that.

So, my advice, both to this next cohort and anyone that happens to be reading this, is to enjoy every minute of your time here. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Soak up every moment of it. Take advantage of every opportunity. Enjoy the time you have with the people you’re lucky enough to share a room with. Learn from them. And approach it all with a growth mindset: your intelligence and talent got you here, but the world needs more people that also have a love of learning, that communicate effectively, that work well on a team, and that have the resilience to get across the finish line.

The time flies by. Before you know it, you’ll be saying goodbye and moving onto your next opportunity. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting here a year from now being thankful for every single minute that you got to spend with some of your new favorite people. Enjoy the ride. It all goes by so fast.

“Your Stoke Won’t Save Us”: An Important Message For Businesses, Outdoor Enthusiasts, and Individual Change Makers Alike

This post was written by Dana Gulley ’17, founder and lead consultant of Third Peak Solutions. She can be reached at dana@thirdpeaksolutions.com.

You could say I was stoked when the postal carrier slid the May 14th edition of High Country News through my mail slot last month. The twice-monthly magazine covers conservation issues “for people who care about the West,” and over the last nine months, this New Yorker had become one of those people. Flipping through the pages, “Your stoke won’t save us: the idea that outdoor recreation leads to meaningful conservation rests on a very big ‘if,’” by Ethan Linck, jumped off the page at me.

Since moving to the little city of Bozeman, Montana last fall, my increased focus on rock climbing, mountain biking (photo, left), canoeing and backpacking has brought me closer to the outdoor recreation community, a community that is at the heart of this place and many others like it. That said, I’ve felt strangely further away from my conservation roots. I devoured the article, nodding, admittedly a bit self-righteously, through all 3,000 words. Yes, yes! This is what I have been saying. Outdoor recreation does not solely predict one’s environmental attitudes! While the outdoor recreation industry is willing to make increasingly political statements about protecting our wild places, they’re yet to show they are willing to pay for that protection! And my sustainable business training rushed back: we don’t need to settle for trade-offs! Businesses can do well by doing good.

The euphoria of seeing my opinion in ink was quickly replaced by guilt. Okay, so our environmental issues continue to mount and there’s opportunity being left on the table. What have I done about it? Those petitions I hawked as the outreach director for Riverkeeper, a clean water nonprofit in New York’s Hudson Valley, seemed like a distant memory, even though I spend more time in outdoor places than ever before in my life. And as a strategy consultant, I have found myself focusing on the more familiar world of non-profits as opposed to supporting and promoting sustainable businesses. As stoked as I was to read the article, I felt simultaneously counterfeit. With all the changes in my life, I had somehow lost my tribe: that community that is so essential to having the courage to face a big problem and do something about it. And I knew that tribe must exist here. After all, in 2015 the Montana state legislature was the 29th in the nation to pass a law that allows companies to legally register as benefit corporations.

Later that week, Business for Montana’s Outdoors, a coalition that includes some 180 businesses, hosted a panel discussion, “Tech and the Outdoors: How the ‘Montana Mystique’ is Fueling Business Growth.” In Montana, the tech industry provides 15,000 jobs and $1.03 billion in wages, and it’s growing fast. Panelists from several of Bozeman’s mature tech companies and start-ups focused on the competitive advantage Montana’s outdoors provides in everything from attracting and retaining talent to entertaining clients and customers. Panelists shared countless examples of how their companies were more successful because of Montana’s beautiful and enjoyable natural environment. What they didn’t share, were innovative ideas for how their businesses would ensure the ongoing protection of the outdoors, something they acknowledged was a critical asset.

The research shows that millennials are increasingly interested in being part of companies that they can feel proud of, companies that are actively doing something about the problems we face. And in the age of Patagonia replacing its product homepage with “The President Stole Your Land,” while mounting an aggressive lawsuit to fight the historic removal of public lands in Bear’s Ears National Monument, businesses have more permission than ever to act. Determined to push the envelope and proudly gripping the High Country News magazine, I stood up, and channeled the collective strength of my tribe, my Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort from the University of Vermont.  I hear how Montana’s outdoors helps you, but how will you help the outdoors?

While I was initially frustrated by the lackluster response (some non-profit donations here, a volunteer trail building day there), this experience reminded me of something I had lost sight of: if we are to overcome the momentum of the status quo that pushes businesses to think the same way they always have, then we must each harness our respective tribes and act now. Businesses need our help, as consumers and consultants, to innovate new models of corporate social responsibility that address the world’s problems while helping them thrive. We don’t have to start from scratch. As an outdoor recreator, I can be an ambassador for environmental advocacy in my community, limit my consumption by purchasing used gear or new gear from unparalleled companies like Patagonia, and support organizations like Protect our Winters (POW), a climate advocacy group that organizes outdoor enthusiasts to take action. As a consultant, I can build on the momentum of the 2015 law here in Montana to pursue for-profit clients and develop and share sustainable business best practices.

In case it inspires you to act, too, consider this my call for tribe-members and to recommitting myself to contribute to solutions instead of nodding along vigorously at the problems. And while these actions alone won’t save us, I’m stoked to do my part.

 

‘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.