A Conversation with Our International Students

EDITOR’S NOTE: Four members of our current cohort are international students, coming to the program from around the globe, attracted to the program’s perspective on the role business can play in addressing global challenges. Esteban Echeverria, Noelle Nyirenda, Bhargavi Montravadi, and Alexa Steiner sat down recently to talk about coming to Vermont and settling into the challenges of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. Their bios (along with the entire Class of 2019) can be found here.

The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has been quite the adventure so far. Between hours of class work, group work, readings, guest speakers, and more, the first few months of the program have challenged and inspired us. For a few of us in the 2019 cohort, the experience leading up to the first day of the orientation was an adventure in itself.

Esteban – Costa Rica

Coming from Costa Rica to this program is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I never thought I was going to encounter such a developed and community-conscious city in Burlington. Its citizens, apart from being some of the nicest people I have known, are very aware of social and environmental issues, as well as politically active and full of insights that will make you think about the status quo. From the community-owned grocery stores, to the amazing Lake Champlain, this city has what it needs to be the best place as the home of The Sustainable Innovation MBA.

“The MBA program itself dives in many of the world challenges we currently face, and most of its solutions lie in empowering entrepreneurial projects in developing countries. I recommend this experience to any international student interested in contributing to the economic growth, as well as the environmental and social prosperity, of their countries. The networking and potential connections you will find at this program will be beneficial to your future projects and endeavors.”

Noelle – Zambia

“Moving to Vermont for the program was not without its challenges, and they included but were not limited to: finding accommodation from another continent, completing a visa application in three weeks and moving two chunky pieces of luggage between four flights. But the most difficult part about the whole move was explaining to friends and family where Vermont was, and what it was (there are still some skeptics who aren’t convinced it is an actual state).

“It was easier to explain the existence of the state to some more than others. For instance my father, being an avid political news reader, was aware that the senator was Bernie Sanders, who was also a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president and that the state has some of the more progressive policies when it came to the environment. He was quite proud that his daughter was going back to engineering school to find a way to solve global warming. Unfortunately, I had to explain that I was actually going to business school for an MBA. He is now rather heartbroken that I am not getting a Ph.D. Here I should note that African parents are always up-selling their children when it comes to education.

“Then there was a friend from high school who said she had heard of Vermont, which was a great relief, until she explained what she meant. “It was mentioned in an episode of Scandal,” said she, “Vermont is in Canada! It’s where scandalous American politicians retire to.”  I was confident enough about Vermont’s membership in the United States of America to correct the former statement, however, I could offer no opinion on the accuracy of the latter.”

Bhargavi – India

“Fortunately, I didn’t have the problem of explaining where Vermont is to my family and friends like Noelle, because I was already living in Vermont. But, when I was moving from Boston, I received  lot of questions on where Vermont was so, I took the easy route and told them that it’s near Boston. So now they must be thinking that Vermont is somewhere in Massachusetts close to Boston.

“I always dreamed of doing an MBA. But whenever I tried to pursue my dream, an enticing job offer drifted me away. After my engineering, a job offer in Infosys and in Boston, it was the job offer at Deloitte. Not sure if I chose the program or the program chose me; I am elated to be in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program and enjoying every moment of it. ‘The amalgamation of my career initiative MBA with my passion of integrating sustainability into the businesses/daily life was a dream come true’- This is a statement from my Statement Of Purpose, a part of the application process. As any middle-class Indian family, mine was delighted and excited that I will be doing MBA in the USA.  Still, I was pretty apprehensive about sitting in an American classroom, but after Module 1, It felt like I knew Kalkin 110* from my previous life.

“My initial thoughts were that the American education system is so different to Indian education system. Yes! They are different, but what brings us together is the quest for knowledge, care for people, and responsibility towards planet. There are odds of living in a different continent – 8,000 miles away from homeland across 2 oceans and keeping fingers crossed, checking Twitter for new immigration policies. But, the global potential for this program, especially its importance in developing countries, makes it appealing to any world citizen.”

Alexa – Canada

“Here are my Top 5 things to know as a Canadian studying in Burlington:

“One. The school helps so much with the process of getting a student visa.

“Two. It’s hard to find a place to live in Burlington — start your search early!

“Three. Be prepared for your American classmates to make fun of your accent and your hockey team.

“Four. Try to tame your politeness — sometimes it’s okay to just talk without raising your hand.

“Five. Everyone in Vermont is friendly and warm — even if you’re far away, it still feels a lot like home.”

Esteban, Noelle, Bhargavi, and Alexa: If you are a prospective international student reading this blog post, please reach out to us. We would love to discuss our experiences so far, what it took to get here and why choosing UVM and The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is a great decision.

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Torsten Dworshak

Torsten — or, Tor — comes to The Sustainable Innovation MBA with a background in digital marketing and strategic management. While at the University of Rhode Island, Tor was a member of the varsity track and field team. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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

If ever there has been an MBA program designed with disruption and creative destruction in mind, it’s this one. This MBA isn’t a fast track to Wall Street, it’s a fast track to learning how to be a serial industry disruptor.

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

Not a single day goes by when I don’t learn something new.

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

1. This is a fast moving program. Don’t forget to breathe.

2. Always be ready for opportunity.

3. After you remember to breathe, breathe again.

While you are taking time to breathe, make time to reflect. Material comes at you so fast that if you don’t actively make time for reflection, it’ll be difficult to create long lasting takeaways.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

We meet a ton of professionals who are incredibly passionate about what they do. The opportunity to learn from their successes and failures is a gift.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

All of the speakers from Ben and Jerry’s bring ice cream with them!

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”

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Co-Hosts Global CEO Forum

On a beautiful autumn day in mid-October — the kind of day Vermont is famous for — the International Academy of Management came to the campus of UVM to host the Global Forum on Sustainable Innovation and Business Transformation.

The event, co-hosted by the Grossman School of Business and The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, featured a keynote speech and conversation with Muhtar Kent, chairman of the Coca-Cola Company. Our MBA students also had the opportunity to listen to and network with some of the U.S.’s and Vermont’s most innovative business leaders.

Kent, who has made innovation and the transformation of Coca-Cola a vital focus of his time at the helm of one of the world’s most recognizable companies, told the Forum’s 150 attendees that, at Coca Cola, innovation flows from the power of partnerships — that the best ideas are often found on the outside.

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Kent also made the case that a “golden triangle” of forces — business, government, and social-mission organizations —  must come together to solve the world’s most pressing problems. Therefore, he said, business leaders must be master relationship builders.

The Forum also featured reflections by three forward-thinking business leaders. Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power; Brian Griffith, chairman of Griffith Foods; and Joey Bergstein, CEO of Seventh Generation, shared their own personal and organizational stories of transformation and innovation.

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Esteban Echeverria

Esteban, born and raised in San José, Costa Rica, returned to his native country after living for six years in the United States and obtaining BSc. and MSc. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland.  He comes to the program from Ad Astra in Costa Rica, where he was a project engineer for its renewable energy and environmental sciences division. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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

As a mechanical engineer working in the renewable energy and hydrogen fuel sector for six years, I started to notice that the development of these disruptive technologies will not reach full commercialization out of pure environmental enthusiasm. I understood that the creation of new business models based on sustainable practices that serve the vested interests of not just some, but all of the stakeholders, should be the objective to be pursued. It was then that I realized it was time to go back to school. I chose to attend an MBA program because I saw business as a tool to complement my engineering background. However, I specifically chose this program because it has an primary objective that I did not find in any other MBA program ― to make the world a better place.

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

Every classmate of the cohort has a similar story and reason to be in the program. We are all deeply passionate about sustainability issues and finding ways to solve them. This makes us create strong bonds as well as a respectful and caring environment to share our ideas and learn from each other.

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

1. If you are not into sustainability and contributing to solve the global environmental and social issues, this might not be the program for you.

2. The program is only one year, which makes it really intensive. It is really hard for anyone to attend while having an unrelated side project or job.

3. The city of Burlington is a beautiful developed rural area, unlike anything I have seen before. It has a very strong sense of community, and their citizens are very much interested in being active participants and helping each other.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

Before starting this program, I had only worked with engineers and I was used to their particular way of thinking, solving problems, debating. It has been quite useful to be exposed to such a diverse group of people, with such different backgrounds, ranging from international development to finance, art, and even fashion. This has taught me that there are many ways of solving the same problem, and its always better to bring different fresh ideas to the table.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

I am an international student, from Costa Rica, and I strongly recommend this experience to anybody who lives outside of the United States. Since I came, everybody has been very friendly and helpful to me. You will feel just like home.

The Cap Raise: Introduction

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.

U.S. Companies in multiple industries seek private capital to kindle a startup or fuel growth. Most entrepreneurs are aware of venture capital and angel investors as target sources of funds – pop culture shows such as Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den, as well as press-earning “unicorn” valuations – have earned ‘Venture Capital’ a spot in layman’s language. Far less understood is the work of investment bankers – particularly those raising capital in the private market.

We intend to discuss the differences between raising funding from venture capital firms and raising funding via broker-dealers. We’ll start with some general definitions.

A Venture Capital firm is most often a Limited Partnership (LP), managed by a team of General Partners (GPs). General Partners first obtain committed capital from accredited investors or qualified purchasers–Limited Partners–and use these commitments to form a fund. Each fund usually has a defined lifespan and specific industry or geographical focus. Typically, General Partners have full investment decision-making discretion over their Limited Partner funds, the funds have a defined life (typically 10 years) and investments in portfolio companies are made during the “investment period”, which is usually the first two or three years of the fund’s life. VC fund returns are reliant upon the sale of the fund’s stake in portfolio companies to private equity firms, strategic acquirers, or occasionally via an Initial Public Offering (IPO).

The number of U.S. Venture Capital deals per annum (post the economic recession of 2008) increased from 4,458 in 2009 to a peak of 10,444 deals in 2014 before slipping to 8,637 deals in 2017.  But despite the decrease in the number of VC deals per year from 2014 through 2017, there has been a marked increase in the dollar size of individual deals. This growth, in terms of investment and capital deployment, came alongside a rise of disruptors: technology-enabled companies whose business models cut long-standing, high-profit industries off at the knees. Continue reading “The Cap Raise: Introduction”

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Alyssa Schuetz

A recent graduate of Drexel University, Alyssa brings a passion for apparel, textiles, and product development to the The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?
As the #1 Green MBA program in the country, I knew the program could give me the skills, tools, and knowledge that I would need to in order to further my career in sustainability and the fashion industry.
What has been your favorite part/element of the program so far?
My favorite element of the program is the diversity of my cohort — it makes for lively class discussions that have taught me so much more than a textbook ever could.
What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?
1) There is a huge focus on leadership and teamwork to make you the best leader and team player that you could be, 2) The group work bonds you to your cohort, and 3) Your cohort will become your extended family.
How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?
I have learned that there are so many ways to implement sustainability in a business model that is both ethical and cost-effective.
Anything else you’d like people to know?
The program’s location in Burlington, Vermont is inspirational as the culture here lives and breathes sustainability and the great outdoors.

Sustainable Innovation Poetic Attempt No. 1

This post was written by Cy Kupersmith ’19

Sustainable Innovation Cohort of 2019

What is a cohort?

Sustainable Innovation?

Green MBA?

You must be a bunch of hippies in there.

Base of the pyramid you say?

A fortune in there?

Do go on…

Renewable.

Regenerative!

Beef and whiskey with Hunter Lovins.

It’s a chariot race to hell, but at least we’re in the race.

Financially viable and environmentally sustainable.

Porter’s 5 forces.

Benefit Corporations, B-Labs and B-Corp Certified.

Shareholders, stockholders, and stakeholders.

Seventh Generation visitors in only marketing class for some reason.

Fusco’s test and VOMPing.  Form, Storm, Norm, Perform, and saying goodbye.

What’re the next teams going to be?

Finance with Chuck and WSJ articles

Willingness-to-pay with Slick Rick

Double Wednesdays with Dupee

Did you do the reading for strategy?  Some of it.  What was the case-study about?  Not sure.

A surprising amount of marriages.  Mozoltov to Steve and Maggie.

Launch with Paula.  We will all bleed UVM after this.

David Jones milking cows or running or something, we aren’t positive.

Every leader has a love affair with the truth

Shout out to team 10:  Alexa, Travis, and Matt.

I am really happy with my decision to come here.

Go cats.

Students Advocate for Global Aid Policy for CARE International

A group of students* from The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2018 travelled to Washington, D.C. in May to advocate on Capitol Hill on behalf of CARE International. The CARE National Conference, now in its 16th year convening, brings together citizen advocates, corporate responsibility professionals, philanthropists, humanitarians, and international development experts for advocacy training and congressional meetings on Capitol Hill.

Over the course of three days, the students participated in numerous educational sessions, learning about CARE’s impact and outlining the policy and political goals for the year. This year’s theme, “Your Voice, A World of Change” lifts up and celebrates the advocates whose voices help CARE continue to be the leader in creating positive change for women and girls on the global stage. The conference kicked off with prominent figures and speakers in the foreign aid space including Sally Yates, former Acting Attorney General; Helene D. Gayle; Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and multiple CARE and CARE Action! Voices.

Designed for new CARE advocates, the conference hosts a comprehensive introduction to successful advocacy: Advocacy 101, Congress 101, and CARE: Our Story. New advocates leave sessions with enhanced legislative understanding and overviews of this year’s top priorities for CARE.

Prepared with discussion points for the advocacy day on Capitol Hill, The Sustainable Innovation MBA students set out to meet with the offices of Vermont’s Congressional delegation: Representative Peter Welch, Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Patrick Leahy. In the meetings with the Congressional offices, the students advocated for co-sponsorship of the International Violence Against Women’s Act, a bipartisan bill to ensure that gender-based violence is a top U.S. foreign policy priority. This issue is an important priority because an estimated one in three women will face physical, mental or sexual abuse in their lifetimes. Violence against women has an immeasurable impact on women and girls, their families and their communities. IVAWA elevates the importance of these issues and places them at the center of U.S. foreign diplomacy.

The second request made to the Vermont delegation was to support the International Affairs Budget FY 2019 and request a funding increase that returns to the Obama-era funding levels. Proposed budget cuts by the Trump administration would slash funding for critical foreign assistance programs and jeopardize millions of lives around the globe.

Vermonters are lucky to live in a state where all members of the delegation are receptive and engaged in policy to sustain funding for international aid and development. Over the course of the CARE National Conference the students gained great insight into the top priorities for foreign aid policy and how to engage with political leadership to influence change.

*Andria Denome, Camille Fordy, Madeline Brumberg, Julia Lyon, and Kaitlin Sampson