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?

Four Clever Ways Packaging Changes Can Help Companies Can Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

This post was written by Kathrin Kaiser ’18

Sixty-three pounds of plastic, per person, ends up in landfills in the United States. An increased consumer demand for sustainability and the amount of waste coming from disposing packaging makes companies re-think their packaging. They start to incorporate new, sustainable materials and construction methods into their packaging to reduce their impact on the planet. Here’s four clever ideas for companies to reduce their carbon footprint by changing their packaging:

  • Reducing the ink in company logos

Big brands like McDonald’s or Starbucks might be able to save millions of dollars every year and help preserve the planet just by slightly changing their logos. “Ecobranding” is a project by Sylvain Boyer, a French graphic designer, where he demonstrates the impact of this slight change. A simplified version of the logos could save companies 10-39% in ink and result in additional secondary benefits, such as reduced printing costs and a cut in energy consumption.

  • Arekapak

That certain uses of plastic are “evil” is no longer news, not only to environmentalists but also to large corporations. But just banning plastic bags at the register might not be good enough – vegetables and fruits are often shrink-wrapped in plastic, causing tons of landfill. Especially the food industry could benefit from the idea of two female innovators: Arekapak. It is a food packaging alternative, made out of palm leafs and produced with very few water and completely without chemicals. The product is also compostable, heat- and cold-resistant and has a water-resistant surface. And like that wasn’t enough good news, Arekapak packaging serves as a dinner plate, too.

  • Edible Packaging

What if you could eat the packaging off your food instead of sending it to a thousand years of landfill doom? An Indonesia-based start-up called Evoware has developed just that. Evoware is a biodegradable, dissolvable, edible packaging wrap made out of seaweed (which is also packed with vitamins!). The company plans to create several variations of the product for instant coffee, sugar and seasonings – the packaging can then just be dumped into the hot water and dissolves. Another upside is that this product could help seaweed farmers raising their revenue and do something good for the environment: seaweed absorbs a great deal of the carbon dioxide in the sea!

  • Just eliminate packaging completely

“Original Unverpackt” (“original unpacked”) is a Berlin-based supermarket that works without food packaging. Customers just bring their own containers and have those weighed – they only take what they need and the weight of the containers is being subtracted at the register. The entrepreneurial founder- duo wants to reply to the rising demand for more sustainable products and services and alternatives to the “lavish” handling of resources. Similar concepts exist in Austin, Texas (In.Gredients) and London (Unpackaged). Furthermore, Original Unverpackt hopes to make organic food more affordable for people with lower incomes because of the removal of packaging.

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.

 

 

Perfect Pitch: A Workshop with Cairn Cross

This post was written by Kevin Hoskins ’18

The members of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM were recently treated to a workshop on pitching by Cairn Cross. Cross is the co-founder and managing director of FreshTracks Capital, a venture capital firm based in Vermont that invests in early stage entrepreneurial companies. (He is part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program’s Changemaker Network, as well as teaching the program’s class on venture capital.)

What is pitching? It is the art and skill of describing one’s project, entrepreneurial venture, or oneself in the minimal amount of words that communicates your message to the listener.  For startups and entrepreneurs, it is a skill that can be developed and honed over time with practice and feedback.

Cross began the workshop by outlining a number of different pitching styles. The first, is the one sentence pitch, as illustrated further by Adeo Rossi. It answers the question: “If you had to describe your company or mission in one sentence, what would it sound like?” For entrepreneurs, that response could look like this:

My (company) is developing (a well-defined offering) to help (the audience you’re targeting) (solve this problem) with (your secret sauce.)

The second style is the mantra. A mantra is a sacred verbal formula repeated in prayer, meditation or incantation such as an invocation of a god, a magic spell or a syllable or portion of scripture containing mystical potentialities.  Entrepreneurs and start-ups can use mantras to explain their mission in only a few crucial words. Guy Kawasaki, in his video Don’t Write a Mission Statement, Write a Mantra, gives a few helpful examples:

  • Starbucks: rewarding everyday moments
  • eBay: democratize commerce
  • Disney: fun family entertainment

The class was then asked to come up with mantras for The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. It’s important to remember that mantras should be short and sweet, but also outwardly focused. Your mantra should focus on the benefits that you provide to the customer.

Thirdly, Cross discussed the Art of the Pitch for entrepreneurs. The idea behind this is that entrepreneurs should always be prepared with a pitch handy for potential investors, co-founders, or partners. The pitch outline Cross illustrated and the questions you should answer in your pitch is as follows:

  • Title (name, organization, contact information)
  • The “Ask” (I am here today to ask you…)
  • The Problem (what is customer pain you will alleviate?)
  • Your Solution (why are we better?)
  • Your Management Team (why are you the one(s)?)
  • Your Business Model (how will you make money?)
  • Any Underlying “Magic” (what is your secret sauce?)
  • How Will You Reach the Customer? (sales/marketing)
  • Repeat the “Ask”

Cross noted that pitches should be as concise and succinct as possible. Remember that you can only speak at most 150 words a minute comfortably. It’s also helpful, Cross noted, to think of someone on your shoulder whispering “so what?” to better focus on the value your offer needs to create for others.

Lastly, Cross touched upon the idea of the personal pitch. Have a way to describe who you are what you do clearly and succinctly in a way that resonates with people. As a way to frame your personal pitch, think of these questions:

  • What’s your motivation?
  • What do you do well?
  • Why you?

Answering those questions is key to communicating your personal secret sauce.

Do you have a business idea that you’ve been working on? Can you say it in 140 characters or less? Tweet your business idea to @vtcairncross. Just remember to keep it concise!

Editor’s Note: What should we call a business pitch delivered by tweet? A “twitch”? Or a “peetch”?

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.

The Cape Wind Project: The Importance of Strategic Messaging

A student team in The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2018 conducted this speculative case analysis in their “Sustainable Brand Marketing” course for the ill-fated Cape Wind offshore wind farm in Cape Cod, Mass. The team consisted of Julia Barnes, Taylor Mikell, Julia Lyon, and Randy Baron. This article was primarily written and adapted for the Review by Ms. Barnes.

The case study is a lesson in what can happen when one loses control of the narrative surrounding a controversial project and fails to invest strategically in stewarding innovation through the gauntlet of implementation. This is what can happen when strategic messaging is undervalued – the first offshore wind farm in America stalled in 2015 and is considered dead.

Jim Gordon, a Boston entrepreneur who made his fortune in energy, conceived of the Cape Wind offshore wind farm as the next step in his mission to provide efficient and environmentally sound energy. After all, wind power had already proved successful in Europe and the technology was becoming more sophisticated every year. The cost of successful wind power generation in countries like Denmark and Germany was even as low as $.04 per KW hour. Gordon had also identified an attractive location – Horseshoe Shoal, off the coast of Hyannis Port, Mass. where a 130-turbine farm could theoretically make an extremely significant dent in the use of fossil fuel for residents of Cape Cod. With depth and wave conditions that made construction of these huge turbines feasible, Gordon was looking at an investment of over a billion dollars to see his dream of offshore wind energy come to life.

However, he faced a number of issues in executing the Cape Wind vision. First, Gordon immediately ran into extreme and well-funded opposition from rich property owners along the coast who did not want to see their ocean view marred by wind turbines. People from the Koch Brothers to Bunny Mellon to Walter Cronkite joined forces behind the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound (APNS): a NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) group flush with cash and influence who set out to discredit Gordon and undercut the validity of the Cape Wind project. Second, Cape Wind faced prominent political opposition. The influence and connections of the APNS board members wreaked havoc for Cape Wind’s political standing and extensive lobbying efforts damaged the progress of what would have otherwise been a highly embraced endeavor. Finally, Cape Wind was an expensive undertaking – one whose fluctuations in cost had significant impact on its timeline.

Problem Analysis: Well-funded NIMBYism – The coast of Massachusetts along Nantucket Sound is home to many extremely wealthy and influential residents. Exhibit 8 shows the span of wealth that runs from Oyster Harbor to the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis. These multi million-dollar views would be impacted by the construction of Cape Wind. The obstruction was enough to have them form APNS and arm it with millions of dollars in funds, high-powered lobbying efforts, and a massive public relations campaign to discredit and destroy Cape Wind. As APNS alleged, Cape Wind would negatively impact commercial and recreational boating, impair fishing, harm tourism, kill bird populations and upset the Cape’s tax base with property value decline. While citing factually based evidence to the contrary, Gordon also answered these claims with impact studies and the support of Clean Power Now, a pro-wind, grassroots community group with pennies compared to APNS. APNS was skilled in enlisting Chambers of Commerce, town government, fishermen, lobstermen and boaters to their cause – a middle-class demographic that had little in common with the rich individuals behind the AstroTurf movement.

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