Ready, Set, Field Work! Student Entrepreneurs Getting their Hands Dirty

Lindsay Saperstone on her GSSE field work in Bolivia, literally getting her hands dirty.

Lindsay Saperstone on her GSSE field work in Bolivia, literally getting her hands dirty.

In a few weeks, 20 students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University will initiate on average 40 days of field work. This experience is a key differentiator of this MBA program, but also crucial for the students as they work quickly to develop their ventures. Every year, thanks to generous donors, we have an internal grant round to help support the costs of conducting the field work, which often requires quite a bit of international travel. Many teams also run their own crowdfunding campaigns to enable their teams to stay longer and accomplish more while in the field. Here are three teams and their crowdfunding pages – perhaps their unique stories and videos will inspire you to help them reach their goals:

  • (B)energy: Bring on the biogas revolution, starting in Ethiopia.
  • Chaka Fibers: Fair income for Peruvian alpaca ranchers through improved access to markets.
  • Jolt Radio: Incentivizing parents to become educators, starting in Guatemala.

There is also an alumni venture running a campaign that will help them return to India:

  • Ascent: Producing high quality iron pills in calendar pill packaging for India’s poorest pregnant women.

Watch for team updates published here over the next 3 months!


Posted in Global Orientation, Highly Applied Curriculum, Impact Investing and Startup Financing, Stories from the Field, Sustainable Enterprise | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just a Girl in the World

College of Business, Colorado State University:

Wonderful post by Chrissa Percival, a student in our Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program, who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana.

Just a girl in the world

Originally posted on CSU Global Connections:

By: Chrissa Percival

I had been working in the rural village of Adaklu, Ghana, West Africa for a few months before I met Verone.  She is a woman in her mid-20s with a bright smile and a kind heart.  As a mother of two daughters and one son, guardian to her niece, and receiving little help from a husband struggling with alcohol abuse, Verone works tirelessly to maintain their one room dwelling, provide enough food to eat and be able to send the children to school.

At a young age, her family pulled her from school to work on their subsistence farm and help her mother at market.  Without an education, Verone is unable to get a job with decent pay or properly manage a small business of her own.  The consequence is that her family often goes without and her daughters and niece are frequently out of school for…

View original 750 more words

Posted in Global Orientation, Sustainable Enterprise | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

What’s your purpose?

Bob Taber at an MBA event.

Bob Taber at an MBA event.

From the editor: Meet Bob Taber, Executive Director of Branding and Communications for the College of Business at CSU. He’s a veteran of national advertising agencies in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver. In today’s blog post, he shares a little about brands and the new campaign for the College of Business. 

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” That’s the essence of Simon Sinek’s New York Times bestseller, Start with Why (watch his TED Talk). Today, brands (and people too, for that matter) seek purpose – values, ideals, causes, or beliefs that are inspiring, bigger than all of us. Purpose attracts like-minded people. As Sinek says, for a job, people will work for money. For purpose, people will give their blood and sweat to work for a cause they believe in.

Purpose is as – maybe more – important for MBA programs. Any accredited graduate school can award an MBA degree. That’s what they do. But ask yourself, why are they doing it? What’s their purpose?

Some MBA programs are known for fueling the funnel to Wall Street; churning out the next wave of wolves. Some are known as breeding grounds for the next tech startup that will produce millionaires and billionaires who are in their 20s and 30s.

But some MBA programs believe in a bigger purpose. They believe that business is the most powerful institution capable of tackling the world’s most pressing human challenges: hunger, poverty, clean water, disease and discrimination. Inspired by the Bill Gateses and the Warren Buffets who are dedicating almost all their wealth to tackling global issues, these MBA programs believe that each of us is capable of making a difference, even in some small way that may make ourselves, our company, our community a better place for everyone.

Oh, I can hear the cynics now. “That’s so idealistic,” they’re saying. And I have to agree. Yes, it is idealistic. But that’s the point. Ideals make us believe we can reach higher, achieve more, and have a lasting effect that goes beyond the paycheck. Chasing ideals fuels our passion and leads to self-fulfillment more than any promotion or gold watch at the end of a long career – as if a gold watch were still a symbol of a lifetime of dedication to a company. But a lifetime of dedication to a cause, a belief, an ideal, that’s truly rewarding. That’s purpose.

“There are a number of ways to find meaning in the work we do and to use the skills we develop,” says Dave Randall (OPMBA ’09.) Though, by day, Randall is a senior managing director for an Oregon-based investment advisory firm, he uses his MBA skills to run a nonprofit foundation dedicated to finding a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The foundation is in honor of Cole Parker Randall, who lived for 76 days.

Dave Randall standing in front of the new brand campaign in Denver International Airport

“For me, there has been nothing more meaningful than starting a foundation in the name of our son, Cole,” Randall says.

So as you’re investigating MBA programs, be sure to ask what their purpose is. Can they point to programs, coursework, new businesses, and alumni that are fulfilling their purpose? Does it align with your purpose?

This blog was originally posted on the CSU MBA blog, and can be accessed here.

Posted in Business Ethics, Entrepreneurship | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Ground Perception and Insights from a Summer in Brazil

Mariana and Marite surveying the market in a favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Mariana and Marite surveying the market in a favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil

This blog post was written by Mariana Negrão and Marité Pérez  in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University, who conducted field work for their summer practicum in Brazil. Read part 1 here.

Before journeying to Brazil we understood that the infrastructure of the universal healthcare system was lacking.  It was not meeting the demands of those who most need care, classes C, D and E.  We grasped the depth of disparity in income levels that is so commonly found in developing nations, permitting only those in income levels A and B to purchase or have access to private insurance via employment. This exaggerates the distinction between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Based on information provided by the WHO, the World Bank, and IBGE, we were able to identify the growing number of chronic ailments in contrast to the declining number of infectious diseases.  This information was based off of secondary research, which was helpful, but is just the tip of a very deep and skewed iceberg.

While on the ground in Brazil, we were able to understand the positive side of the universal healthcare system in place, but we also started to understand the side effects. It is true that since its implementation in 1988 more people in the country have access to free basic health services, and as a result, mortality rates have declined, life expectancy is on the rise, and infectious diseases are in control. However, much in society has changed since the late 80s: the population is growing fast and migrating towards the city, resulting in a rise of motor vehicle accidents and changes in eating habits, amongst other things. Now, you may be thinking, “how is this any different from what we have experienced in the United States?” The difference is that the system in place has not changed to adapt and accommodate the needs of modern society. “Infectious diseases require treatment, modern diseases require care” said Dr. Paulo Carrara, who is a public health physician and former health secretary of São Paulo. This presents a challenge to the universal healthcare system in place because it is equipped for treatment and not care; However this also presents a great opportunity for social innovations to be implemented.

Delving into deeper waters, we have found that the hierarchical structure of the health care system requires that each municipality be responsible for the primary care of its citizens. There are 5,570 municipalities! To add to that, the system is managed under political constraints that also affect the implementation of new policies. This paints a bleak picture for innovators in the field. Taking an idea to scale is almost impossible amongst a continuously fragmented and incomprehensible structure.

Mariana Negrao having conversations with local residents of a favela.

Mariana Negrao having conversations with local residents of a favela.

After collaborating with Facilita Saúde, a local start-up that works as an intermediary between doctors and patients negotiating cheaper prices, we were able to better gauge the environment for innovators in the field. Their business model relies on the same main hypothesis we had for our business: “There are non-insured patients who would be willing to pay a doctor in the private system to be seen sooner”. We found out that having access to free care damages the market perception, and in general the population does not have a real sense of price. In other words, because there is free care, people are not willing to pay a premium for better and faster services as they don’t recognize its worth.  Also, the complexity of the current system makes it difficult for potential consumers to understand new product offerings, therefore, marketing new ways of providing care is continuously misunderstood, requiring a very personal approach in the explanation of a product/service offering.

This brings us to reflect on the reality of our original business plan and its potential in solving the lack of care accessed by classes C, D and E. Our research so far has shown that lowering the prices of private healthcare to the point where people are willing to pay, does not represent a sustainable business model. However, focusing on the peripheries of health care services that are currently not being met by the public health system can illuminate other opportunities for entrepreneurs looking to improve the quality of life of lower income urban Brazilians.

Posted in Global Orientation, Stories from the Field, Sustainable Enterprise | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Pulling Together to Beat the Middlemen

10/13/14 – This post is written by Armand Tossou, a Fulbright scholar from Benin who is an MBA Candidate in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University. Armand and his co-founders Aaron and Leana are starting a social venture that will support rural farmers in Nicaragua through increased access to financing and agricultural technologies. See their original post here.

Growing Capital team meeting with a Nicaraguan smallholder farmer

The Growing Capital team meeting with a Nicaraguan smallholder farmer

“United we stand, divided we fall” is an old saying which holds true in most smallholder farmers’ daily experience. From lack of technical skills or affordable financing, to increasingly unpredictable climatic cycles, farmers face many challenges. And yet, what of those who navigate this labyrinth only to find that they cannot market their produce profitably at the end of the harvest season? This is typically where middlemen step in and provide a crucial service by purchasing the produce, but often at extortionate rates. In recent field work with my Growing Capital venture we were exploring an affordable financial solution for low income farmers by providing income producing agricultural assets – such as irrigation systems – on a lease to purchase basis, and I had a chance to learn from the smallholder farmers of Nicaragua and observe their adaptations to this market challenge.

The stereotypical smallholder farmer

In the small community of San Ramón – a municipality in the Matagalpa department – Don Isael lives alone on his farm in a tiny mud house. He ekes out a living on a two manzana (roughly 1.2 acres) plot of land by growing various crops throughout the year. He can only sell three quarters of the harvest through middlemen or at San Ramon’s market square. Lacking credit from the formal financial system, Don Isael resorts to usurers for loans each season in order to pay for necessities such as seeds and fertilizers. These loans of 2,000 – 3,000 cordobas (approximately $80 – $120 USD) bear interest rates as high as 15% a month.  Don Isael’s challenges are representative of a large percentage of farmers in this region of Nicaragua. Even simple tools to ease the burden, such as a bicycle, are out of reach. In Don Iseal’s own words, “I cannot afford the repair cost when it breaks down.”

A bright spot just a mile away

A couple of steps away, Don Cidar owns a six manzana (roughly 3.5 acres) farm. The contrast is shocking; not only does he own cattle, but in the luxury of their higher quality home Don Cidar enjoys TV with his family. Unlike Don Isael, Don Cidar grows high value perishables such as tomatoes and sweet peppers in three micro-tunnels equipped with irrigation. He supplies two high-end supermarkets located in the capital of the department of Matagalpa. His success is no mystery, and Don Cidar owes it to his affiliation to the UCA San Ramón: a farmers’ cooperative which provides multiple benefits to its members, including credit for agricultural production, technical assistance and, above all, marketing. Through affiliation with the cooperative, Don Cidar and other farmers have solved the distribution puzzle and hence get a fairer price for their produce. Don Cidar’s immediate goal is to expand his

business by acquiring more micro-tunnels.

The most uplifting case of all

The Growing Capital team touring a greenhouse in Nicaragua

The Growing Capital team touring a greenhouse in Nicaragua

Of the various cooperatives which I was fortunate to visit during my time in Nicaragua, the success of COPROEXNIC clearly stands above the rest. Incorporated in 1995, it has grown into a 3,000 member organization, and is Nicaragua’s largest exporter of sesame and sole exporter of organic cotton. By selling on the international market under the Fair Trade label, farmers in this network get more for their crops.  The benefits of pulling together into collectively owned organizations such as COPROEXNIC are obvious for smallholder farmers. By selling as larger groups, they not only achieve the huge volume of crops required to enter major commercial contracts, but also avoid getting stuck in the middleman-supported extortionate loan cycle, and increase their bargaining power.

In summary, it is no wonder that the recent Rockefeller Foundation initiative’s report on Reducing Global Food Waste and Spoilage highlights bulking and group marketing in the top 10 potential solutions to help smallholders escape the middleman trap, and thereby better reap the fruits of their efforts. The implementation of this solution however calls for innovative mechanisms to help farmers like Don Isael, who are too impoverished to afford the entrance fees and periodic membership fees required by cooperatives. While that task might look daunting, Growing Capital is committed to give it a shot.

Posted in Global Orientation, Impact Investing and Startup Financing, Stories from the Field, Sustainable Enterprise | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

In the News: Keeping Tabs on our Social and Sustainable Entrepreneurs

As an alumni and employee of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University, I am in the lucky position of receiving updates from our grads who are out making the world a better place through business. And so I am delighted to share some of those recent successes with you:

Patagnoia's Truth to Materials endeavor

Patagonia’s Truth to Materials endeavor


Posted in Entrepreneurship, Sustainable Enterprise | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Kicked off Fargreen’s first farmer training workshop. Let the journey begin…

College of Business, Colorado State University:

Part 3 of Tanmay Telang’s impressions and experiences with Fargreen in Vietnam. They’ve made such amazing progress, and have won incredible competitions, and we are very excited to see the next updates to this impressive social enterprise.

Originally posted on The journey to a prosperous green:

Hai Duong, June 29th, 2014 – written by Trang Tran, Fargreen CEO & Cofounder (

Today marked an important milestone of our Fargreen journey: our first farmer training workshop was kicked off. For the founding members of Fargreen, it’s more than a dream come true. We just can’t believe that over a year ago Fargreen was purely an idea floating in our minds. Now, it is a registered business and has officially started its journey involving not just us but also our neighboring farmers in the village. What a moment!

Today was the first day of our month-long training workshop. We will walk our farmers through every single step involved in cultivating mushrooms on rice straw. Right from how to select the high quality straw, how to dry, store and treat it and what to do when they see mushrooms sprouting out of the straw. The idea is…

View original 418 more words

Posted in Sustainable Enterprise | Leave a comment

Fargreen’s new found inspiration: Nhi Pham

College of Business, Colorado State University:

Phase 2 of Fargreen’s blog, courtesy of Tanmay Telang, a GSSE graduate from Cohort 5 of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA. Great insights into the realities of actually starting a social enterprise. Enjoy! -Kat

Originally posted on The journey to a prosperous green:

It’s been almost fifteen days since the last blog. The days in between have been hot and sweaty for the most part, with the exception of an occasional shower of rains to beat the heat (Thank god!). Our days have been spent meeting prospective customers in Hanoi, getting the site in the Thuc Khang village ready for pilot production and farmers training and researching about packaging & labeling for our products. Busy but exciting stuff! Our aim is to establish the best practice of growing mushrooms on straw and simultaneously train the farmers to produce mushrooms. We have an ambitious plan to launch the minimum viable product by the year end. Go Fargreen!

Our pilot is based in Thuy’s (one of the cofounders of Fargreen) village – Thuc Khang in the Hai Duong province. Her family has been supporting us graciously in the task of our production pilot. They have…

View original 320 more words

Posted in Sustainable Enterprise | Leave a comment

First impressions of Vietnam: Simple, Warm and Beautiful

College of Business, Colorado State University:

We wanted to repost this blog by Fargreen to help tell their story as they develop into a full-fledged social enterprise generating income and impact in Vietnam. This is the first of 3 posts.

Originally posted on The journey to a prosperous green:

Written by Tanmay Telang – Fargreen’s co-founder on his first trip to Vietnam in June 2014

It’s been almost a year that I’ve been a part of the Fargreen team . However, 8th of June 2014 turned out to be the first day of my life in Vietnam. Initially I was feeling a bit nervous about being in Vietnam. But then I decided to go there with a clean slate – an empty mind with no prejudices at all. And it did turn out to be the right decision, for, as I cleared the immigration and visa interview in Hanoi in fifteen minutes, I realized that the attitude of people here is easy going and I am going to have a good time.

Trang came to receive me at the airport, and we went back to her home town of Phu Ly in a hired Taxi. The air here is…

View original 291 more words

Posted in Sustainable Enterprise | Leave a comment

Igniting Entrepreneurship in Latin America

Yesterday we were honored to receive a visit from a delegation of entrepreneurs, government officials, and academics visiting from Latin America. The 12 guests were invited by the US Department of State, and hosted in Colorado by World Learning. Their purpose was to understand how we promote and teach entrepreneurship, and to make connections that can further their work back in their home countries. After introductions, Q&A, and a reception, we toured campus and managed to form a bond. Although our interaction was brief, I was struck by the connections entrepreneurs share. We all work towards the same goals of promoting economic development and income generation, and it is amazing how having that in common draws you together.

Igniting Entrepreneurship in Latin America.

Igniting Entrepreneurship in Latin America.

¡Muchisimas gracias por visitarnos!


Posted in Entrepreneurship, Global Orientation | Tagged | Leave a comment