Chiara Dorigo (MBA ’18) shares her experience at a unique conference designed to connect business students with triple-bottom-line businesses in the food industry.
The archetypal MBA graduate has historically taken his or her newly minted degree and (re)entered the workforce as a consultant, an investment banker or a venture capitalist, making the degree a professional maximizer of shareholder value. However, as Sarah Emerson from Conscious Capitalism communicated during her Spring 2018 seminar at the Rady School of Management, business is necessarily starting to prioritize stakeholders like employees, communities and the environment.
Enter MBArk (pronounced “embark”): a program centered around Expo West—the world’s largest natural products convention—and designed to immerse MBA students from around the country in the world of healthy, sustainable consumer packaged goods (CPG) for a weekend. Josh Sherman (MBA ’19) and I had the honor of being selected to participate in this annual program, along with 50 other MBA students from Yale, Sloan, Haas, Marshall, Kellogg, Stanford and more.
The scale of Expo West was staggering. Expo veterans we encountered throughout the weekend marveled at the relative quaintness of the conventions in decades past, during which it could hope to attract a couple thousand attendees per year, at best. This year, more than 3,500 exhibitors and 85,000 attendees descended upon the Anaheim Convention Center to secure distribution contracts, raise capital, build strategic alliances and sample thousands of products, as if they were walking through the world’s biggest Costco. Within the span of 100 meters, we tasted heirloom olive oil, cricket chips, vinegar cocktails and pulled pork-style jackfruit sandwiches. The future of food, in one giant building.
MBArk also built a program of unique learning and networking opportunities for its participants around this event. We heard origin stories straight from the entrepreneurs behind Califia Farms, Annie’s, Clif Bar and Honest Tea. We sat in on a dialogue between impact investors from a boutique firm and a large corporate venture arm regarding different approaches to funding innovation. There was “speed dating” where we had an opportunity to sit down with CEOs from the CPG industry over French toast. And finally, we dined with MBArk alums, several of whom have started their own ventures since graduating.
In addition to meeting these current and aspiring industry revolutionaries throughout the weekend, we had the chance to connect with fellow Rady School folks in the crowd. Rafael Cortes (MBA ‘18) built and ran the booth for his employer, Kona Red. Matt Mackenzie (MBA ’18) walked the floor with his employer, AFT Holdings. I even ran into Adam Evans (MBA’14), COO of Rady Made startup Ginger Shots, while he managed the company’s booth on founder Zeyad Moussa’s (MBA ’11) behalf.
After three days, I left MBArk and Expo West full, fully networked and optimistic about the role that MBAs—especially Rady MBAs—could play in reimagining the global food system. This is a call to action to use your business skills to do it, so contact me if there is any way I can support you in the effort, and/or to reach out with any questions on this awesome program!