On the MBA Elective Menu: A New Food Venture Lab

 The timing couldn’t be better for lecturer and Republic of Tea Co-founder William Rosenzweig to launch the Food Venture Lab at Berkeley-Haas.

The course, which debuts this fall, is designed to help students pinpoint challenges in the current food system and craft business ventures to solve them. It’s an increasingly popular startup area at Haas, driven by student demand and alumni success stories such as Revolution Foods, co-founded by Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, both MBA 06, and food delivery startup Caviar, started by Jason Wang, BS 09, and sold to Square for more than $100 million.

Food Venture Lab will enroll 31 students, culled from the Full-Time, Evening & Weekend, and MBA for Executives programs, for five meetings in a lab-based environment that will include peer-to-peer review, mentoring from experts in the field, and guest speakers.

“Students want to align their personal values with what they do,” says Rosenzweig, who is a managing partner at Physic Ventures, which supports companies that emphasize health and sustainability. “This convergence creates a perfect opportunity to combine innovation and ethical leadership.”

Demand for the course evolved after Rosenzweig, dean of the newly-launched Food Business School at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), met Caroline Yeh,  EMBA 15, at the Natural Products Expo West conference in Anaheim, Ca.

Yeh, director of products and operations at Bandar Foods, inquired about a possible independent study on building a socially responsible food business. When other students expressed a similar interest, Rosenzweig agreed to propose teaching a course. Prof. Laura Tyson, director of the Institute for Business & Social Impact (IBSI), supported the idea.

“It’s really exciting that we were able to put this class together so quickly, and we’re grateful to have had support from Laura Tyson and (EMBA Assistant Dean) Mike Rielly,” Yeh says.

“This is a great example of students, faculty, and staff getting together to create a highly relevant elective,” Rielly adds.  “I’m pleased Haas’ three MBA programs supported the initiative, making this our first ever ‘triple listed’ course offering.”

Rosenzweig, who has been teaching socially-responsible entrepreneurship at Haas since 1999, says he expects some students to arrive on the first day with sustainable startup ideas that they will quickly develop for seed-round funding.

To begin testing those ideas quickly, Rosenzweig will use Haas Lecturer Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad method, which helps startup founders save money and time by pushing them out of the building to talk to potential customers before they move forward.

– By Kate Madden Yee