Changemakers aren’t produced by accident. The Impact MBA at Colorado State University’s College of Business has helped transformative leaders develop more than the business skills necessary to address global social, environmental, and economic challenges. Our hands-on approach to sustainability education prepares graduates to become innovators, whether they drive change as an entrepreneur leading a venture or guide sustainability efforts from within an existing organization.
Global Vision, Global Reach
Alumni from CSU’s award-winning Impact MBA are exceptionally positioned to lead and create the next generation of socially conscious businesses. The top-ranked MBA is distinctive in its approach with significant experiential components in both of its tracks – it’s not just about the theory of doing good, but practical experiences to learn how to make it happen. The Social Entrepreneurship track provides a 60-day field practicum to those seeking to create a new venture, while the Corporate Sustainability track includes a summer fellowship with an established organization focused on environmental, social, or governance needs. These extensive, real-world experiences provide Impact MBA graduates with the business acumen, practical skills, and strategic approaches needed to lead change and create purpose-driven organizations.
Students join a network of program alumni from more than 70 countries driving sustainable change in industries as diverse as tourism and hospitality, retail, software, and non-governmental organizations that address issues ranging from women’s health, and carbon accounting to education, just to name a few. We’re proud of the alumni driving measurable changes that embrace sustainability and even prouder to be the launchpad for changemakers across the globe.
Driving Change In the Marketplace
Meta Bergwall, a 2021 Impact MBA alumna is one of those changemakers. As eastern region sustainability manager for Vail Resorts, she spearheads efforts at 26 ski resorts to help the company reach its goal of achieving zero net emissions, zero waste sent to landfills, and zero net impact on forests and habitat by 2030. Her approach encompasses everything from infrastructure upgrades such as installing high-efficiency LED lighting and replacing snow guns with low-energy models to systemic changes to increase the resorts’ waste diversion practices.
Understanding the business case for net-zero upgrades while evaluating the nuanced choices behind zero-impact strategies requires a varied skillset and perspective wider than the board room. It’s precisely the foundation the Impact MBA imparts, with a multidisciplinary curriculum that covers financial management and global leadership as well as analysis of sustainable energy sources and the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity. Our students are immersed in business sustainability from their first day on campus and graduate ready to drive change in the marketplace.
“I never thought that I would go back to school for a business degree, but this program embraces so much more than your traditional MBA program,” Bergwall said. “The Impact MBA prepared me for this position by challenging me to think critically and come up with creative and collaborative solutions. The program has set me up for success by developing my people skills and my technical acumen.”
The Startup Mindset
The Corporate Sustainability curriculum readies students to lead sustainability efforts from within an existing organization, but they may also choose to develop the entrepreneurial mindset to lead a startup in the Social Entrepreneurship track. Zubaida Bai, a 2010 graduate, traveled to India during her fieldwork. There, she learned midwives in developing nations weren’t equipped with sterile birthing kits, and some were even forced to use farm tools to cut newborns’ umbilical cords. Applying her engineering background to the business essentials gained in the program, she launched azyh, a company that provides clean birth kits to mothers in developing and frontier economies.
Bai’s approach and belief that businesses have the power to kickstart positive change encompass much of what’s helped the Impact MBA earn No. 5 status nationally as a “Better World MBA” and No. 20 globally from Corporate Knights. Those values are woven into the Social Entrepreneurship curriculum, which combines courses in new venture development and finance for sustainable enterprises with a summer practicum. The 60-day practicum provides students with hands-on experience researching and creating a venture that addresses a social or environmental need, ultimately pitching the venture as they compete for funding. You’ll have prepared your own startup and be ready to start to take it to market when you receive your diploma.
“I wanted to figure out how to sustainably bring appropriate technology to market for significant and scalable impact,” Bai said. “I realized that too many great innovations never got out of prototyping and into the hands of those who need it most. I knew then I wanted to spin off on my own and close that last-mile gap.”
Bai and azyh have proven to be remarkably successful in their mission. To date, the company has sold more than 400,000 birth kits, helping fight maternal and infant mortality, while providing local economic opportunities to workers in India who manufacture the lifesaving products.
Results In The Government And Nonprofit Sectors
Our Impact MBA staff and faculty believe that businesses can power positive change, but we’re also aware that nonprofits and governmental organizations rely on traditional business abilities to achieve their mission. Students in our Social Entrepreneurship track graduate just as well suited to the government and nonprofit sectors as they are ready to bootstrap their own venture. Mike Callahan, an ’09 Impact MBA graduate, now serves as the applied engineering group manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, developing distributed energy sources able to withstand natural disasters or cyberattacks.
Like Bai, he built on his engineering background. Callahan recognized the value a foundation in business sustainability combined with the opportunity to work with a diverse cohort could bring to his degree and his career choices.
“A cornerstone of business school is working in teams: how you manage to accomplish a real goal, how you start a business,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to do that on your own if you’re just one person working in your garage, but the Impact MBA brings an international cohort together to work on a common cause: making a positive difference in the world.”
Advancing Business Sustainability
The business world is only beginning to acknowledge the importance of the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit, but the Impact MBA has been anchored in sustainable policies for more than 15 years. As our faculty push the frontiers of sustainable business with research that helps redefine their disciplines, as businesses embrace net-zero policies and green financing and as consumers demand more responsible companies, Impact MBA alumni will continue to lead reforms from within boardrooms, startups, and nonprofits.
An incredible MBA can help you advance your career. The Impact MBA will help you change the world, too.
Kathryn Ernst is the director of the Impact MBA and has been with the program since 2010. An ’09 graduate of the program, Kat’s experience as a Peace Corps volunteer developing an organic coffee cooperative and co-founder of an aquaponics venture that served base-of-the-pyramid families in Peru, guides her commitment to developing the next generation of sustainable enterprise. Kat is a connector who believes we can only solve the world’s problems by bringing many voices to the conversation.