How Business Can Support Refugees

This post was written by Ryan Forman ’19

All around the world, refugees are being demonized for various political reasons. There is overwhelming academic and professional research into how much value refugees are to society. Therefore, civil society cannot help them adjust to their new country alone, but business plays a role in supporting them as well. There are multiple ways in which business can help the current refugee situation, but this article is going to focus on two key methods.

The first way that business can help refugees is by investing in refugee-owned/founded businesses. Research shows that refugees are more likely to hire fellow refugees. Because of this investment, businesses can support more than just one refugee; they can help many others get hired as well. One example of an impact investment organization that specializes in investing in refugee-founded businesses is the Refugee Investment Network (RIN). The RIN works to help move private capital to investment in financing of companies that benefit both refugees and their host communities.

An additional way that business can help refugees is by advocating for them in the workforce. Advocating for refugees could be businesses partnering with both governmental and non-governmental organizations that will help individuals get the skills that they need to be more competitive in their local job market. Ernst & Young (EY) in Germany have gone above and beyond in how to support refugees. EY Germany states, “Through EY Cares, the team got funding for a language-learning app, developed by an employee of EY Germany. The team has also supported Kiron, a social start-up providing higher education to refugees, and it has launched a pilot internship program for 10 refugees across EY Germany.” There aren’t many examples of this in the United States, but there is a similar situation here in Burlington at Rhino Foods. Advocating for refugees could be looking at leveraging their past skills to hire them for similar roles in a business that they did in their former country. According to Rhino Foods, “The cultural diversity at Rhino exposes us to each other’s favorite foods, traditions, and life experiences.” Currently, refugees make up 37% of Rhino Food’s workforce.

In our Entrepreneurship class, my group has proposed creating an incubator that would help address both of these methods to help refugees. We think that an incubator, that supports both investment in refugee-owned businesses and partnerships to help refugees get the skills they need to become competitive in their local markets, is a needed organization. I would certainly like to see more organizations place such an emphasis on, as RIN has described, “the greatest social challenge of our time.” Refugees are a boon to the local economy, and it is time for business to empower them.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Finding the Program’s Delicate Work-Life Harmony

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we approach the halfway point in the program’s intensive one-year experience, we’re publishing a number of student reflections on how found professional and personal balance over the last few months. This post was written by Tor Dworshak ’19

You can manage extracurriculars while in this program; just be sure you’ve got tact, a willingness to work at odd hours, and a vision of productivity.

While most incoming Sustainable Innovation MBA students were worried about academics or moving to a new city, my biggest concern was whether or not I would have the time for bike races. Maybe my priorities weren’t totally in order, but the drive to ensure that I made time to train and race my bike brought me some success in the program. On the first day of orientation, I had convinced myself I would be too busy to race, and that my focus needed to be on nothing but school. Being a bike racer though, I can be competitive at times, and decided that I would compete with myself to race as many times as I could between August and December. The thing standing in my way was fourteen courses. My only option was to create productivity strategies that forced me to stay far in advance of deadlines and deliverables.

There is no denying that this program keeps even the most astute students incredibly busy for the larger part of their waking hours. Case studies for breakfast, problem sets for lunch, research paper for dinner, and studying for dessert. The workload is predictable though. With some proper planning and forward thinking, assignments can be done far in advance, which offers the ability to take a day off for extracurricular activities.

Have a paper due on October 23? Why not force yourself ahead on it by scheduling a meeting with the teacher on October 2nd, at which point you’ll need to have some outline in progress. Two cases due on Wednesday plus a handful of readings on Thursday?  Forget about sleeping in on Sunday, get through as many of those as possible. Weekdays are busy no matter what, so the more you can lighten the load Monday to Friday, the more you can focus on larger deliverables during the week and get ahead on them. The ultimate goal is to avoid ever doing an assignment the night before it is due. This gives insulation in case something takes longer than expected, or you need a night to yourself. And just like that, you just freed up enough time to enjoy an extracurricular activity of your choosing!

And since I have been counting, I have raced nine times so far since the program started…

Photo by Angel Santos on Unsplash

Shake it Up

This post was written by Elissa Eggers ’19

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

I first encountered this quote by Gandhi on Pinterest last fall, when I was beginning the grad school application process. I found it to be a comforting reminder that although my aspirations were large (telling people you want to save the planet can result in a lot of blank stares), I could find a way to make an impact on my own terms. While, I’ve never been a particularly loud or forceful person, I’ve never lacked conviction. Ultimately, I knew that because I would probably never be the person leading a protest or going door-to-door, I needed to find the avenue that best allowed me to use my interests and abilities to bring about change. This is what drew me to The Sustainable Innovation MBA. I knew it would hone my current skill-sets, provide me with the tools needed to make an impact, and expose me to avenues for change I didn’t yet know existed. In this regard, the program has most certainly not disappointed.

All of our choices have an impact. The key is figuring out in what ways, whether big or small, you can make an impact that is authentic to you.

In the mere 3 months (could it really have only be 3 months?) I’ve been in the program, I’ve met an incredible collection of human beings and been exposed to a plethora of new ideas and viewpoints. The real trick though, I’m learning, is remembering to look up and maintain perspective while trying to take in all this new information coming at you. This program is, without question, fast moving and its relentless pace can cause you to become stuck in the weeds as you focus on checking off the ever-growing collection of deliverables on your to-do list. I’ll admit, this has been me for the past few weeks. I’ve fallen down the rabbit-hole of cost models, business plans, and organizational behavior. However, my drive home from Burlington for the holidays mixed with the magic of Pinterest in periodically resurrecting old, previously viewed pins, provided me with some much-needed perspective.

My background is in retail management and I came into this program to learn more about how the product life cycle (specifically related to clothing) can become more circular as well as how to shift consumer behavior. With Black Friday and the holiday shopping season soundly upon us, I can’t think of better time to reground in why I started along this journey in the first place. What we buy matters, and how we use it can matter even more. All of our choices have an impact. The key is figuring out in what ways, whether big or small, you can make an impact that is authentic to you.

So, my question for you this holiday season and beyond, is how will you shake the world?

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

The Role of Business in Combatting Homelessness

This post was written by Chris Hynes ’19

Homelessness is a topic that is rarely talked about as a major issue in the realm of business, but in the light of sustainable innovators, there is a major opportunity to make a difference in improving the homeless issue that is rising in America.

With the increasing gap in the distribution of economic wealth in the United State along with the increased cost of living, the poverty line is growing, which is putting the former lower middle-class families in extreme risk of becoming impoverished and economically unstable. If intervention is not taken soon, then there is a huge likelihood that the homeless population in America will increase.

Business has a unique opportunity to aid families and individuals that are suffering from homelessness and empower them in so many ways to move out of their current situation and into a more stable environment. In order to do this, businesses need to take a more social approach and become more socially conscious.

There needs to be more than simply non-profits helping marginalized individuals and families. Non-profits combat homelessness as much as they can, but finding employment opportunities for individuals whose barriers to entry into the workforce are much more skewed than the “normal person” who is applying for a job, is not only difficult, but in most areas, almost impossible. This is due to the fact that a lot of businesses are focused on economic success (which is needed), but lack a genuine social mission.

People generally think that public policy can fix this, but in reality, most government aid is focused on getting people suffering from homelessness off the streets and into housing as fast as possible. Think about it for a second — once a person leaves a homeless shelter and is gifted an apartment, bills begin to pile up. Without a job that is constant enough to provide economic stability, the individual has an extreme risk of falling right back out onto the street. This, in short, is an example of how cruel the poverty cycle is in America.

Now, if there were businesses that were focused on social well-being and provided an empowering job opportunity, then this cycle could be closer to being broken. Having a core competency around inclusive hiring will engage new stakeholders, as well as boost the overall impact that a business can have on a community.  I challenge everyone who is reading this to think more critically about the true impact that their business could be having on a social impact level.

A Conversation with Our International Students

EDITOR’S NOTE: Four members of our current cohort are international students, coming to the program from around the globe, attracted to the program’s perspective on the role business can play in addressing global challenges. Esteban Echeverria, Noelle Nyirenda, Bhargavi Montravadi, and Alexa Steiner sat down recently to talk about coming to Vermont and settling into the challenges of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. Their bios (along with the entire Class of 2019) can be found here.

The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has been quite the adventure so far. Between hours of class work, group work, readings, guest speakers, and more, the first few months of the program have challenged and inspired us. For a few of us in the 2019 cohort, the experience leading up to the first day of the orientation was an adventure in itself.

Esteban – Costa Rica

Coming from Costa Rica to this program is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I never thought I was going to encounter such a developed and community-conscious city in Burlington. Its citizens, apart from being some of the nicest people I have known, are very aware of social and environmental issues, as well as politically active and full of insights that will make you think about the status quo. From the community-owned grocery stores, to the amazing Lake Champlain, this city has what it needs to be the best place as the home of The Sustainable Innovation MBA.

“The MBA program itself dives in many of the world challenges we currently face, and most of its solutions lie in empowering entrepreneurial projects in developing countries. I recommend this experience to any international student interested in contributing to the economic growth, as well as the environmental and social prosperity, of their countries. The networking and potential connections you will find at this program will be beneficial to your future projects and endeavors.”

Noelle – Zambia

“Moving to Vermont for the program was not without its challenges, and they included but were not limited to: finding accommodation from another continent, completing a visa application in three weeks and moving two chunky pieces of luggage between four flights. But the most difficult part about the whole move was explaining to friends and family where Vermont was, and what it was (there are still some skeptics who aren’t convinced it is an actual state).

“It was easier to explain the existence of the state to some more than others. For instance my father, being an avid political news reader, was aware that the senator was Bernie Sanders, who was also a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president and that the state has some of the more progressive policies when it came to the environment. He was quite proud that his daughter was going back to engineering school to find a way to solve global warming. Unfortunately, I had to explain that I was actually going to business school for an MBA. He is now rather heartbroken that I am not getting a Ph.D. Here I should note that African parents are always up-selling their children when it comes to education.

“Then there was a friend from high school who said she had heard of Vermont, which was a great relief, until she explained what she meant. “It was mentioned in an episode of Scandal,” said she, “Vermont is in Canada! It’s where scandalous American politicians retire to.”  I was confident enough about Vermont’s membership in the United States of America to correct the former statement, however, I could offer no opinion on the accuracy of the latter.”

Bhargavi – India

“Fortunately, I didn’t have the problem of explaining where Vermont is to my family and friends like Noelle, because I was already living in Vermont. But, when I was moving from Boston, I received  lot of questions on where Vermont was so, I took the easy route and told them that it’s near Boston. So now they must be thinking that Vermont is somewhere in Massachusetts close to Boston.

“I always dreamed of doing an MBA. But whenever I tried to pursue my dream, an enticing job offer drifted me away. After my engineering, a job offer in Infosys and in Boston, it was the job offer at Deloitte. Not sure if I chose the program or the program chose me; I am elated to be in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program and enjoying every moment of it. ‘The amalgamation of my career initiative MBA with my passion of integrating sustainability into the businesses/daily life was a dream come true’- This is a statement from my Statement Of Purpose, a part of the application process. As any middle-class Indian family, mine was delighted and excited that I will be doing MBA in the USA.  Still, I was pretty apprehensive about sitting in an American classroom, but after Module 1, It felt like I knew Kalkin 110* from my previous life.

“My initial thoughts were that the American education system is so different to Indian education system. Yes! They are different, but what brings us together is the quest for knowledge, care for people, and responsibility towards planet. There are odds of living in a different continent – 8,000 miles away from homeland across 2 oceans and keeping fingers crossed, checking Twitter for new immigration policies. But, the global potential for this program, especially its importance in developing countries, makes it appealing to any world citizen.”

Alexa – Canada

“Here are my Top 5 things to know as a Canadian studying in Burlington:

“One. The school helps so much with the process of getting a student visa.

“Two. It’s hard to find a place to live in Burlington — start your search early!

“Three. Be prepared for your American classmates to make fun of your accent and your hockey team.

“Four. Try to tame your politeness — sometimes it’s okay to just talk without raising your hand.

“Five. Everyone in Vermont is friendly and warm — even if you’re far away, it still feels a lot like home.”

Esteban, Noelle, Bhargavi, and Alexa: If you are a prospective international student reading this blog post, please reach out to us. We would love to discuss our experiences so far, what it took to get here and why choosing UVM and The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is a great decision.

The Cost of Disruption — Loss of Community?

This post was written by Travis Smith ’19

Improving efficiency for consumers through digitization is one of the main sources of disruption and innovation within the marketplace. The goal – reduce the amount of time waiting for something or reduce the need to go somewhere for something. I believe this is rooted in a positive notion of improving the convenience of people’s’ lives so they can go about their day in a fashion they so choose. However, it may be time to look at what we are streamlining in order to make life more convenient – community. Losing those small conversations with strangers at the store might make life more streamlined, but the loss may also have the unintended consequence of chipping away at community.

It’s never been easier to order goods, food/groceries and socialize without ever leaving one’s home. As a society, we are moving more towards a world where we don’t have to do anything or go anywhere that we do not want to. Yet, according to the Washington Post, the US has consistently fallen in world happiness rankings and currently sits at 18th place. Furthermore, Americans are losing touch with their communities. Pew Research found that only 24% of urban residents know all or most of their neighbors; this is alarming as our society becomes more urbanized. Here we find a paradox. We are more connected and life is more convenient than ever, but somehow, we know less people directly around us and our happiness levels are falling.

The question should be asked, are there diminishing returns on efficiency as there are with wealth? What will we do with the extra time gained? Yes, our society went through a similar transition with the rise of big box retailers, but at least we were still going to a physical place to interact with physical people. Now there is no store with people, but a website with a chatbot.

One surprising example of a community oriented disruptive technology is Pokemon Go. The technology of augmented reality has upended the mobile gaming industry. Yet, Pokemon Go uses the augmented reality tech to bring gamers together in a physical space as users must make friends and interact with others in order to advance in the game – thus, building community. The game even has a once a month “community day” where users are encouraged to meet up at public parks for several hours and play together.

There doesn’t need to be a binary choice between technology and community, but As entrepreneurs and future business leaders we should ask ourselves – will my product or service help build community or chip away at it? As consumers, will we replace our time spent at a post office, grocery store, or restaurant with other time spent building community?

For Second Straight Year, We’re The #1 Green MBA in the Nation

For the second straight year, The Sustainable Innovation MBA has been named the #1 Green MBA in the nation by the Princeton Review.

This is a significant recognition for the program and earning it two years in a row is an outstanding achievement.

The “Best Green MBA” rankings are based on students’ assessments of how well their school is preparing them in environmental/sustainability and social responsibility issues, and for a career in a green job market. The Sustainable Innovation MBA was also included in The Princeton Review’s list of the 252 Outstanding On-Campus MBA programs. This list was based on data from surveys of 18,400 students attending the schools and of administrators at the graduate schools.

The mission of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is “to prepare and train individuals to create profitable and sustainable business opportunities in a world undergoing transformational change. Our Sustainable Innovation MBA aims to develop the next generation of leaders who will build, disrupt, innovate, and reinvent sustainable business and enterprises in a world that demands it.”

Want to change the world with us? Learn more here, and apply here.

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Torsten Dworshak

Torsten — or, Tor — comes to The Sustainable Innovation MBA with a background in digital marketing and strategic management. While at the University of Rhode Island, Tor was a member of the varsity track and field team. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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

If ever there has been an MBA program designed with disruption and creative destruction in mind, it’s this one. This MBA isn’t a fast track to Wall Street, it’s a fast track to learning how to be a serial industry disruptor.

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

Not a single day goes by when I don’t learn something new.

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

1. This is a fast moving program. Don’t forget to breathe.

2. Always be ready for opportunity.

3. After you remember to breathe, breathe again.

While you are taking time to breathe, make time to reflect. Material comes at you so fast that if you don’t actively make time for reflection, it’ll be difficult to create long lasting takeaways.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

We meet a ton of professionals who are incredibly passionate about what they do. The opportunity to learn from their successes and failures is a gift.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

All of the speakers from Ben and Jerry’s bring ice cream with them!

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 Sustainable Innovation MBA Co-Hosts Global CEO Forum

On a beautiful autumn day in mid-October — the kind of day Vermont is famous for — the International Academy of Management came to the campus of UVM to host the Global Forum on Sustainable Innovation and Business Transformation.

The event, co-hosted by the Grossman School of Business and The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, featured a keynote speech and conversation with Muhtar Kent, chairman of the Coca-Cola Company. Our MBA students also had the opportunity to listen to and network with some of the U.S.’s and Vermont’s most innovative business leaders.

Kent, who has made innovation and the transformation of Coca-Cola a vital focus of his time at the helm of one of the world’s most recognizable companies, told the Forum’s 150 attendees that, at Coca Cola, innovation flows from the power of partnerships — that the best ideas are often found on the outside.

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Kent also made the case that a “golden triangle” of forces — business, government, and social-mission organizations —  must come together to solve the world’s most pressing problems. Therefore, he said, business leaders must be master relationship builders.

The Forum also featured reflections by three forward-thinking business leaders. Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power; Brian Griffith, chairman of Griffith Foods; and Joey Bergstein, CEO of Seventh Generation, shared their own personal and organizational stories of transformation and innovation.