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

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Seth Gillim

Seth Gillim ’18 came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA from the Intervale Conservation Nursery, where he was the manager of production, education, and community management. He was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

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

It’s a fantastic opportunity for those seeking to pivot mid-career. Prior to The Sustainable Innovation MBA, I worked in agriculture and non-profits and I had reached a point where opportunities for learning and advancement had flattened out. As a working parent of two young girls, the thought of being in graduate school for years on was overwhelming. The one-year curriculum is perfect for those looking to re-launch their careers quickly.

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

The teamwork. Nearly every aspect of the program involves group work on some level. This gives you a great opportunity to develop project management and collaborative skills, learn from your classmates, and develop deep and lasting friendships.

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

First, applicants should know that while the program requires an incredible amount of work in a short amount of time, and you will not fail. The professors are all very supportive. Your teammates encourage you and push you to new levels. It’s a unique and special experience to be around so many Type As who are also fully invested in each other’s success and well-being. Second,  Burlington has a very collaborative business ecosystem, which means you can knock on just about anyone’s door and they will talk to you. Successful students schedule a lot of informational interviews and attend networking events. And, third, if you’re not comfortable putting together and giving great presentations in a really tight time frame, you will be.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The program forces you to think outside the box and make connections. The coursework and extra-curricular experiences have allowed me to consolidate my various skills and interests into a viable career direction.

Anything else?

I’m really jealous of next year’s cohort, who will enjoy a brand-new building (Ifshin Hall) and expanded facilities.

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.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Lauren Emenaker

Lauren Emenaker ’18 came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA after spending time in Colorado as a Marketing Manager at the Vail Valley Charitable Fund. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. You will form lifelong friendships and connections.

3. That everything takes place in one classroom.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

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

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.

Localize It! Conference Highlights Reinventing Local Economies

This post was written by Ian Dechow ’18

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

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

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

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Trade Show: Showcasing Innovation

This post was written by Seth Gillim ’18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food for Thought: Questions From the National Net Impact Conference

This post was written by Arielle Tatar ‘18

As members of The Sustainable Innovation MBA’s local chapter, Sarah Healey ‘18 and I attended the national Net Impact conference in Atlanta, GA in late-October.

All the sessions and keynotes were, of course, very informative and interesting (I am happy to share my notes to anyone who is interested in the speakers and discussions. Email me your contact information).

However, I’d like to challenge you to think about different perspectives of sustainability. I attended multiple small group sessions revolving around the food and agriculture industries. The following questions were brought up by either the speakers or members of the audience.

Topic: Sustainable Agriculture in the 21st Century:

Panelists: Jerry Lynch, VP of Sustainability, General Mills; Keith Kenny, VP of Sustainability, McDonald’s; Shari Rogge-Fidler, CEO, Applied Geosolutions; Will Harris, 6th generation Georgia farmer

  1. There​ ​are​ ​struggles​ ​with​ ​commodities​ ​that​ ​are​ ​geographically​ ​specific​. How​ ​do​ ​we​ ​support those​ ​farmers​ ​and​ ​support​ ​resilience?
  2. What are the challenges as we look to the future?
  3. What are the barriers to catalyzing change and how do we overcome them?
  4. How do you quantify environmental risk?
  5. How can we think differently to achieve our agriculture objectives?
  6. What is our mutual responsibility to both people and the world?
  7. How do we keep using food to bond people together?
  8. How do we make industrial farms more sustainable?
  9. What excites you about the future of sustainable agriculture?
  10. How do you help other farms by being a role model?

Continue reading “Food for Thought: Questions From the National Net Impact Conference”

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”