A new breed of business student – one more concerned with solving the world’s sustainability issues than just turning a profit – is showing up at MBA programs across the country. These so-called “impact students” have college career counselors reeling when it comes to finding them jobs that don’t fit within the traditional corporate mold.
That’s not the case for the University of Vermont’s one-year Sustainable Entrepreneurship program (SEMBA) in the Grossman School of Business, which is composed of nothing but impact students. Matching graduates with opportunities focused on sustainable innovation and entrepreneurship has been SEMBA's sole focus since its inception in 2014.
“Traditional MBA programs dedicate maybe one of 10 counselors to deal with these pesky impact students,” says SEMBA Co-Director Stuart Hart, who previously served on the faculties at the University of Michigan, University of North Carolina and Cornell. “This is all we do. We’ve developed a customized system and built the largest, most robust network in this space globally because we’re totally committed to it.”
Hart, a world-renowned expert on how poverty and the environment affect business strategy, and SEMBA Co-Director David Jones plan to launch a new career management system designed to propel students into careers within SEMBA’s condensed 12-month format in renewable energy, clean tech, affordable health care, inclusive business, entrepreneurship within larger companies, start-ups, and other innovative ventures.
Bolstered by a $145,000 gift from Vermont Works, an independent investment firm supporting Vermont’s job and economic development, the new four-phase system called “Launch” will be implemented in time for the SEMBA class of 2017-2018.
Four-phase system designed for SEMBA's condensed 12-month format
The initial Discovery phase has students draft a professional vision and identify one of five career pathways: mission-based companies; larger corporations in a sustainability or corporate innovation role; joining or launching a start-up or other venture; impact investing (venture capital or private equity); consulting; or working in a “4th sector” at a non-profit focused on leveraging the private sector in sustainable innovation.
“It’s a systematic approach to help students identify career paths through assessment tools and career counseling starting on day one,” says Jones, a leading scholar on the positive effects of community involvement by employees and sustainable business practices. “Students receive career coaching and attend more than 60 panels and networking events where they are exposed to business leaders and entrepreneurs within this space.”
In the Focus phase, students receive career coaching; mentoring from professionals within the identified pathway; skill development; and begin to hone potential employment opportunities. This includes access to the SEMBA Changemaker Network – an ecosystem of more than 125 companies and individuals focused on sustainable business – and support from SEMBA’s Advisory Board of business leaders and alumni.
The Customize phase has students work with employment experts on tailored job pitches, resumes, personal branding, and a further narrowing of potential employers. Students begin interviewing in the Launch phase often with mission-based or B-Corp certified entities. Some interview with companies they partnered with like Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation and Facebook to complete their SEMBA practicums – a capstone experiential project to address issues such as poverty, climate change, and the environment.
“We’ve created a system whereby individuals can customize their way into a network that increases the possibility that they find something that helps them realize their personal and professional dreams,” says Hart.
SEMBA's increase in rankings, class size warranted new program
The need for Launch has increased along with SEMBA’s reputation as one of the nation’s top sustainable entrepreneurship business programs, resulting in an increase in applications. SEMBA was ranked No. 2 on The Princeton Review’s “Best Green MBA” list; made CEO Magazine’s list of top MBA programs in North America; and was ranked the 10th best “Better World” MBA program globally by Corporate Knights. Approximately 35 students are expected to enroll in the SEMBA class of 2017-18, an increase of more than 30 percent over last year’s cohort.
Although Launch won’t be in place until the fall of 2017, some students have benefitted from elements of the program that were already in place. Vinca Krajewski, a 2016 SEMBA graduate and member of SEMBA’s Advisory Board, landed a job at Seventh Generation as an Associate Brand Manager on the Personal Care Team after conducting her practicum with the Burlington-based company.
Caitlin Goss ‘17 enrolled in SEMBA after working at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Bain & Company in hopes of landing a job at a company where she could positively impact the lives of its employees. She was recently hired at Rhino Foods, where she will get that opportunity as Director of Human Resources with a focus on talent and culture.
“One of SEMBA’s greatest strengths are the countless opportunities students have to engage directly with businesses and leaders in this network,” says Goss, who learned about her job opening while on a SEMBA tour of Rhino, owned by UVM alumnus Ted Castle ’74. “The Launch program will give students who are engaged in an intense 12-month program more structure and opportunities to seek out jobs. It will institutionalize the job search process so students have those touch points like I did with Rhino and can follow-up.”