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.

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.

Is Wall Street Waking Up To The Benefits of Sustainability?

There’s something brewing among our economy’s biggest institutional investors, risk analysts, and economic forecasters.

Larry Fink is the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment firms with over $6 trillion in assets under its management. Each year, Fink writes to the CEOs of leading companies in which its clients are shareholders. “As a fiduciary,” Fink states, “I write on their behalf to advocate governance practices that BlackRock believes will maximize long-term value creation for their investments.”

In this year’s letter, Fink urges business leaders to focus on “long-term value creation”. BlackRock also said its “engagement priorities” for talking to CEOs would include climate risk and boardroom diversity.

Also included in the letter is this paragraph:

“Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors relevant to a company’s business can provide essential insights into management effectiveness and thus a company’s long-term prospects. We look to see that a company is attuned to the key factors that contribute to long-term growth: sustainability of the business model and its operations, attention to external and environmental factors that could impact the company, and recognition of the company’s role as a member of the communities in which it operates. A global company needs to be local in every single one of its markets.”

As they say, read the whole thing.

BlackRock is not alone.  Fund giant Vanguard, which led a successful shareholder resolution on climate disclosure and strategies at ExxonMobil, also declared climate risk and gender diversity “defining themes” of its investment strategy.

Our mission at The Sustainable Innovation MBA is to build and launch the next generation of business, enterprise, and organizational leaders who are exceptionally well-equipped to create, and lead in, this new world.

Yes, VECAN: Exploring Local Climate Solutions

This post was written by Henry Rabinowitz ’18

I had the chance to attend the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network (VECAN) conference December 2 along with fellow Sustainable Innovation MBA candidate Sam Carey. The event, which has been held annually for the last ten years at the Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, VT, offered a chance to meet and network with an eclectic group of activists, energy committee members, state employees, and business people, who are all working to solve the problem of climate change on a practical, local level here in Vermont.

A large portion of the conference’s attendees were people serving on local energy committees — people looking for ways to identify action plans for their towns and communities to implement specific environmentally minded policies and improvements.

In the first session, I attended a panel on engaging low income communities with climate solutions, where representatives of three organizations promoting building and home weatherization and efficiency improvements presented their activities. After lunch, I went to a workshop focused on bringing together green energy and agriculture. Three representatives of the Vermont Agency for Agriculture Food & Markets presented on a variety of techniques for farmers to improve their energy efficiency, from installation of mixed use solar (where animals can graze alongside or under solar panels) and pollinator friendly solar installations (where a variety of native grasses and plants are included in a solar project) to biomass energy projects like large scale methane digesters and high-efficiency wood pellet and chip burning furnaces to replace oil heat in structures of varying size.

In my opinion, the most transformational element of the day’s activities was the keynote by former EPA head Gina McCarthy, who was impassioned, extraordinarily knowledgeable and, frankly hilarious—if you haven’t had a chance to hear her speak, I highly recommend finding one of her speeches online.

The day was a reminder to me of just how engaged Vermonters are with climate change, and how excited people you encounter here every day are about the opportunities that come with the challenges it brings.

Photo credit: VECAN

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.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Mark Mallory

Mark Mallory ’18 did his undergraduate work at UVM, earning a degree in community entrepreneurship with a minor in economics. After a period of travel, and gaining experience in sales and real estate management, Mark returned to his alma mater and The Sustainable Innovation MBA. He was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

I chose to attend the program because I want to expand my knowledge of business and sustainability and use that knowledge — and connections made through the program — to propel my career. I have high aspirations to be successful in the business world and make a lasting impact on society.

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

My favorite aspect of the program has been the collaborative and supportive environment from both the faculty and classmates. I also am enjoying the broad and in-depth curriculum that challenges us every day. I think that what we’re learning is going to very relevant and applicable in the current world and into the future.

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

  1. The program moves quickly. You’ll need to be proactive and manage time well.
  2. The main difference from traditional MBAs is the emphasis on collaboration and teamwork (which I think is very relevant for the modern landscape).
  3. There is a ton of information to soak in. I would advise not to get ridiculously caught up in every little detail that is presented throughout all the courses in the program. Part of this year is to learn more about what interests you and to understand how to leverage the tools that The Sustainable Innovation MBA is giving to go and succeed in the real world. Getting stressed out over small details I think can potentially limit ones ability to maximize their time in the program.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The program is giving me the tools that I need to succeed in the business world. We are learning all of the foundations of business, but taking into account how it relates to the world today and how business will look in the future. The collaboration with students from a variety of backgrounds have given me many new perspectives, which I think is helping me grow as an individual and understand new ideas and possible solutions to problems. I have also gained much more insight about career opportunities through the connections I have made.

Together Like Peas and Carrots: Managing Your Semester and Your CSA…

Are they simply veggies in your refrigerator? Think again as Madeline Brumberg ’18 reflects on the learning, networking, and self-management opportunities in her fall CSA.

By the end of the week, I am usually ready to catch up on missed sleep or take off to the woods with my dog. The sight of my fridge, however, chock full of vegetables waiting to be cooked, tells me I better stay inside and cook.

This was the weekly struggle this semester as I attempted to keep up with classwork, teamwork, and a community supported agriculture (CSA) share. My share, paid for at the beginning of the season to provide farmers a more stable income and seed start up costs, got delivered weekly to a campus drop off spot.  (For more information about CSAs please see this blog post from a local farm.) As the seasons changed, my share changed from bags of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, to bags of potatoes, squash, and kale.  The share which I chose was very abundant and I had to be very diligent in cooking to minimize my food waste.

A number of other students in the program also had CSAs and we swapped ideas for getting through seemingly endless amounts of carrots and cabbage.  We all depended heavily of veggie stir fries with a side of rice or quinoa, but this got dull after a couple of weeks and we had to branch out.  A favorite recipe to emerge out of desperation to use up cabbage and potatoes was a stir fry of those two with ground sausage from Vermont Salumi, whole-grain mustard, and pepitas. The excess CSA veggies brought some of the students together for homemade dinners.  We used the opportunity to collaborate on recipes, talk through assignments, study for exams, and unwind after a long week of classes.

Managing to use vegetables before they went bad and getting my homework done provided me with an excellent opportunity to practice time management.  I depended on my crockpot and roasting so that I could cook and do assignments at the same time.  Sometimes, though, I would take the evening off to go through my whole fridge and cook up anything and everything in there.  Those nights were an opportunity for me to reflect on what I was learning in this program.  With the break neck speed of this program, finding moments like these have been paramount.  Getting through CSA vegetables has been a good excuse to do just that.

So is it possible to get through your CSA and your semester?  Yes, it just takes a little planning and some teamwork.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Kaitlin Sampson

Kaitlin Sampson ’18 came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA from the hospitality industry, most recently with Marriott International, where she was an Area Sales & Marketing Manager. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.  

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

I wanted to pivot my career path toward work that was more meaningful.

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

The organizational behavior courses have been my favorite part of the program.  Our courses teach you how to go from a good leader to a great leader and how to use those skills to create a transformational culture within the workplace.

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

The amazing network that the program provides, the diversity in classwork and the diversity of students.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

It has helped me reflect on my passions and strengths, and given me the confidence in the business world for post SIMBA.


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”