Haas feeds growing appetite for the business of sustainable food

(left to right) Will Rosenzweig, who launched the Sustainable Food Initiative at Haas, with Aaron Hall, a PhD student in the Materials Science & Engineering Program, and Jessica Heiges, a PhD candidate in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management.
(left to right) Will Rosenzweig, who launched the Sustainable Food Initiative at Haas, with students who took his Food Innovation Studio course: Aaron Hall, a PhD student in the Materials Science & Engineering Program and Jessica Heiges, a PhD candidate in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management. Photo: Jim Block

After working in the dairy industry in Illinois for six years, John Monaghan, MBA 20, arrived at Berkeley Haas on a mission to dive deeper into the business of food.

He didn’t waste any time. In his first year, Monaghan became co-president of the student-run Food@Haas, was nominated to the student advisory board for the Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business, and snagged a summer internship at Danone in New York, where he’ll be supporting marketing of the Oikos yogurt brand. He even shared lunch with Alice Waters at her restaurant Chez Panisse, after he worked as a graduate student reader during her Edible Education 101 course. “She hosted us as a thank-you for the semester,” he said.

Alice Waters with John Monaghan, MBA 20
Alice Waters with John Monaghan, MBA 20

Like many of the 20 full-time MBA students who have landed coveted internships and jobs this year in the food and beverage industry—at companies ranging from Clif Bar to Kraft— Monaghan is benefiting from the Sustainable Food Initiative at Haas. The umbrella effort, launched in April 2018 by the Center for Responsible Business, combines food-focused courses, cutting-edge research, entrepreneurship training, events with food industry luminaries, and key industry partnerships.

A food-focused tribe

The initiative both reflects and cultivates a growing interest in the food business at Haas and Berkeley. The number of students landing internships and full-time jobs in the food and beverage industry has doubled over the past three years, and the number of food-related startups—from 2019 MBA grad Somiran Gupta’s nearfarms, an online marketplace that connects small, local farmers directly with consumers, to Tannor’s Tea, founded by Samantha Tannor, MBA 20, whose company sells sugar-free matcha concentrate—is increasing every year.

“We’ve attracted a tribe of people who are food-focused,” says Doug Massa, a corporate relationship manager with the Berkeley Haas Career Management Group. “They want to learn about branding and marketing, but they also want to learn about opportunities in the food supply chain, business operations, and the role of venture capital in food.”

Connecting across Berkeley

Will Rosenzweig, faculty co-chair with the Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business (CRB) and a pioneer of the sustainable food movement at Berkeley, is leading the Sustainable Food Initiative. The founder of the Republic of Tea, Rosenzweig taught Haas’ first class on social entrepreneurship 20 years ago—and went on to mentor and invest in successful Haas startups including Revolution Foods, co-founded by Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, both MBA 06, to make healthier cafeteria food for kids.

Working with CRB’s program manager Emily Pellisier, Rosenzweig is now figuring out how Haas expertise in entrepreneurship and business aligns with sustainability efforts across the Berkeley campus. They’re reaching out to innovative programs like the Berkeley Food Institute and the Alternative Meat Lab at the UC Berkeley Sutardja Center.

“With the riches we have at Berkeley, one of my jobs is to is to remove some of the boundaries between the disciplines, and Haas has been really supportive of that,” Rosenzweig said. “We’re getting other really smart people involved in solving these sustainability problems.”

Watch an “Edible Education 101” session with chef and cookbook author Samin Nosrat and community organizer Shakirah Simley, discussing diversity and inclusion in the food industry.

At the initiative’s core is “Edible Education 101,” which Rosenzweig teaches with Waters, who co-founded the class with author Michael Pollan in 2011. The undergraduate course brings scientists, CEOs, community activists, and chefs to Haas to talk about the future of food, from seeds to soil health to increasing access to quality food for all. Guests have included chef Samin Nosrat (of the popular Netflix docu-series based on her cookbook, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat), who spoke last semester on diversity and inclusion in the food industry, to Danny Meyer, founder of Shake Shack and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, who addressed the future of restaurant careers.

Students in Will Rosenzweig's Food Innovation Studio
Students in Will Rosenzweig’s Food Innovation Studio course.

Victoria Williams-Ononye, MBA 19, the graduate student instructor for the “Edible Education” course, said about 20 of her MBA peers attended the classes. “There’s a core group of people who come to Haas knowing they’re passionate about food,” said Williams-Ononye, who has accepted a job working in Breakthrough Innovation at Kraft in Chicago.

Monaghan called the caliber of “Edible Education” guest speakers “a hidden gem of this entire university.”

The sky’s the limit

Meanwhile, the Food Innovation Studio, Rosenzweig’s two-unit course which uses the Lean LaunchPad method to encourage students in food entrepreneurship, dives deeply into topics such as the rise of regenerative agriculture, sustainable alternatives to single-use packaging, the evolution of plant-based proteins, food system sustainability, and disruptive food delivery models.

While the majority of the students enrolled last semester were from the MBA program, the course draws students from across Berkeley, including Aaron Hall, a PhD student in the Materials Science & Engineering Program who is developing a richer-tasting plant-based fat substitute, and Jessica Heiges, a PhD candidate in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management, who co-founded RePeel, a reusable-food-container service for universities.

Beyond classes, the Sustainable Food Initiative serves as an umbrella for new research, including the recent case, “Reversing Climate Change Through Sustainable Food: Patagonia Provisions Attempts to Scale a ‘Big Wall’.” It’s also a home for partnerships with companies like Patagonia Provisions and General Mills’ Natural and Organics Operating Unit, which includes Annie’s Homegrown, EPIC, Cascadian Farm Organic, and Muir Glen brands. Both companies are now on the CRB advisory board, where they often find time to collaborate with each other, as well as Haas, said Robert Strand, executive director of the Center for Responsible Business.

“The sky’s the limit with this initiative,” Strand said. “We want to be a strong partner in the global conversation on food and bring the world to California and our ideas to the world.”

Prof. Laura Tyson to study AI disruption as Berlin Prize Fellow

Laura Tyson (Photo by Karl Nielsen)

Prof. Laura Tyson will study how U.S. businesses and policy makers can better respond to the coming labor market disruptions caused by artificial intelligence and automation—and what we can learn from the German system—as a Berlin Prize Fellow this fall.

Tyson, a distinguished professor of the graduate school, former dean of the Haas School, and faculty director of the Institute for Business and Social Impact (IBSI), will spend the fall semester at the American Academy in Berlin. She is one of 20 scholars, writers, and artists to be awarded the prestigious semester-long Berlin Prize for the 2019-20 academic year.

As a Berlin Fellow, Tyson will continue her research on how AI and automation are affecting the future of work. Like other technological advances, AI and automation will fuel displacement of labor and change the nature of work, but they will also contribute to gains in productivity, income growth, and the demand for skilled human labor, she says. This transition will be costly, however, and is likely to fuel growing income inequality. New policies, training, and innovation will be needed to address these challenges, she says.

Tyson see Germany as particularly well-positioned to handle the economic trials ahead, and plans to investigate the German system of training and apprenticeships, various sectors of German industry, and unique features of German business governance such as works councils, employers’ associations, and supervisory boards. The German case shows that the future is not technologically predetermined and can be shaped by thoughtful policies and actions by business leaders, policymakers, workers and citizens, she says.

“Ultimately, these effects depend not on the design of smart machines and technologies, but on the design of smart practices and policies appropriate for a new machine age,” Tyson said in a press release.

Enhancing financial inclusion among bottom-of-the-pyramid entrepreneurs in Mexico

Mexican street scene

On the corner of a bustling, working-class neighborhood in Mexico City, Maria González has run a small photography business for years.* Recently, she took out a bank loan to purchase a new digital camera and printer that enabled her to produce high-quality images and deliver them at a rapid speed. González’s clients noticed her improved service and spread the word—new customers flooded her store. A few steps down the same street, Andres Perez owns a bookstore that would benefit from renovations. While these improvements would presumably attract much needed customers, Perez refuses to take out a bank loan. He explains that bank loans are stressful, require too much paperwork, and are meant for people with money or assets.

Financial inclusion brings major benefits to individuals like González and entire economies. By allowing people to invest in their future, smooth consumption, and manage risk, access to and use of a range of financial services help reduce poverty and inequality. Yet, access to financial capital is often cited as a barrier to growth for microentrepreneurs in emerging countries. In these countries, 40 percent of formal micro-, small- and medium-size enterprises are financially constrained.

But, as Perez’s story demonstrates, unmet financial needs among microenterprise owners may also be a result of low demand for the formal financial services available to them. Despite the availability and benefits of loans through banks and microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Mexico, take-up rates of formal financial products among microentrepreneurs is often surprisingly low. For example, only 4 percent of eligible applicants take up the credit available to them from Mexican bank and MFI Compartamos Banco. A new report by the Institute for Business & Social Impact at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, surveys microenterprise owners clustered at the bottom of the pyramid in Mexico and investigates possible reasons for their disinterest in formal financial services.

Pen and paper shop in Mexico City_photo by Paul Sableman
Photo: Pen and paper shop in Mexico City by Paul Sableman, Creative Commons

The formal versus informal financial system

The new report presents evidence that small business owners in Mexico prefer informal financial networks to the formal financial system. In the sample of more than 1,300 Mexican microentrepreneurs, over 75 percent do not consider borrowing from the formal financial system in times of economic need. Rather than take out a bank loan or MFI credit, more than two-thirds of these entrepreneurs would prefer to draw from their personal savings or borrow money from a friend or relative, and about 10 percent would sell belongings in exchange for cash. Interestingly, this is true among microentrepreneurs in the sample across all levels of education, suggesting that it is not lack of information or understanding that is compelling these small enterprise owners to avoid formal financial products.

The report goes further, inquiring what features of formal bank and MFI loans are unappealing to microentrepreneurs. Their aversion to collective loans stands out as an explanation. To guarantee high repayment rates, discourage risky projects, and increase accountability, formal banks and MFIs will often require microenterprise owners to apply for credit with a group of peers or neighbors. All group members would be penalized if the loan is not fully repaid. While collective loans are designed by banks and MFIs to increase credit availability to microentrepreneurs without collateral or prohibitively high interest rates, this design feature appears to discourage eligible borrowers in Mexico. Even in times of economic distress, the majority of Mexican microentrepreneurs surveyed would prefer an individual loan, citing as reasons personal responsibility for repayment, flexibility of credit to individual business dynamics, difficulty in meeting group eligibility requirements, and higher loan amount disbursed.

These results suggest that specific design features of formal bank loans and MFI loans intended to serve microentrepreneurs clash with their preferences, and inadvertently keep them on the periphery of the formal financial system.

Mexico City street scene by Paul Sableman, Creative Commons
Photo: Mexico City street scene by Paul Sableman, Creative Commons

Technology and financial inclusion

Cell phones and digital technologies are likely to provide the platforms necessary to increase financial inclusion for microentrepreneurs in the informal and formal economy. The report finds that over three-fourths of microenterprise owners in the sample own a cell phone. However, only 14 percent of cell phone owners use their mobile device for business-related transactions. Mobile channels—perhaps developed by formal financial institutions—could be used to track transactions, customers, and revenue to determine eligibility for individual loans, as well as monitor credit dispersion and repayment rates. Targeted programming that encourages business-related cell phone usage and training could lead to efficiency gains and unleash potential for microentrepreneurs. The cell phone market in Mexico is projected to keep growing, providing opportunities for value-added services that have the potential to increase financial inclusion and market share for microenterprise owners.

These findings suggests that digital technologies might enable banks and other financial institutions to design better products that encourage microentrepreneurs to engage in the formal financial system. Indeed, mobile money and other forms of digital finance are likely to be the major channels for accelerating progress on financial inclusion in Mexico and other emerging market economies. Of course, in addition to technology, there are various factors that influence a microentrepreneur’s demand for a loan, including low trust in formal banks and the government, fear of debt, sensitivity to interest rates, and lack of information.

Strivers in Mexico

To facilitate smooth transactions between banks and microentrepreneurs, banks must be familiar with microentrepreneurs’ business profiles, characteristics, and motivations. The report points out that microenterprise owners in Mexico vary significantly with respect to their level of education, number of clients per week, volume of sales, and amount of loans received in the past year. These findings indicate that it might be possible to determine the demand for financial products by individual microentrepreneurs based on their level of education or the size of their business.

As financial inclusion increases, some microentrepreneurs may be especially well positioned to benefit. The report proposes a framework to identify and classify this particular category of microentrepreneurs, termed “strivers” by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Strivers are operating enterprises with two to 10 employees in rapidly growing market segments. They are poised to thrive and contribute to inclusive employment and economic growth within their communities, but are lacking the tools to increase their competitiveness and fully realize their business potential. The majority of respondents (60%) surveyed in the report are strivers by this definition.

Strivers, like most of the microentrepreneurs in the sample, prefer informal and individual loans, and are likely to own a cellphone. For strivers in Mexico, mobile devices may serve as important tools for information, training, and capital that lead to growing market share. The majority of the Strivers in the sample chose to be entrepreneurs over pursuing formal jobs; have a distinct sense of agency in their lives; and, as a result, believe that they have more control over their business outcomes.

Going forward

This report provides an initial window into the lives and decisions of microentrepreneurs and strivers in Mexico. It highlights their need for credit to stimulate growth; specific barriers that keep them from taking-up loans from formal financial institutions; and the potential for mobile phone technologies to increase their engagement with these institutions. Impact-oriented design and evidence-based evaluation of financial products tailored to the needs of microentrepreneurs have the potential to vastly increase financial inclusion in emerging economies around the world. Bold approaches are necessary to realize the vision of sustainable growth for this promising segment of the economy.

*Names have been changed to maintain anonymity.

 

RESOURCES

Download the full report.

Download the report appendix.

 

Laura D. Tyson is Interim Dean of the Haas School of Business and Faculty Director, Institute for Business & Social Impact, University of California, Berkeley.

Byron Villacis is a PhD candidate, University of California, Berkeley.

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