Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Shari Siegel

Shari Siegel ’18 came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA progam with an extensive background in law. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

I have been a practicing lawyer in various areas of corporate life and a wildly eclectic number of industries (private investments, finance, airlines, manufacturers, software, telecommunications, real estate, mining, retail, etc.).  Much of what I have done professionally has been interesting, challenging, and often fun, and my experience has given me terrific insight into how all sorts of industries and  businesses work and myriad points of view that may come to bear on a question, but I was ready to make a change and to play a different role.

I believe that business can be a powerful force for good in the world when long-term thinking is put into practice, and I want to be among those who are making that happen.  I really wanted to be able to live a more integrated life.  My professional life has accommodated, but not usually incorporated, other aspects of my life that I am passionate about: building community; creating opportunity for aspiring artists and professionals; and promoting ethical stewardship of our environment and natural resources. Those activities have been limited to volunteering in my “spare” time.

For my “next act,” I’m exploring the use of capital investment and the creation and implementation of long-term business strategies to further creating or contributing to a healthy, sustainable business environment with ample career (not just job) opportunities for those who want them.  The Sustainable Innovation MBA program was a perfect opportunity to take the skills and experience I came to the program with and add new skills and perspectives that will allow me to pivot to a satisfying next step.  The insights I get from my professors and fellow students about aspects of business life that have been outside my focus or areas of responsibility are fascinating, and the opportunity to talk to members of the Vermont business community has been invaluable.  UVM has a robust network that is affording me a terrific opportunity to talk to people about various opportunities to put my new and old skills to work in the way I want to.

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

The exposure to all of the people who have been working in fields that are very different from my own and living in other places.  Sharing experiences is enlightening.  Variety truly is the spice of life.

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

Expect to work really, really hard–this program crams a lot of content into one year, and the students who are in the program are serious about their learning experience.  That said, we have some pretty extraordinary professors who go above and beyond to make sure we’re really learning the material; a few have even given up some of their own free days to offer extra classes for us.

Teamwork is crucial.

If you come visit us this year and see the construction we’re living through, don’t worry: it’s supposed to be over for the next cohort.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

It has made me really excited about the possibilities out there.  We’ve also gotten to meet current professionals working in areas we’re studying, tour numerous local businesses and engage in conferences of interest.

‘Shark Tank’ Effect Real For SAP!

This post was written by Jon Reidel, University Communications, and first appeared at uvm.edu.

The Sustainable Innovation Review has previously profiled SAP! here, and here.

(Photo: Courtesy Disney/ABC)

It has been a whirlwind few weeks since Chas Smith G’15 and his cousin Nikita Salmon, co-owners of maple beverage company SAP!, appeared on ABC’s venture capital/entrepreneur pitch program “Shark Tank” on Jan. 28. Smith, a graduate of the Grossman School of Business’ Sustainable Innovation MBA program, took a break at a local café to talk about his Hollywood experience and answer a few key questions, mainly: is the “Shark Tank” effect real, and does he regret turning down $600,000?

Is the so-called “Shark Tank” effect real?

It’s definitely real. Our online sales right now are insane. We hit over $100,000 in new online sales within 10 days of the show. It has generated a lot interest and gotten people to try it who wondered, “What the hell is this?” They only let us know ten days before it was going to air, so we rushed to rebuild our entire website to make it e-commerce friendly. We had tens of thousands of hits during the show and we were really worried the website was going to crash. Fortunately, we came through the spike well and were able to process a huge amount of orders.

Another upside is that we are learning a lot about consumer behavior and how people make purchasing decisions online. The show re-airs in July, so we’re preparing for another spike.

How did you manage to get on the show?

They actually sent us a message. We thought it was a joke at first because they wrote into our website and it looked like spam, but then they called us up and we said, “Wow, this is real.” Typically, there’s a long application process, and they have casting calls all over the country. I think someone on the show liked our product because an assistant called us and said, “We want you in LA in three weeks.”

It was sort of risky, because did we really want to take the chance of being roasted on national TV? We are a small company and know what we need to improve on. Ultimately, as we thought about it more, we said, “how many opportunities do you get to talk to four million people about your brand?” All press is good press as far as we are concerned.

Speaking of being roasted, what did you think of some of the jokes and harsher comments the judges dished out?

It may have looked harsh a times, but they do that to everybody. You are not going to come out of there unscathed, this is reality TV! It is supposed to be sensationalist.

They joked about us looking like stereotypical Vermonters. One of them said, “you guys look like you are straight out of central casting. Are you sure you aren’t from LA?”

The most infuriating moment actually was when Mark Cuban said, “Oh, this tastes like Aunt Jemima.” Our products taste nothing like that; he was trying to create an association with something and he clearly just didn’t grasp what real maple is. For the Vermont maple community, there is nothing more offensive than saying that, right?

But you take the good with the bad, and this has been a hugely positive experience for us and our company.

It seemed like a quick pretty decision to reject the $600,000 offer and 30 percent stake in SAP! from judge Robert Herjavec. Did you have a pre-set number that you weren’t willing to go below?

Well, that negotiation happened over about 20 minutes. The producers just have to cut it down for the episode. We were actually in the “Tank” for about 90 minutes overall. We came in with the mentality that if the deal is not perfect, we were not going to do it. We’re fortunate to be in a position where we didn’t need a deal. Sure, we could have used the money, but we have a core set of investors who are really supportive and there’s a lot of new interest in the business since we’ve been on the market.

Overall, though, it sounds like the positives of being on the show outweighed the negatives?

People have asked if we thought it helped us or hurt us by going on the show. The answer is that this has been resoundingly positive for us when you look at how many people are now interested in our business and how our sales have spiked. I think being from Vermont you are more grounded in reality. We were like, “yup, our marketing does need some work, and we know that, and we’re figuring it out.”

It’s this really unique moment in time where all of these people from across the country are trying our product for the first time, so we’re developing a new e-commerce strategy behind it. A one-time sale is great, but it’s not the basis of a company. We have the opportunity to cultivate a huge amount of new customers and we intend to do just that.

How did you and Nikita come up with the idea for SAP!?

His side of the family has a deep history in the maple syrup industry. We’re both 28, but come from very different parts of Vermont. I’m from Burlington and he grew up on a farm in Enosburg. He started his own businesses right away and is smart in so many ways that I’m not. He has a very practical mindset and can just solve problems and get things done where I have more of an analytical mindset, so I think that’s why we make such a good team. We’ve been making these types of drinks in our family for a long time. We were experimenting with it for a few years and then got more serious when I came back to Vermont for the SIMBA program, which is really where all of the pieces came together.

Did your Sustainable Innovation MBA experience help you with SAP!?

I learned a lot of the necessary skills in the Sustainable Innovation MBA program, but what really attracted me to the program was its focus on how to create a virtuous business model. If our product can ascend and be really successful, it could be a second outlet for maple sap in the State of Vermont, which could help stabilize maple prices and create prosperity throughout the rural Vermont economy. Secondarily, if birch sap takes off it could be a whole new industry in Vermont where you are making birch trees productive instead of cutting them down. The social aspect of providing healthier products for people to consume is important to us. It’s really about how to create business models that create mutual value.

If you could do the show again, would you do anything differently?

If we could rewind, I would just simplify our pitch more. I think we tried to over explain the products a bit and it got confusing for the Sharks. When you are in the Tank, it gets chaotic very quickly with questions flying in from the Sharks non-stop. You have such a short window of time to control the narrative and get your main points across.

But ultimately, the Shark Tank experience has really forced us to be better in a lot of ways. We had to sit down and say, “OK, this really confirmed some things we already thought and this is the direction we really want to take it.” What didn’t get aired in the episode, but was part of the discussion in the Tank, was a lot of the positive reactions on where we want to take the company in the future with new products.  We are fortunate to be off to a great start with our company, and are excited to take the next steps with our business in 2018.

Alumni in Review: Caroline Hauser, Class of 2016

Caroline Hauser ’16 is an Associate Director at Global Evolution. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

What have you been up to since graduation?

I work in NYC as an Associate Director at Global Evolution, an emerging and frontier markets investment manager. The company is headquartered in Denmark, but I’m out of the NYC office. I like being at a small company because day to day, my job varies significantly. I meet with potential investors, handle client requests, attend conferences, and get to work on a number of exciting side projects as well. For example, in November I planned an impact investing symposium that included speakers from the World Bank, the UN-sponsored Principles for Responsible Investment, and the International Monetary Fund.

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I’d worked at non- and for-profit organizations in the past, and I found the program while searching for an opportunity that combined the mission focus of a non-profit with the resources and structure of a for-profit. I had considered business school for a while, but wanted to find a program that was a good fit for my values. I loved the combination of the innovative curriculum, the small class size, and the opportunity to live in Vermont.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

It’s hard to pull out one favorite piece. The class discussions were consistently engaging and thought-provoking and the small class size provided opportunities to build close relationships with classmates, professors, and guest lecturers. The practicum allowed us to take everything we learned throughout the year and put it into practice in a real world business challenge. As I’m now almost two years out of the program, I’d say my favorite part is the network I built during and since the program that includes a group of people across a broad range of industries that are dedicated to using business as a force for positive change.

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

The tools/skills from the program come in handy on a daily basis. One big example is the emphasis on both systems thinking and long-term thinking, as opposed to a focus on short-term shareholder returns. A more specific example is in the fall, I attended the UN Principles for Responsible Investment Conference in Berlin, which focused heavily on the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). I attended sessions such as “Social cohesion and inclusive growth: the investment risks and opportunities.” It was energizing to see a large network of leaders so passionate about incorporating sustainability into everyday business, and my experience in The Sustainable Innovation MBA gave me a good knowledge base to jump in to those conversations without feeling like a newcomer to the field.

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

This MBA program emphasizes a global, long-term approach to business strategy, with a core emphasis on the fact that we are all connected and living in a world of finite resources. It will force you to look at business beyond short term success metrics. A manufacturing plant providing jobs in one community may be poisoning the water in another community. A farm that’s feeding thousands could be depleting the soil of nutrients for the next generation. What externalities are we not taking into account when we make business decisions? How will this project look five, ten, or twenty years down the road? What happens to this product at the end of its useful life? How will this organizational change impact employee turnover? We need businesses to start asking the right questions today so that we can create sustainable, regenerative organizations that will positively influence the world for generations to come.

Alumni in Review: Dana Gulley, Class of 2017

Dana Gulley ’17 is a consultant in private practice. She was the valedictorian of the Class of 2017. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

What have you been up to since graduation?

Making a whole new life for myself! I launched my own consulting practice, Third Peak Solutions, and spent much of the fall working from the road while my partner and I traveled around the west (Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico) figuring out a new place to call home. In November my partner landed a position at a very cool organization called Adventure Scientists and just after Thanksgiving we moved to Bozeman, Montana. After spending 30 years living in the Northeast, moving to big sky country is a pretty big life change. It’s somewhat terrifying, but mostly thrilling. Now that I’m settling into my new home, I’m focused on defining exactly what Third Peak Solutions does: organizational development consulting with conservation non-profits? Sustainable strategy consulting with for-profits? A little bit of both?

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I’m passionate about environmental conservation and eager to see this work improved by a) building more effective and sustainable non-profits and b) engaging the business community to do their part in innovative and impactful ways. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has the values that match my own and attracts a community of students, faculty and business partners that we must lean into if this important work is going to gain the momentum it deserves.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

Developing relationships with the people in my cohort academically, professionally and personally. As I work to build my own practice, I’m eager to emphasize team work in the way that The Sustainable Innovation MBA modeled it. Working with a team strengthens work products and makes the experience more rewarding.

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

I’m taking risks, staying true to my desire to transform business as usual, focused on building teams to tackle big problems, and figuring out how to balance an emphasis on non-profits and for-profits.

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

The program is not for everyone. You will not emerge with a clear set of pre-described next steps for making the world a better place. Instead, you will have a mindset, a network, and a toolkit of skills that will enable you to be entrepreneurial in building your own, unique path forward. The Sustainable Innovation MBA will serve you if you’re someone who is committed to keeping your brain switched on to constantly find better ways to make a difference. It’s a degree for movers and shakers.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Ben Hastings

Prior to joining The Sustainable Innovation MBA program,  Ben Hastings ’18  worked at Tiffany & Co. as a Global Sustainability Assistant. He was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM. 

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

To work with the best and brightest in the sustainability field.

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

The guest speakers from Vermont companies offering guidance and expertise.

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

1. You will be pushed out of your comfort zone (in a good way).

2. You learn as much from your peers as you do from professors.

3. Be prepared to perform skits!

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

This program is helping to open up my creativity and entrepreneurial spirit!

What Is The Value of Social Capital?

This post was written by John M. Turner and originally appeared on the Grossman School of Business News Page.

Program Alums Diane Abruzzini ’17 and Ben Tacka ’15 Share Experiences With 2018 Cohort

There are many definitions of social capital, but one of our favorites is:

so·cial cap·i·tal

noun

1.   the network of social connections that exist between people, and their shared values and norms of behavior, which enable and encourage mutually advantageous social cooperation.

Capital can take several other forms including natural, human, financial and manufactured, however, for the current Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort, one way the concept of social capital is reinforced in the classroom is with the presence of several program alums.

Recently, as part of Associate Professor and The Steven Grossman Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship Erik Monsen’s Start-Up Experience Panel, the class was joined by two program alums, Ben Tacka ’15 and Diane Abruzzini ’17.

By returning and sharing their experiences, Ben and Diane, along with the considerable number of other alums who have returned in one capacity or another, surfaced one of the programs great strengths: i.e. the power of the social capital inherent in a common sense of purpose, of community, of collaboration and the network they have now joined. A network devoted to creating profitable and sustainable business opportunities in a world undergoing transformational change.

That’s one reason why our Sustainable Innovation MBA program continues to bolster its growing reputation as one of the nation’s most innovative business programs by climbing to the No. 1 spot on The Princeton Review’s “Best Green MBA” list.

If you are ready to use business to change the world, find out more here.

Alumni in Review: Aditi Datta, Class of 2017

Aditi Datta ’17 is an Account Manager at Select Design, a strategic brand consultancy and design agency located in Burlington, Vermont whose clients include Doritos, Mountain Dew, Jim Beam, and Dunkin Donuts. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I always knew I wanted to go back to school eventually but I wasn’t exactly sure for what. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program actually fell into my lap (because I was moving to Vermont one way or another) but I ultimately decided to do the program because of the emphasis on looking at things differently. Though I couldn’t articulate it before the program, I’ve learned that I am naturally inclined to solve problems through an atypical lens and encourage my peers/colleagues to do the same. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program was attractive because it seemed to be more focused on perspective and less focused on quantitative jargon, like traditional MBAs.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

I feel like this is a trick question! Above all else, the friends I’ve made through The Sustainable Innovation MBA program (past and present cohorts) are invaluable. Even though we aren’t sitting in the same room all day, every day I know that every person in my cohort has my best interest in mind and genuinely supports me in everything I do. Additionally, it was incredibly unique to be a part of a program — focused on sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship — that was actually a startup itself. It was both challenging and rewarding to take an objective look at the program and provide feedback that would continue to enhance the experience for future cohorts.

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

More than anything, I find myself using the vocabulary and tools learned in our various leadership and teamwork classes. Things like “how do I do this on Excel” are easy enough to Google but not everyone is well-equipped to discuss why a certain co-worker is rubbing so many people the wrong way or what actions can be taken to remedy this. Especially in a flat organization like Select Design, I’ve found that everyone is a leader in a sense so I try to offer assistance to my co-workers who are trying to navigate this unusual structure by using tools/skills learned in the program.

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

1.  The year will be over before you know it so take time to get to know your classmates outside of the classroom. They will be your biggest advocates and best “letters of recommendation.”

2.  It’s OK to not know exactly what you want to do after the program is over but don’t wait until August to start introducing yourself to the right people.

3.  Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself; everyone is new and everyone is nervous.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Lauren Emenaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. You will form lifelong friendships and connections.

3. That everything takes place in one classroom.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

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

A Few Of My Favorite Things…About The Sustainable Innovation MBA

This post was written by Randy Baron ’18

The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has created an environment where I can become the best version of myself. I am surrounded by a passionate and supportive group of teachers and students that challenge my viewpoints and help me move out of my comfort zone.

There is a diverse group of students in the cohort from many different walks of life. Students of the current cohort have experience in non-profit, law, engineering, science, education, agriculture etc. This diversity allows us to creatively solve problems and attack challenges from different angles. Throughout the program all of our professors have been stressing the importance of living a balanced lifestyle and focusing on mindfulness. This has been key to my personal development so far throughout the program.

Members of the Class of 2018 working together on a UVM Adventure Ropes Course challenge

One of my favorite aspects of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is the collaborative nature. We get to work with four different groups of 3 to 4 students throughout the year. I find this valuable because it allows me to gain experience working with different types of people, network with my fellow classmates, and practice my leadership skills. Traditional MBA programs are more competitive and don’t encourage as much collaboration. In addition to collaboration with students there is also collaboration with thought leaders and change agents from all over the globe. This world-wide network is what makes The Sustainable Innovation MBA program the #1 Green MBA in America.

Another aspect of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program that I really enjoy is the focus on finding and developing passion. In our Leadership Seminar class with Joe Fusco we have learned that passion is one of the keys to great leadership. Life is filled with problems and, instead of fighting them and fearing them, we need to embrace them. Leaders love problems. A person needs to find problems that they enjoy solving every day. Another key aspect of leadership is being committed. A leader should be so passionate about their job that they wouldn’t quit even if they won the lottery. In order to find and develop this passion The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has created a career launch program where we get to listen to successful CEO’s, set SMART goals, refine our mission and vision, job shadow, attend career counseling sessions as well as attend conferences about sustainability.

I feel lucky and happy every single day to be a part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. I find learning about entrepreneurship, sustainability, and innovation fascinating. During one of the Sustainability Toolkit sessions we had the privilege of listening to Sherwood Smith, the Senior Executive Director for Engagement & Professional Development at UVM, talk to us about privilege/bias. This Toolkit Session inspired me to refine my personal vision. My vision is to see people of all ages and cultures come together unified and empowered by sharing the belief that they hold the power to solve the world’s greatest social and environmental problems on an individual level.

Tech Start-Up Helps Farmers Grow More, Waste Less

This article was written by Margaret Arzon ’17 and originally appeared at PYXERAGlobal.org. Margaret is currently a Business Strategy Consultant.

Accessing Information through Mobile Technology Gives Smallholder Farmers Much-Needed Support

Walking through the streets of India, it’s hard not to notice the plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables that line the sidewalks, pretty much everywhere you go. Just a short 30-minute drive out of the city center lands you in acres of cultivated fields where many of these crops originate.

Roughly 50 percent of India’s workforce is devoted to agriculture. This demographic is common in many other emerging and frontier countries where a dominant proportion of the population relies on farming for its livelihood. Smallholder farmer is a title given to people who own less than five acres of arable land. The vast majority of smallholder farmers live in a cyclical pattern of poverty as they struggle to access markets and sell their products at the best price. Lack of market access means that farmers often lose money, even in a high growth season, and a perfectly good harvest goes to waste. With such a fragmented system in rural areas, it is extremely challenging for farmers to generate a profit to support themselves and their families.

Lack of market access means that farmers often lose money, even in a high growth season, and a perfectly good harvest goes to waste. With such a fragmented system in rural areas, it is extremely challenging for farmers to generate a profit to support themselves and their families.

Smallholder farmers are not insignificant. Collectively, they represent 500 million farms around the world and employ approximately 2 billion people. They are responsible for about 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. As the global population size charges toward an estimated 9 billion by 2050, the demand on smallholder farmers to increase crop yield will only continue to rise, along with the critical need to mitigate post-harvest losses. Analysts predict that food access will need to increase by 70 percent to feed 2 billion additional people on the planet, and production in developing countries would need to almost double. Food security is a global issue, and one that requires partnerships across all sectors to solve.

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