There’s no substitute for real-world experience during an MBA program. That’s why students at the Impact MBA at the Colorado State University College of Business step outside of the classroom for a 50-60-day practicum or fellowship experience. The distinctive experience allows them to implement our cutting-edge sustainability curriculum in the field. Not only do students receive an incomparable opportunity to begin addressing the world’s most pressing social, environmental and economic challenges, but they also begin building the practical experience necessary to become leaders.
Real-world Relevance Since 2006
For more than 15 years, the award-winning Impact MBA’s signature hands-on experiential learning component has given our students the opportunity to learn firsthand what it takes to bring a sustainable initiative off the drawing board and into practice. Students pursuing the Social Entrepreneurship track identify a social or environmental problem, brainstorm business solutions, and ultimately perform business research and lay the framework to launch a startup venture or nonprofit organization. Those who aspire to work from within existing organizations rather than as entrepreneurs opt for the Corporate Sustainability track and engage with one of the CSU College of Business’s partners in a corporate fellowship.
Students in both tracks spend the summer completing this hands-on fieldwork and return to the classroom for a final semester in the 16-month program. There, they engage with our faculty, who are all deeply immersed in sustainability research and continually bring the latest insights from their disciplines into the classroom. The blend of fieldwork and access to leading minds in sustainability gives our students the unique perspectives and experiences to become thought leaders shortly after graduation.
However, many students’ careers as changemakers start before they receive their diplomas. The Impact MBA’s experiential approach through summer practicums and fellowships translates directly to functioning startups and in-house positions for many students as they graduate.
Entrepreneurial Solutions to Food Waste
One of those startups is ReKaivery, a social venture initially launched by Impact MBA students as their practicum project to help combat food waste by connecting suppliers to consumers. Their model aims to give farmers better options to sell locally and provide consumers with a wider range of locally sourced ingredients. After securing $15,000 in funding prior to graduation in the Accelerate Impact Awards and raising additional backing through a successful Kickstarter campaign, ReKaivery hopes to launch a new food distribution model for Coloradoans this year.
By launching permanent farmer’s market locations inside converted, solar-powered shipping containers, ReKaivery built its infrastructure with environmental sustainability in mind. That mindset carries over to its innovative business model, which uses locally sourced produce to reduce goods’ carbon footprint while leaning into a style of commerce more equitable to farmers.
While ReKaivery’s multifaceted approach to embracing sustainable practices is an innovative twist on the grocery industry, that outlook is at the heart of the Impact MBA experience and mirrors the CSU College of Business’s vision of using business to create a better world.
“The Impact MBA truly empowers students to tap into their innate good and project that forward into the business world,” Audrey Snyder, ’20 ReKaivery administrative director said. “Most MBA programs that promote their incorporation of sustainability have sustainability as an after-thought, or as an add-on. The CSU College of Business Impact MBA program incorporates sustainability from the foundation of the program and builds from there.”
The summer practicum and involvement in the Impact MBA program gave ReKaivery a launchpad, but it also provided tools to succeed after its founders graduated. Whether by leveraging the long runway a practicum-based startup grants them to develop a network or turning to faculty and alumni for help navigating the challenges it faces, the degree has positioned ReKaivery for a successful launch.
“Because of our unique and innovative business model, we’ve been faced with many roadblocks,” Snyder said. “Often, we’ve been able to turn to connections made through the Impact MBA for support or assistance in tackling those roadblocks.”
Forging Tomorrow’s Leaders
As ReKaivery is about to take its first steps into the marketplace, so are other startups born inside the Impact MBA that have taken the journey from a classroom project to a tangible startup. Esther Awovi Akafia, ’11 was an attorney with no entrepreneurial skills when she came from Ghana to CSU’s College of Business in 2010. Working with her newly formed network of classmates and faculty, she developed and refined her vision to create an organization that develops future leaders through childhood education, technology, and community partnerships.
After graduation, she returned to Africa and founded Pioneers International Academy, using her experience in the program as a springboard. Now dedicated to providing quality, affordable primary education in Ghana, the Academy is partially funded by a United States-based nonprofit, the Pioneers Education Foundation. Akafia serves as founder and CEO of the school and director of the foundation.
“There’s a great need to develop leaders who will make an impact in our country, the African continent and I dare say the world. The journey towards this has been difficult but not impossible,” Akafia said. “The great thing about the program is that since graduating I’ve remained in touch with my mentors from the program and they have always been ready to offer introductions and ideas.”
From Fellowship to Job Offer
It’s not only students in our Social Entrepreneurship track who leverage their real-world experience to secure meaningful positions. Students in our Corporate Sustainability track spend their summers inside an existing organization, leading sustainable transformation from within. For her fellowship, Sarah Roeder, ’21, applied her business skills to help an electric automobile manufacturer, Lightening eMotors, ramp up the company’s efforts shortly after it went public, merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).
Focusing on time studies to improve operations in its production facilities as well as performing in-depth market research into electric vehicles, Roeder integrated skills from her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering with a manufacturer with a sustainable vision. Her combination of engineering insight, experience in conventional automotive manufacturing and the change-making mindset that comes with a command of the business case for sustainability proved so valuable to the company, it brought her aboard as its Technical Account Manager.
The business perspectives gained in the Impact MBA were an essential piece to her success in the fellowship and in her current position. “The finance and accounting courses I had through the Impact MBA have greatly helped in my current role of managing projects and ensuring their completion by a certain date in order to hit our revenue targets for our shareholders,” she explained.
People, Planet, and Profit
Sustainability has reached the mainstream, and businesses are acknowledging their social responsibility – and the financial benefits – of addressing the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. As companies continue to recognize sustainability’s value in the marketplace, the Impact MBA will continue to provide leadership in education in sustainable disciplines. We have spent more than 15 years connecting purpose with profit by engaging with industry changemakers and thought leaders on green finance and net-zero business practices. We incorporate faculty sustainability research into the classroom, and, of course, developing significant practical experience components to our program. Where sustainability is new to many MBA programs, it’s the Impact MBA’s reason to exist.
Our alumni are driving change in their respective fields, and that’s no accident: The fellowship and practicum components of the program provide students an immersive, real-world experience in which to begin tackling social, environmental, and economic challenges. Why wait until you finish your MBA to start changing the world?
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.