We’ve Reached the Summit!

A closer look at the Appreciative Inquiry Summit hosted by the Class of 2019

This post was written by Tor Dworshak, Maura Kalil, Billy Rivellini, and Alexa Steiner of the Class of 2019

Tuesday, April 16th saw the culmination of significant learning and hard work in our Driving Sustainable Change class with Professor Ante Glavas. The Class of 2019 hosted an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Summit on the topic of creating high quality post-Sustainable Innovation MBA experiences for alumni of the program. Participants included the current cohort, numerous alumni, and faculty.

Planned and executed by our cohort, the summit was a lesson in leadership, facilitation, event management, and the AI model. AI is a stakeholder engagement model to facilitate strengths based understanding of change management opportunities that exist in an organization. Each of the learning teams were given one of ten tasks to execute that day, and if we may say so ourselves, our classmates crushed it! As we will become alumni of the program in the coming months, the topic of the day was extremely relevant and important to all of us.

The day began with an explanation of the “chaordic” space we were all about to occupy. What is “chaordic”? It is the combination of chaos and order; a space that allows for creativity and experimentation within the boundaries of some structure. With an emphasis on strengths and opportunity, the AI summit was organized into four phases, each of which consisted of different thought-provoking questions, innovative challenges, and creative activities. The Discovery phase of AI is about appreciating and focuses on the best of what is. The Dream phase is about envisioning, with an emphasis on results and impact. The Design phase is about co-creation and co-construction. Finally, the Destiny phase is about sustaining, and how to empower, learn and improvise. Each team played their part, fulfilled their role, and contributed to the overall positive experience that day. We received incredible feedback about the positive and productive nature of the conversations. The day also gave the current cohort and alumni a chance to really work together, getting especially creative with the prototyping of ideas in the afternoon’s Design phase.

“It was really cool to see how the students took what Ante had taught them and within a few short weeks, were running an appreciative inquiry summit themselves”, said Erik Monsen, professor in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. “They demonstrated how clear their learning had been because they were able to teach the rest of us and guide us through the AI process that day.”

“I was delighted by the creativity and the power to generate ideas demonstrated by everybody in the room during all of the phases,” said Joe Fusco, Director of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. “The format of the summit and the AI process really highlighted the potential in the program’s existing strengths.”

The Sustainable Innovation MBA network is truly special. With a focus on cohesion and collaboration, there isn’t much room for competition, though there was definitely some friendly competition during the summit’s Design phase. There was so much creativity and warmth in the Keller room that day and we, the Class of 2019, are grateful to Ante for giving us the opportunity to put our learnings into practice and lead this summit. With only a few weeks of classes left, the Class of 2019 has also reached the summit of our year in the program. So with that, we want to thank everyone who participated this year and wish the best of luck to the class of 2020 in their future summit planning!

The Mission, and The Team

This post was written by Cameron McMahon ’19.Cameron served 4 years active duty in the US Marine Corps infantry, deploying twice.

There is a lot of discussion about mission-driven businesses and millennials being attracted to working for them.  Along with this come conversations about how to build up your people and create teams that are greater than the sum of their parts. This has been causing me to reflect on my time in the U.S. Marine Corps infantry and how we built and managed teams.  Shared hardship tended to be the element which rapidly allowed the willingness to form for us to perform well together.  As I am working on starting my farm business and considering best practices for finding and hiring people to help build the business, I am trying to think deeply about the type of culture I want to create. 

In the USMC the mission was always provided to us and there was a clear rank structure and roles within that which existed for eliminating uniqueness. There were jobs to be performed and the expectation was that you performed your role and anything else simply wasn’t an option. Extremely high rates of burnout are the norm for junior ranks with this treatment.  However, we accomplished the mission and pushed our limits far beyond what we had previously thought possible. We as a human community are facing grave threats in the next several decades that will decide whether or not we are able to continue living on this planet. It is difficult to find the language in a civilian setting to pull the best lessons from the USMC. How to translate the brutal methods and speech for rapidly binding teams together who are willing to work through pain, exhaustion, and fear to run through calf- deep mud filled with mines toward the multiple machine guns firing at you and your friends to a business setting?

I don’t pretend to have any firm answers to these questions. In the process of trying to figure it out though, some things have been clarifying. Motivation is encouraged when people are able to feel a sense of ownership over the process as well as the results.  Having a sense that you are part of something larger than yourself and working toward a common goal that serves humanity in useful ways helps to make the day to day tasks required for job performance gain deeper meaning and purpose. Hope works better than fear for motivating people to perform at a consistently high level over time. 

Facing the myriad challenges from threats such as climate change cannot be done effectively if people don’t feel as if a better future is possible and their actions matter in creating it. Just as there is no place for cowardice on the battlefield and those who are unable to push through their natural hesitation to endanger themselves are removed from roles where they will get others killed; it is necessary to identify those in an organization who are not bought into the mission and cull them from the team. To create a culture of willing high performance there should be rewards for the victories and the failures in order to encourage everyone to stretch themselves and not fear failure. Great ideas won’t come out if people are afraid of the consequences of failing.  An organization, culture or person who is unwilling to change is more of a problem than a solution.  As Darwin said, “The species best able to adapt is the most likely to survive.” and as we say in the Corps, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.”

Net Impact: Wear-it-Wise Fashion, but Make it Sustainable

This post was written by Alyssa Schuetz ’19

I may only be 23 years old, but I know exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to change the fashion industry for the better. My bachelor’s degree is in Design & Merchandising which translates loosely into the business-side of the fashion industry. After working in product development in sports apparel, I saw the shortcomings of retail and knew that I couldn’t enter the industry knowing that I would be part of the problem. I am determined to be part of the solution and create a positive impact on the industry.

When I joined The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, I knew my direction was always going to be about fashion.

I just wasn’t sure which form that would take until I came across the non-profit organization Net Impact. Turns out, they have a specific program dedicated to promoting sustainable fashion called Wear it Wise. I immediately reached out to the program because I knew I had to be involved.

As a grad student, I knew this would be a huge opportunity for me to share what I am passionate about on a larger platform. This program is sponsored by Levi’s, Colombia Sportswear Company, and Eileen Fischer. Knowing that these brands are innovators and already making a difference in the sustainability space, I knew that this platform would provide me with more skills and tools to further a cause that I was already passionate about.

After being accepted into the Wear It Wise program, I started crafting my social media campaign to give people an inside look as to how they can shop more sustainably. My goal throughout this campaign has been to empower the consumer. In my experience, the fashion industry is at a crossroads where the industry is aware of sustainability and knows that it will eventually have to become greener, but it’s still lacking that final push to implement change. I believe that we as consumers carry immense power to vote with our dollar with every purchase we make. We have the power to be this push that retailers need in order to convert to more sustainable practices.

I’m excited with the power we have to wear our values and make our impact in the retail industry. Please follow along my journey on social media as I continue to share my passion with all of you and inspire you to make your own impact!

Sustainability 3.0

This post was written by Meryl Schneider ’19. The Sustainable Innovation MBA features various Innovators-in-Residence over the academic year.

According to Innovator-in-Residence Dave Stangis, Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell Soup Company, organizations go through phases when implementing sustainable practices which he called “Sustainability 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.” Beginning his career at Intel as an Environmental, Health and Safety External Affairs Manager, Stangis’s initial role transformed into Director of Corporate Sustainability where he spearheaded corporate social responsibility and sustainability strategies in response to growing societal concerns of Intel’s environmental, social and economic impact. From there, Stangis’s growing passion for business and sustainability landed him a job at Campbell’s, where he has developed and led the firm’s widely known CSR, ESG and sustainability strategies.

Stangis explained the three evolutions of sustainability, beginning with phase one, where most companies find themselves today. In this initial phase, companies focus on reducing costs through eco-efficiencies, risk reduction, and strive to do less harm via environmental stewardship. In phase two, sustainable corporate strategy is respected but can be siloed from the strategy team. Organizations adopt triple bottom line (financial, social, environmental) considerations when evaluating their performance to create greater business value. Phase three sounded like the “ah hah” moment where firms make strategic sustainable business decisions that are imbedded in business strategy and anticipate sustainability challenges instead of reacting to them. Businesses strive to challenge their model in 3.0 with objectives to solve complex social, economic and environmental problems as a product of the business itself.

How does Sustainability 3.0 impact Campbell’s and the food industry? For Stangis and Campbell’s, he is undoubtedly striving to be a Sustainability 3.0 company as a major player in the food industry. Stangis argued that ethical and environmental considerations no longer “just” feed into the Campbell’s strategy but are becoming the company’s strategy. As he put it, the potential challenges the food industry is facing are daunting. Climate change is affecting global food systems while the world population is growing at an accelerated rate. Stangis painted the picture for the future of food and how Campbell’s will ultimately predict, adapt, and strategize their business model into evolving into a 3.0 firm. He explained that by utilizing technology, finding long-term resiliency in regenerative agriculture, and by aligning business objectives with the United Nations Sustainable development goals, a company like Campbells will continue to evolve and innovate as the competition for resources intensifies. Stangis embraces the unknown and ultimately understands that disruptive forces are looming. It is how companies choose to react and grow sustainably from the disruption that will count.

“Hunter is disruptive…”

This post was written by Henry Vogt ’19

“Hunter is disruptive” is the phrase we first saw as we walked into our second guest lecturer of the semester.

Earlier this Fall we had the pleasure of hosting guest speaker Hunter Lovins. Suffice it to say, she knocked our socks off. I had heard Hunter’s name before, but wasn’t very familiar with her work or legacy. It became apparent right away that we were in for a unique and inspiring experience.

Hunter’s body of work in sustainability and climate justice is prolific: from starting numerous influential non-profits, creating successful sustainable MBA programs from scratch, authoring best selling books, founding impact investing firms, and consulting with some of the largest corporations in the world including Unilever and Walmart, Hunter’s influence is extensive. This is augmented by her down-to-earth, Colorado ranch-style demeanor. She tells it like it is, passionately, in an inspirational way. She’s the type of person that understands that solving world problems is best facilitated over a whiskey, face-to-face. Hunter also owns a beautiful ranch in Colorado, where she easily could spend all of her time but instead chooses to be on the move, committed to her mission.

I asked Hunter how she envisions American capitalism evolving and whether she believes it has the capacity to solve the massive challenges facing our planet under current frameworks. She answered by giving a prediction from economist Tony Sebens: “Within 10 years, economics will dictate that the world will be 100 percent renewable. For this to happen, the world’s economy will be disrupted. This will be the ‘Mother of all disruptions.’ In other words, to save the climate we have to crash the global economy.”

If this is, in fact, the case, then the next decade will be tumultuous to say the least. This led our class session to focus on the question of what’s next and how do we collectively begin to prepare for this disruption. While this notion and idea can admittedly be not very uplifting, it was encouraging to hear suggestions from many of my classmates on how we may leverage our global economy and invest in Base of the Pyramid projects to find solutions and begin to strategize on how we may “soften the landing” from major global disruption.

Overall, having Hunter present to us was inspiring and eye-opening. While there are massive challenges ahead, having individuals like Hunter who are disruptive, driven, and committed to finding solutions to these challenges provides hope for the future.

In The News: Our Class in Entrepreneurial Business Models

“Across the Fence,” a long-running news program on WCAX here in Vermont, recently profiled The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

The focus was on Professor Erik Monsen’s “Crafting the Entrepreneurial Business Model” course, the highlight of which is a business trade show featuring the students’ ideas for new, disruptive business models.

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

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.

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?

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”