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

When Things In The Classroom Get “Ruff”

This post was written by Ben Hastings ’18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question: How is Willy a pain reliever?

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

Question: How is Willy a gain creator?

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

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

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

 

 

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.

CEO Profile: Andrew Arnott of John Hancock Investments

This post was written by Taylor Mikell ’18

Late in 2017, I interviewed Andrew Arnott, CEO of John Hancock Investments. I am fortunate to be acquainted with Mr. Arnott through the school where I worked for the past eight years, and as the leader of a large, high profile organization, I was curious to hear his perspectives on the concepts of leadership and teamwork that we’ve discussed in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

Mr. Arnott describes his background as somewhat atypical among public company CEOs in that he had lots of operations experience, but relatively little formal leadership training, when he started as CEO. His style is therefore largely self-taught, but I was not surprised that his sentiments echoed what The Sustainable Innovation MBA has taught us so far.

A theme that recurred throughout our conversation is that Mr. Arnott sees his role much more as a people-managing job rather than a task-managing job. From his stated goal of assembling his core team so that he can (humbly) say “I’m the dumbest one in the room,” to insisting that “our business can’t be successful unless our customers are successful,” Mr. Arnott stressed in all his answers that maintaining personal relationships and strong organizational culture are key pieces of his job description. He underscored this point by repeating that his goal was to create a family-like atmosphere. For example, on the day I spoke with him, he had been to an office holiday party at a branch office in Portsmouth, NH in order to “stay visible and accessible to the people there.”

One challenge for him is that, since he has intimate knowledge of his business’ operations, he has to consciously work to not get too far “down in the weeds” with minutiae because, although he cares deeply about these details, “if you come across as too frantic or intense then you become unapproachable and you lose touch with people.” For me, this idea harkened back to Joe Fusco’s oft-quoted line that “leadership is a love affair with the truth.” In order to make the best decisions for his organization, Mr. Arnott’s strategy is to carefully manage all the personal relationships his job presents so that he knows he has the best possible information — the truth. Very consistent with The Sustainable Innovation MBA worldview!

 

Alumni in Review: Taylor Ralph, Class of 2017

Taylor Ralph ’17 is a project manager with SSG Advisors, leading engagement with multi-national food and beverage corporation investigating opportunities for partnership within its agricultural supply chain across emerging markets, with focus on small-holder farmers in Latin America, North Africa, and South Asia. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

Image result for taylor ralph

What have you been up to since graduation?

I’ve had the privilege of working with SSG Advisors (based right here in Burlington), an international development firm that seeks to harness the power of partnerships to achieve sustainability objectives. I’ve been project managing on a small team working closely with PepsiCo’s Sustainable Agriculture team who is eager to build partnership muscle across their procurement and sourcing departments. At it’s root, PepsiCo is an agricultural company, procuring fruit, vegetable, dairy, and commodity crops across over 40 countries and from a variety of farmers (from large commercial operations to small-holder farmers in emerging markets), as you might imagine this opens up PepsiCo to a variety of challenges and risks — and of course, opportunities. Our team has been developing a Partnership Playbook to help the organization engage the necessary stakeholders to address these challenges and ultimately achieve their Performance with Purpose goals around sustainable sourcing; necessary stakeholders might include anyone from bi-laterals to development banks to impact investors to research organizations to foundations to NGOs to civil society organizations and of course, the producers themselves. We are also going into the field to develop three specific partnership concepts around sustainable agronomic practices in emerging market contexts.

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I was looking for a program that aligned with my values: that business can and should be used as a force for positive change. I also knew that I needed to learn the language of business to have the impact I wanted to have in the world.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

The collaborative nature of the work environment, by far. Learning to work with diverse personalities was enriching and also helped prepare me for the work I seek to do going forward: create a common language among diverse actors to achieve sustainability objectives.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

My practicum involved working with a large multi-national corporation to develop business strategies that address the needs of emerging market actors. I was able to dig into a specific value chain (small-holder farmers producing fresh vegetables from farm to retail in São Paulo, Brasil) and explore ways that a large, matrixed refrigeration corporation could provide cold-chain solutions and prevent food waste in that context. At PepsiCo, I am engaging in similar market research and working to investigate how a large group with seemingly disparate objectives might align with other actors in the value chain to achieve development goals. In my experience, it’s been about creating that common language, and SEMBA helped me learn how to translate.

What would you tell someone who is considering the Sustainable Innovation MBA?

What SEMBA lacks in scale of alumni network, they make up for in richness of connection. If you’re looking to challenge your assumptions about the way the world works, this is the program for you. Also – I’m happy to speak more with anyone interested in learning more.

Alumnus-Founded Sap! Swims With The Sharks

Sap!, a Vermont maple water beverage producer co-founded and led by entrepreneur Chas Smith ’15, will appear on Shark Tank, the popular venture capital/entrepreneur pitch program on the ABC television network. Sap! will make their pitch on Sunday, January 28 at 10 p.m. EST.

Shark Tank features several “multi-millionaire tycoons” looking to discover and invest in the best businesses and products America has to offer. The “sharks” include Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran.

Sap! was launched by Chas, his cousin Nikita (who appears with Chas on the broadcast), and his father Charlie, and took flight while Chas was working toward his MBA here at UVM. Their company is fueled by their passion for the maple and birch industry, their dedication to Vermont and the working landscape, and their excitement to build a company that embodies these values.

Sap! bills its products as non-alcoholic beverages made from 100 percent natural maple syrup and healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened drinks. Sap! products can be found in Vermont, throughout New England, New York City, and worldwide on Amazon.

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.

The Year In Review: The Grossman School of Business

In addition to being ranked as the best Green MBA in the United States by the Princeton Review, The Sustainable Innovation MBA is a flagship program at the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business. The Grossman School of Business has as its mission to prepare students — undergraduates as well as post-graduates — to be thoughtful, agile business leaders in a complex and dynamic global environment.

The just-released Dean’s Report for 2017 details a year of continued accolades, growth, and student success for the School. Click here — or the picture above — to read the Report.

Learn more about The Sustainable Innovation MBA, or download our e-book here.

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.