Business school investment competition goes green

Inaugural Bunson Impact Investing Challenge focuses on sustainability

Sustainability investor Karin Chamberlain (left) stayed after the competition to offer advice to competition winners Steven Honeyman MA '13, Archana KC MBA '13 and Lauren Stoker MA '13

There are great ideas, and then there are great green ideas.

That was the concept behind Brandeis International Business School’s first annual Bunson Impact Investing Challenge on Friday, March 2, which found teams of students pitching investment proposals to their peers, professors and a judging panel of financial professionals. The twist that separated this from the Global Markets Investment Club’s (GMIC) own long-running Stock Pitch Challenge was its emphasis on companies and investment strategies focused on sustainability and social impact.

“A lot of people in the financial industry don’t seem to understand the nuances of impact investment,” said Net Impact President Elissa Leonard, MBA ’12, whose organization coordinated the competition alongside GMIC and the International Business Women club. “We thought it was worth pulling together an event that really zeroed in on these issues.”

The event was sponsored by the Steven M. Bunson ’82 Finance and Society Initiative, which supports courses and programs that explore the interface between the worlds of finance and society. The panelists participating in the challenge were Criterion Ventures Managing Director Jackie VanderBrug, Winslow Management founder Jack Robinson, United Teen Equality Center founder Gregg Croteau, and sustainable investment professional Karin Chamberlain, who serves as programming chair for Boston Women in Finance.

While some students had concocted their ideas in the preceding months, for Archana KC, MBA ’13, it was at an early age that the seeds of her project first took root – quite literally. As a child growing up in Nepal, a mountainous country rich in exotic herbs, her family meals always prominently featured the cardamom plant native to her homeland. She recently experienced an "a-ha" moment at Whole Foods, when she saw a 2-ounce packet of the spice being sold for $10. “That’s when I realized that there was an untapped market for this,” she said.

Cut to several months later: KC, Steven Honeyman MA ’13 and Lauren Stroner MA ’13 presented their business plan to the team of judges, and not only won the competition, but were advised by Robinson that the business could be worth more than $2 million if it is properly scaled. The group has submitted their proposal to the International Impact Investing Challenge – if they are selected as one of the 10 finalists, they will fly to San Francisco to compete for the prestigious $10,000 first-place prize.

“When I heard about the Impact Investing Challenge, it sounded like a perfect match for what I wanted to do: start a business and provide opportunities for people in the rural parts of my country,” said KC. “Events like this are important for providing avenues for students to test their ideas.”

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