Down in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, five students from UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program harnessed their inner Rocky Balboas as they took on some of the country’s top business schools at the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge finals on May 1–2. The team beat out 25 other teams from schools like Wharton, Columbia, Yale and Georgetown, among others, to win first place at the impact investing competition.
The inaugural competition, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Social Impact Initiative, Good Capital Project and Bank of America, is designed to challenge future wealth managers, portfolio managers and investment advisors to build financial portfolios that not only make their clients a profit, but make the world a better place.
UVM’s team—comprised of Alyssa Stankiewicz, Peter Seltzer, Emily Klein, Maura Kalil and Andrew Mallory, all students in the Princeton Review-ranked number one Green MBA program—built a lucrative $100 million investment portfolio for a fictional family office looking to support underserved communities, gender equity, sustainable food and agriculture, impact investing infrastructure, and mitigate climate change.
“When we started this competition back in the fall, if you had told us we were going to win, I think we would have been pretty surprised. The nature of our program is more sustainability focused and we thought we might be a little bit behind compared to other schools in terms of hard financial skills and hard portfolio management skills,” admits Mallory. “But once we started going and really started to utilize our sustainability learning and embed that into our impact analysis and into our portfolio—and with the help of professor Chuck Schnitzlein, our fearless leader—we definitely gained more confidence as the project went along.”
A growing financial trend, impact investing considers how strategic investments across asset classes can be used to improve societal, governance and environmental issues, all while being financially competitive. “It’s trying to do good, but also do well at the same time,” explains Kalil. “Impact investing matters because you can make a financial return on something that’s really bad for the planet or for society, which can have a negative impact on the whole world. I think impact investing is putting an impact lens on the investment industry as a whole.”
While the four other schools that advanced to the finals—Yale, Columbia, Boston University, and Fordham—were strong competitors, their approach to the competition and portfolio were drastically different from UVM’s. “Our entire coursework here is centered in sustainability and I think we entered the competition with a much different perspective than the other universities because of how embedded sustainability is into our coursework,” says Seltzer.
“The way that we looked at impact investing was moving beyond just screening out tobacco stocks or what they call ‘the sin stocks’ from your portfolio. It’s moving toward something that creates net positive impact and allows you to track, within your investments, the positive outcomes and outputs in society and environmental issues that you’re trying to impact,” explains Stankiewicz.
The UVM students stood out among the competition for going above and beyond the challenge. Not only did they create a diverse portfolio of public and private loans and assets, including investment in farmland and timber, they created their own proprietary framework to measure their impact. The SIMBA Score—aptly named after their program—quantifies, on a scale of zero to 100, how well a fund invests in companies that are tackling sustainability issues most material to their industries.
“Multiple people asked us if we had a patent on the framework while we were there,” says Seltzer, who designed the framework when the team noticed that there weren’t many evaluation tools available to help measure impact. The students plan to dive deeper into the viability of their framework over the summer.
Because the competition was incorporated into the Good Capital Project’s Total Impact Philadelphia Conference, the students had an opportunity to network with other teams and industry experts, as well as attend conference discussions and events. They noticed the way speakers, presenters, panelists and professionals in the industry spoke about impact investing and why it matters, and were pleased to see how well-aligned their approach to the portfolio was with thought leaders’ ideas. “It was really validating for the hard work we put into it,” says Kalil.
“All of the teams did a great job explaining the financial analysis that pertained to their proposals. The SI-MBA team displayed creativity and passion. It was such a pleasure to work with this delightful group of students!” says professor Charles Schnitzlein, the team’s adviser.