GSSE Venture Prepares to Scale Up Solar Business in Peru

12/21/16 – The Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program has been educating entrepreneurs since 2007 at Colorado State University. In our very first cohort, a team of students started PowerMundo, which continues distributing off-grid clean energy products in Peru. GSSE alumni Michael Callahan is the CEO of PowerMundo, and was interviewed in this article about their recent recognition and support from the Development Innovation Ventures program at USAID. Congratulations, PowerMundo!


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Alumni Spotlight: Get to Know Charitha from Cohort 4


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A Deep Dive into the Waste Problem in the Galapagos


GSSE students Justin and Senna conducted field work in the Galapagos.

10/3/16 – This blog post was written by students in the GSSE MBA who conducted field work in the Galapagos in regards to overconsumption, waste management, and environmental conservation.

The Galápagos Islands have been globally recognized for their high levels of biodiversity and endemism (species found nowhere else on earth). Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection was famously inspired here and in 2001 the islands were declared a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.  This fame has led to an explosion of tourism industry growth over the past 50 years.  In the late 1960s, the islands received approximately 2,000 visitors per year.  As of 2007, this number had increased to more than 160,000 per year. The economic benefits of the tourism industry have also led to a boom in resident population growth from 4,000 in 1970 to over 25,000 today.

In response to the negative effects of the increasing human footprint in the Galápagos, UNESCO added the archipelago to the list of “At Risk” World Heritage Sites in 2007. In the same year, the President of Ecuador issued an Emergency Decree declaring the conservation and environmental management of the Galápagos ecosystem a national priority.  Among the many challenges the islands face are the upward-shifting trends in consumption patterns and per capita waste generation from both residents and tourists.  Simply put, creating “green” waste management practices on a chain of small volcanic islands 600 miles from the mainland is not an easy task.


Senna touring a cardboard recycling facility in the Galapagos.

To fully dive into exploring this problem, we partnered with Intercultural Outreach Initiative (IOI), a US-based NGO with a small campus in Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island.  Isabela is the largest of the Galápagos islands but has one of the smallest populations (~2,500), with most of the island being reserved for the Galápagos National Park.  Past research and development projects conducted by the World Wildlife Fund and Toyota provided the foundation for our research and we were very fortunate to receive guidance and onsite waste management tours from key WWF and local municipality resources in the Galápagos.

The European Union, AECID, WWF, Toyota, and other organizations have all made substantial investments and efforts to address the waste management crisis in the Galápagos.  However, a great deal of work remains to be done.  Facilities, equipment, and processes have all been designed and built, but ongoing maintenance and supply chain constraints often bring progress to a halt.  For instance, during our stay and for the past six months prior, although residents are actively separating their waste into organic, recyclable, and non-organic color-coded containers, both recyclables and non-organic waste is currently being dumped into a single unsealed landfill (which is on fire) since the only compacting machine they have is not functioning. The garbage trucks have bald tires, cracked windshields, broken speedometers, and no spare parts for their extensive bumpy city routes with an eight mile trek up into the highlands where the waste facilities are located.


The burning landfill in the Galapagos.

In addition to the interviews with WWF, Galápagos National Park, and the local municipality employees, we were able to meet with many local business owners to learn more about the challenges they face.  We rode along in the recycling truck for a full day’s run, logging GPS route data throughout the trip for cost and operational efficiency analysis.  After learning about the waste management situation on Isabela we were also shown around the recycling center on Santa Cruz in Puerto Ayora, which services a much larger population.


Evidence of the substantial waste problem in the Galapagos.

In addition to the maintenance and operational challenges, geographic and supply chain issues create strong barriers to green waste management.  On paper, all of the recyclable material should be separated, compacted, and transported to the docks for transport to be sold in the mainland Ecuadorian cities of Guayaqil and Quito.  However, the distance from the recycling facilities to the docks creates substantial overhead, and there is no port on the island, so all cargo must be carried out on one small water taxi at a time to the cargo ships which only arrive once every two weeks.  Additional human economic factors further reduce the revenue generated from these efforts, making a sustainable financial model all the more challenging.

Now that we understand the problem better, we are looking for solutions which will empower onsite waste processing of up-cyclable materials in island environments which have geographically deadlocked waste streams such as Isabela.  Our research has shown that PET plastic bottles offer the highest potential value and are fueled by a constant source of tourist water bottles and local disposable containers.  As we continue our efforts we plan to use the well-understood Isabela island environment as an initial pilot case for a much larger impact solution.

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Impact in Indonesia: Leveraging the Debt for Conservation program

9/30/16 – This post is the second by the team working on agroforestry initiatives in Indonesia this summer for the GSSE MBA field work. Their startup, Mama Bumi, is identifying opportunities in niche industries where they can have an impact. You can read their first post here.


Team Mama Bumi exploring a bamboo farm in Indonesia.

One of the major themes of the first semester of the GSSE program is realizing that the global issues we are studying are not easily solved nor understood. They are interwoven into the fabric of communities and many times don’t have a simple or quick fix. These are wicked problems – just like the issues of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia.

Therefore before our team left for our summer venture field work, we conducted primary and secondary research through Skype interviews and information online about the problems we were to tackle in Indonesia. We needed to attempt to understand what types of issues exist with solving this problem and subsequently how to best tackle it. Indonesia is increasingly becoming one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions in the world due to the demand for palm oil. This demand can be mainly attributed to developed countries who import it and use it in a plethora of consumables. For example, it can be found in shampoo, soap, processed foods and even ice cream. One of the conclusions of this secondary research was that reducing or stopping the production of palm oil in Indonesia was not an optimal venture for a GSSE team to embark on. Palm oil is one of the largest exports for Indonesia, and therefore the government is in conflict about halting production versus conserving their land.

Since Indonesia has experienced increasing scrutiny in the public eye around this issue, the US government implemented a ‘debt for conservation’ program where they would forgive about $80M in debt provided the money gets put towards conservation efforts in the country. This is where our venture, Mama Bumi, comes in. Our partner organization, the Kehati Foundation, is an Indonesian organization that has over 1000 grantees working to improve biodiversity and conservation within the country’s borders. Many of the grantee organizations that we interviewed were born out of the ‘debt for conservation’ legislation that was passed. Our team decided to focus on the positive impact and alternative uses of the land that were being conducted within the country. Over the course of our research, we saw many different products that were promoting positive and sustainable lifestyles from the local communities. One of the major products being grown sustainably is coffee, as we discussed in our first blog post. But our team was excited to find other sustainable products that promote land conservation such as honey, bamboo shoots, rattan products like handbags, tribal weavings, natural dyes, sea salts, essential oils, and coconut products. We all saw potential with many of these products for markets in the US as there is a drive towards buying sustainable products that aren’t harming the environment.

Our research and work doesn’t stop there, however. Our next task is to develop a supply chain for these sustainable products in the US. In our final semester, we will be building out a business plan, including identifying distribution channels and markets for selling these products.

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A Summer of Firsts: Alex’s Adventure in Africa


GSSE MBA student Alex Anderson

9/27/16 – GSSE MBA student Alex Anderson is on the team of students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program who spent their summer conducting market research in Tanzania. This reflection is the 2nd post by this team – you can read part 1 here.

For the first time in my life, I am living in a country with a developing economy. This has been confusing and frustrating at times, but has also been exciting and has provided insight into this way of life that I couldn’t get from a classroom. Certainly I was expecting differences, but living here has highlighted many things that I take for granted in my daily life.

In Zanzibar, there are no retail store brands. When I first moved to Fort Collins, Colorado for the GSSE MBA, I was able to immediately find places to buy things I needed. I knew that there would be a Target for essentials, a U-Haul store to drop off my rented trailer, and a Taco Bell if I didn’t feel like having dignity for a day. On my first day, all I needed was a quick Google search to find out where all of those things were. Even if I didn’t know the local brands— Safeway for groceries instead of the Pick n’ Save down the street from my old apartment—they were easy to find and adjust to. In Zanzibar, the only things I’ve seen that even resemble American retail are banks and gas stations. Instead, Zanzibar is filled with small shops, sprawling open markets, and vendors walking around carrying their inventory in their arms. To find the things we needed, we would often ask a local resident for a recommendation.  Although Dar es Salaam had more western shops (why is KFC so popular there?) and plenty of its own brands, it was still very unlike the US. Instead of Google searches and looking for large illuminated signs, we would need a more intimate knowledge of the area.

Another indicator that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore was mentioned in our previous blog post: everything here is recycled in some way, so the original owner is never the last person to use it. In Dar es Salaam, for example, one person mentioned this while we were talking about metal sheets used for roofing. He told us that once they were done with the sheets and ready to replace them, they would tear the roof down, go out to the street, and find someone to buy them. This highly manual and individualized approach is a common practice for all kinds of goods – and is very different from our highly automated, formal systems in the US.  Although this makes it difficult to scale a business or increase market share, it may also signify compelling entrepreneurial opportunities, which we are excited to continue exploring.


Alex and his team visiting a workshop in Tanzania.

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Four Ways to Use Your Entrepreneurial Venture in your Job Search


Amanda White, Career Counselor in the College of Business at Colorado State University

9/12/16 – This guest post is written by Amanda White, a Career Counselor in our College of Business Career Management Center. Amanda works with our Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA students, and she has brainstormed these creative ways to leverage their unique venture process.


You’ve spent a summer researching, team building, strategizing, and building your professional brand; now what are you supposed to do with it? You may consider continuing with your venture, while others are looking forward to different opportunities. Here are four ways to use your summer practicum and venture building experience in your job search:

  1. Experiences: The actual tasks and experiences you gained from your summer venture are very valuable, since they help you market your transferable skills. Highlight your experiences in detail in your self-marketing materials (resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile) to showcase the tasks, skills used, and any results you achieved to prove to a company you can add value. Practice sharing your experiences as stories that can be used as examples for interviews. Lastly, your experiences may have given you some insight into what you might want to do in the future. Pay attention to what you liked, what you disliked, and those moments you felt purposeful. What jobs include those tasks? Come into the Career Management Center if you are getting stuck!
  2. Start-up Mindset: This mindset served you very well in your summer venture. You were able to be resourceful, courageous, and strategic. Be courageous in your job search and keep up your motivation! Not many people are successful overnight in their start-ups or in their job search. It takes time. Be patient and continue to build your network and set time aside to devote to your search.
  3. Market Research & Viability Assessment: Your summer was spent doing in-depth research on how viable your business could be. Apply this same market research and viability assessment to your job search. Do your research, talk to people, understand your needs and if they will be met by the opportunity you are exploring. Notice any gaps you are facing and get insider information from informational interviews with people in roles and companies you are interested in. Understand your own market and where you fit in!
  4. Network: Whether you enjoyed it or not, your network was a main resource for you this summer. The connections you made prior to departing, your teammates, and people you met in the field were all extremely important to your summer experience. These people could also be very important for your job search. Over many plane rides, hotels, and days in the sun, you got to know your teammates extremely well. The people you met along the way could also be great for knowledge about the industry and informational interviews. Don’t forget to follow-up and make your connections mutually beneficial through your knowledge, network, volunteering, etc.

Your summer experience has a valuable impact on your degree, but make sure to also use it to build your personal brand, and showcase your skills, passions, and interests. Come into the Career Management Center for more specifics on your personal career development! Drop-ins are Monday-Thursday 10am-3pm.


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Celebrating 10 Years of the GSSE Family

graceEverywhere I go, I am proud to say that I am a member of the GSSE family. Over the past 10 cohorts, we have formed an alumni network of 165 people, representing more than 42 countries, and an incredible array of industries! To keep us all connected, I am happy to say that we are working to re-launch our GSSE Alumni Network. This year, we want to focus on celebrating all of the talented graduates of the program.

For this upcoming year, I will serve as the Alumni Network President. For those of you who don’t know me, I am a C6 graduate, and currently teach Social and Sustainable Venturing and Entrepreneurship at the undergraduate level in the CSU College of Business.  With a group of other GSSE alumni, we will organize some alumni events, including a GSSE 10th cohort celebration.

In the upcoming months, look for a survey about how you want to stay involved with the program, and also watch for more information about the 10-year anniversary celebration the first weekend of September in 2017! I look forward to getting in touch with each of you.

-Grace Wright

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Greetings from Rockwell Hall

Since our December newsletter, it’s been busy in the GSSE program.  I thought I’d use this space to answer a few questions that have come from our friends and alumni.

Q1: I hear you have changed the venture process – why and how? What are the C9 teams doing?

A1: This isn’t the first time we have changed the venture process – we continue to revise it based on effectiveness in meeting learning objectives, and feedback from students, faculty and project partners. This most recent change was based on two things:

  • providing more time to dig deeper on global challenges and work with more potential team mates, and
  • reducing student work/stress loads in the first semester.

For C9 & C10, we now spend more time studying global challenges before selecting venture topics and teams at the beginning of the second semester. The summer field work task has shifted from validating a business model conceived in Fort Collins to discovering several potential business models in the field. In the final semester, students take Tom Dean’s venture class and develop a business plan around one of those models. After trying this for two cohorts, we will evaluate whether we are seeing improved learning, stronger venture team experiences, and better venture/partner performance.

As for C9 ventures, there are eight teams, all framed around “How might we…?”:

  • reduce waste and consumption (USA/Ecuador)
  • provide training and work for unemployed youth (Caribbean)
  • improve the quality of life for the elderly (USA)
  • provide more effective high school education (Cambodia)
  • improve access to reliable electricity (East Africa)
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Indonesia)
  • provide a closer connection between farmers and consumers (Guatemala)
  • provide affordable, sustainable building materials (East Africa)

Once exams were finished in May, there was a rush to DIA as teams were eager to get out of the classroom and into the field. We are enjoying following their progress via their blog posts from the field. For those of you in Colorado, you are welcome to hear their presentations from 1-4pm on August 31 in the Bohemian Auditorium.

Q2: As an alum, I am getting asked to donate to GSSE. Yet I have very little money to give. What difference could my $25 possibly make? Why should I bother?

A2: These are good questions, and important ones for our program. And the short answer is that by itself, $25 will not make any real dent in the financial needs for the program. However, as I hope you experienced during the program, there is great power in the GSSE tribe. If everyone in your cohort gave at least $25, and all the other cohorts gave, the number will become more significant:

165 graduates x $25 = $4,125

[and, this amount is matched 1:1 for any donations in 2016!]

More importantly, it is a signal to other donors: high alumni and faculty participation indicates support and engagement from those who know GSSE best. It is people showing up. Why would a larger potential donor want to support something that its graduates do not? Please consider making a donation to support the program. Believe me, it will help us find additional financial support for the program.

In addition, I’d like to ask you to get engaged with our current students. Please think about how someone with your current skills/experience could have helped the “student you” while you were in the program. Then reach out to Kat or one of your favorite faculty members and offer to help (e.g., as a team mentor, providing a helpful webinar, or setting up an informational interview). We want the GSSE community to be a big, strong, and impactful one, and your personal involvement will help with that. My experience is that GSSE’rs show up when asked, and I am asking you to show up more in the next year! Let’s keep building a stronger program together.

Q3: Speaking of showing up, isn’t the 10th anniversary of the program coming up? Are we going to celebrate?

A3: Of course! Look for info from Grace Hanley Wright (C6) coming soon. And hold Labor Day Weekend, September 1-4, 2017.

Wherever you are, do good, be great at it, and stay in touch,


paul biking

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Part 2: Home Health Care Adventures in San Francisco

7/21/16 – This post is part 2 in a series written by Shorouk, Nick, and Labeat as they search for opportunities to innovate in the antiquated, elderly home health care industry. Read their first post here.

Innovation in San Francisco
After our initial contact went radio silent the day we landed in San Francisco, and after several phone interviews with company executives that resulted in a lot of the same information we had discovered in our secondary research, we found Sue Kwon. Sue Kwon is elderly1the director of communications at Honor, a home health care company founded in 2015 that has raised more than $20M in venture capital funding. She is also an Emmy-award winning journalist, and you may recognize her from her time at NBC, ABC and CNN during her 15 years in the industry. Sue was generous enough to meet with us, even after repeated e-mails and phone calls that bordered on harassment, for a coffee just outside Honor’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco.

Sue told us Honor’s story and, although short in timeline, provided us everything we needed to know for our venture’s direction moving forward. Honor’s emergence as one of the top providers of home health care in the Bay Area is simple and profound, yet bold and unorthodox, to say the least. Sue told us the story of how Honor is executing something so obvious it has almost become a cliché in business textbooks, yet something no agency in this industry has been able to accomplish. This idea is almost so obvious that is has become largely forgotten, and industry leaders have developed ingrained responses that have become such a part of our human nature that we might actually believe it. The story Sue told us was how Honor has eradicated the single most destructive force in home health care: employee turnover. She told us that there are several issues relating to senior health, but none are more important to home health care than having the ability to retain service providers to provide consistent results to people in need. All the other issues are a direct result of employee turnover.

Honor has “put its money where its mouth is” and taken this issue of turnover into its own hands. Instead of providing the industry average $9/hour to its nurses with no benefits or guaranteed hours, Honor has empowered its employees by offering better wages and comprehensive benefits to all workers, regardless of title. Wow. There is such a huge gap between what Honor offers its employees compared to the competition that it doesn’t seem to make sense. How can this add up to a positive bottom line or, how is it even close? Her answer was simple (of course): It is a long-term strategy. Honor is tech-enabled, which means it is one of few agencies that have been able to scale its operations, and we’re not talking about opening franchises. By nearly eliminating employee turnover, Honor can achieve efficiencies that no other company of its kind can manage. The employees care about the company because they truly have a stake in the game, and Honor offers training to its employees, even if the training allows an employee to be over-qualified for the services Honor offers. After talking with Sue, it is difficult to imagine starting a company that did not provide a similar offering to its employees, even if you don’t have Silicon Valley technology and major VC funding. It just makes sense. Treating your employees better is no longer taboo at Honor.elderly2

Sue also went into great detail about the company we had previously studied so rigorously, and why its referral model had failed despite its vast resources. Regulation in the state of California, and most other states (including Colorado), place restrictions on these types of companies by not allowing the third party to perform background checks on hired contractors, as well as restricting the training employees can receive if employed under another employer. In other words, this company could connect a senior to another agency’s nurse, but it also had no control over these nurses and, therefore, no control over its reputation. The result was these nurse contractors failed to do a good job, or even care about the work they were performing on behalf of the company and the connection it facilitated. So, this company pivoted to a traditional model in just under two years of existence.

Next Steps for our Team

We are looking into the future. Now that we have officially chosen a direction after pivoting, we will continue with expert interviews and focus groups. True to the nature of entrepreneurship, we look forward to continue building momentum, innovating, and eventually, generating lasting impact.

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Saving the Best for Last: Improving the Quality of Life for the Elderly

7/20/16 – This guest post is written by three students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program who are working on finding ways to improve the quality of life for the elderly. Please join Nick, Shorouk, and Labeat on their journey into the home health care industry.

The Home Healthcare Industry

We have been researching the home health care industry, its effect on senior citizens’ overall health, and the impact it has on the healthcare industry. Home health care is not a new idea, and this industry has been growing for several decades to meet the demands of a growing population of senior citizens. Despite this growth, our team has found this industry is in major need of a facelift. A few of our observations include:

  • Very few agencies have the ability to scale and effectively care for the demand of seniors.
  • Major nurse (caregiver) turnover results in inconsistent practices in caring for seniors.
  • The majority of seniors and their families find the process of finding, hiring and managing home health care to be difficult and a major headache throughout the entire process.
  • Home health care has long been antiquated, and has been in desperate need of innovative entrepreneurs to help bring this industry into the 21st century.

We knew there was an opportunity somewhere, but we just didn’t know where it would be.

For months, our team has been brainstorming ideas for how these gaps could be closed and how a better type of company could be formed in this industry. We intended to implement a lean business model that could scale and reach thousands of clients more affordably than anyone else. While researching several innovative new home health care models conceived from the minds in Silicon Valley, we found one company in particular that had a similar vision to ours, which had raised $23M in venture capitalist funding two years prior, and was becoming a major player in the Californian market. Combined with our secondary research led us to believe this model could help us achieve a lean and scalable business by being a third party facilitator of home health care services; in other words, a home health care broker. Due to the early successes of this type of company, this seemed like a viable direction for our venture, so we were armed with motivation to begin our primary research in Fort Collins, Denver, San Francisco, Tucson and Phoenix.

The Pivot: All is not as it first seemed

Our team began conducting depth and expert interviews by partnering with one of the leading home health care companies in the industry to distribute letters to its elderly clientele requesting volunteers for our venture practicum research. Out of 150 letters, we received only 10 responses. After sitting down with these 10 respondents, we learned valuable information, albeit completely unrelated to the questions we asked. Even though 10 interviews is a very small sample size, none of the respondents were interested in hiring a third party to find, hire, and manage home health care. In fact, none of the seniors or their families saw any value in the idea, and most of the expert interviews from executives at nursing home or home health care agencies similarly dismissed the idea. This got us thinking: Could this really be a case of being too early to the market, and not understood as being genius until several years later? Our guess: probably not.  But the research continued anyway.

Then the news that would rock our little venture world came crashing down like an avalanche of confusion and doubt. The company we had been researching in Silicon Valley – the one that had raised millions of dollars – had pivoted away from its brokerage model to a traditional home health care company that employed its own nurses.  Shorouk read about the pivot on a Yelp review that had been complaining about the company. The CEO of this company had responded to multiple negative remarks about the agency’s nurses, and had informed the reviewer that his company would be pivoting to a more traditional model. There was no press release, article, or announcement, but only a 28-year old CEO doing Yelp damage control.

Unfortunately, the news of our inspiration’s pivot came just days after we had booked our tickets to San Francisco, so there was no going back. We would need to at least alter our direction as well. We decided we would begin researching traditional best practices in home care, as well as the regulation that sent our previous model spiraling downward in just under two years of operation. First up: San Francisco.


The Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise elderly health care venture team, on the CSU Oval. From left to right: Nick Schroeder, Shorouk Elmahdy, and Labeat Fejza.

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