Can Business Save the World?

Maybe the path to a sustainable future for Burlington – and for the world – will be driven by the growth of a new generation of eco-friendly, socially responsible businesses. In the 21st century, business is arguably the most powerful force on the planet. For good or ill, profitable enterprises have the ability to grow rapidly. Can they scale up in ways that meet the challenges of climate change, food security and other problems more rapidly than governments and nonprofit organizations? Why not invite young entrepreneurs to dream up visions for these new, beneficial businesses right now?

BCL 7 embraced this challenge in a four-day business residency at the brand-new HULA Lakeside business incubator space in Burlington’s South End.

Learning about how Ben & Jerry’s uses their brand to advocate for voting rights.
Talking business in HULA’s main conference room

The tour at HULA opened our eyes to some amazing tech businesses right here in Burlington that are developing electric battery-powered aircraft, virtual reality products to treat PTSD and search apps that prioritize local businesses, among other things. 

Learning about HULA’s solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling systems – which do not require any fossil fuel inputs.

We met with a variety of business leaders in Burlington from Ben & Jerry’s, Mamava and The Shop, who took us deeper into the ways they are addressing social and environmental problems – here in Burlington and around the world – through their value chains. 

Christine Dodson tells us about Mamava’s mission to support breastfeeding moms and their vision to revolutionize the culture of breastfeeding.
Algenis Garcia talks about his path to becoming a business owner, and how he spreads positive energy in the community at The Shop.

Then, working in teams, students created their own business concepts to solve real-world problems. We brought in business consultants to help refine the concepts –  and then students pitched them before a panel of judges, Shark Tank style. Students’ businesses tackled the problems of plastic waste, homelessness, electric vehicle infrastructure, fast food packaging and more. 

Anna, Maria, and Nils build a business to upcycle plastic waste into locally-manufactured apparel
Felipe, Henry and Ali consult with Dov about their plans to revolutionize fast food packaging
J. Finn, Aya and Liam pitch their plan for waste-collection robots
Gonzalaiz, Miles, and Leo win micro seed capital for a future beneficial business. Their winning concept would create tiny homes out of shipping containers while training, employing and supporting homeless people

Of course, it’s unrealistic to suggest that business will solve all of our problems. But it’s equally naive to suggest that we will build a sustainable future without the participation of the business sector. So here’s hoping some of these great student ideas – and many others like them – become reality in the years to come.

I really liked this project, it definitely made me think about how companies are either helping or hurting the world. I think it will make me focus more on what I purchase.

– Anna

I loved this project. It was really different from any other I’ve done. I feel like I engaged in the community’s problems and tried to think of a real possible solution to help fix these problems.

– Miles

I enjoyed this project but it also showed me that I am not very cut out to make my own business. I like the idea of making your own business with your own values but thinking about all the different factors was definitely something that I had some difficulty with. After doing this project I understand the importance of businesses in our communities from their influence to the effects they can have by staying true to their own values.

– Emmett

Many thanks to the business partners who presented, consulted, and judged students’ business pitches. And a shout out to the folks at HULA for welcoming BCL 7!

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