Vermont’s Sustainable, Innovative Roots

It’s popular to think of the 1960s and 1970s as a time when the hippie and counter-culture movements found and flooded Vermont — “turn on, drop out” and all that.

Lesser known is the history of that time when, although many moved to Vermont to find and build a different way to live, a number also were inspired to find and build a different way to do business. Some of Vermont’s most iconic brands — like Ben & Jerry’s and Burton Snowboards — were born out of this spirit, and have set the standard for an approach to business that emphasizes multiple bottom lines.

The Jogbra, which revolutionized women’s sports and is in the permanent collection at the American History Museum at the Smithsonian Institute, was invented here in Vermont in 1977. One of the inventors, Hinda Miller, is a member of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Advisory Board, and is very active in helping our students think about and launch careers in sustainable, innovative businesses.

Listen to Hinda — trained as a theatrical costume designer — talk about her Vermont entrepreneurial awakening in this podcast produced by the Vermont Historical Society, the Vermont Humanities Council, and VTDigger.

Podcast:  Before Your Time: From communes to commerce

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.

When Things In The Classroom Get “Ruff”

This post was written by Ben Hastings ’18

All dog lovers know the feeling. When you come home from a long day and receive a warm greeting from your four-legged friend – it’s almost as if the stresses of the day melt away with a few wags of the tail and a walk around the block.

Fortunately for us at The Sustainable Innovation MBA, we don’t have to wait until we get home to experience this joy. Meet Willy Wonka, a 3-year-old chocolate lab who has bounded into Kalkin 110 as our 31st classmate during Professor Erik Monsen’s “Crafting the Entrepreneurial Business Model” class.

Throughout the course of the class, our learning teams have come up with various entrepreneurial ventures. One of the most important processes in determining if the venture is viable is mapping out what the value proposition of the company is.

Prior to creating value proposition maps for our entrepreneurial ventures, Dr. Monsen suggested we first practice on Willy Wonka. He was a prime subject for this class exercise. In creating a value proposition map, one needs to ask 3 questions of the business — or in this case, a lovable pooch.

Question: What are the services that he provides (or in this case, what does he do)?

Answer: Enjoys sports (fetch, obstacle courses, etc.), lover of all things outdoors, likes people, loves to eat (hopefully, he doesn’t love to eat people — Editor)

Question: How is Willy a pain reliever?

Answer: Encourages exercise, provides comfort, absorbs negative emotion  and reduces stress, acts as a home security system

Question: How is Willy a gain creator?

Answer: Makes exercise fun, provides opportunities to cuddle, delivers a sense of achievement when he learns tricks

Willy Wonka doesn’t just demonstrate his value around the house. His “dad” is a professor of entrepreneurship, so naturally he has a few different jobs. As a certified therapy dog, Willy Wonka can be seen around campus during exam season providing stress relief to students. When he’s off-campus, you may be able to spot him at your local library, where children read to him. He loves a great story, but it’s hard to know exactly what his favorite genre is. He was even a tester for last year’s cohort’s recycled dog toy company, RePawposed.

I know what you’re thinking: his resume is getting much longer than yours. I think I speak for the rest of the cohort when I say we are all striving to achieve Willy Wonka levels of success.

 

 

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.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Ben Hastings

Prior to joining The Sustainable Innovation MBA program,  Ben Hastings ’18  worked at Tiffany & Co. as a Global Sustainability Assistant. He was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM. 

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

To work with the best and brightest in the sustainability field.

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

The guest speakers from Vermont companies offering guidance and expertise.

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

1. You will be pushed out of your comfort zone (in a good way).

2. You learn as much from your peers as you do from professors.

3. Be prepared to perform skits!

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

This program is helping to open up my creativity and entrepreneurial spirit!

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.

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”?

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.

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.