Published: Jan. 29, 2019

Strengthening the tie between Leeds and the Natural Foods industry, the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility (CESR) helped connect students with natural foods executives at the 3-day conference, MBArk2Boulder. This premier food networking and education event was designed to accelerate the advancement and knowledge of this dynamic triple-bottom-line industry. The program featured presentations from legendary leaders of the natural and organic foods industry, as well as speakers, workshops, food sampling, a job fair, and networking activities. Debuting January 2-4, 2019, this conference added to the multitude of programs from MBArk, which has been connecting students to the natural products industry since 2011.

Joe Dobrow, founder of MBArk, was overwhelmed by the positive feedback he received after the conference. “[W]hat an incredible event MBArk was over the past couple of days,” said Bo Swindell, MBA student at Kellog. “[W]e were able to build authentic relationships with each other and the speakers. Rather than overwhelming, the two and a half days felt energizing. The room was full of passion and intention and I am grateful I was able to be part of it.”

MBArk was also proud to include two new topics - Food Waste & Food Insecurity - that they hadn’t addressed before. Diving deeper into sustainability, MBArk is thrilled to develop more ‘conference expertise’ on these in-demand topics.

This successful debut of MBArk2Boulder brought over 100 attendees, including MBA students from more than 30 different schools, all hungry for a chance to interact and network with like-minded people in the natural foods industry. Although MBArk had never targeted undergraduate students before, they realized the need for undergraduate talent in the industry and expanded the program in order to connect them with the multitude of job opportunities available. The students weren’t the only target of this event, though. It was a chance for executives to engage with each other, hear from the multitude of speakers, and receive inspiration from the energetic environment.

Legendary Leaders & Industry Knowledge

MBArk2Boulder brought together 16 different sessions including 28 speakers, including three legends of the industry: Mark Retzloff, co-founder of Aurora Organic Dairy and Board member for CESR and the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship; Mo Siegel, founder of Celestial Seasonings; and Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chairman of Stonyfield Farm.

Anna Bergstrom, undergraduate at Leeds, noted that the sessions were inspiring, and offered insight to the natural foods industry and how purpose-driven businesses work.

In a session that covered sustainability initiatives in the food industry Darcy Shiber-Knowles, Innovation and Sustainability Manager of Dr. Bronners, shared her background creating the role of sustainability in places that didn’t yet have it. With an energetic demeanor, she explained how crucial it is for an organization to incorporate sustainability horizontally - touching all functional areas.

In addition to the multitude of inspiring speakers, MBArk2Boulder also provided various field trips around the greater Boulder area in order to showcase the unique environment we have surrounding natural foods. Just a few of these field trips included the The ZERO Market, Altius Farms, Avery Brewing, Alfalfa’s, and Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy.

Natural Foods Networking

Although Bergstrom could not stop raving about the overall quality of sessions and speakers, her favorite part was the welcoming space that connected her with a multitude of students and executives who are passionate about natural foods and businesses with positive impact.  Bergstrom noted that the environment was radiating passion. The executives and attendees were friendly and genuinely wanted to share their passions with each other, inspiring students to get involved and make their own impact.

Part of MBArk2Boulder included a Food Sampling/ Career Fair in which more than 30 companies participated to sample their wares, meet eager talent, and to get the message out about their brands. Further than connecting students with the natural foods industry, this energetic event demonstrated people in the field who were putting things into action.

Successful Conference

After 3 full days of speakers and programs, Closing Keynote Speaker Stephen Ritz delivered an energetic, inspiring, and even jaw dropping talk about founding the Green Bronx Machine. An effort to motivate students in the South bronx to achieve personal and academic successes beyond what they have imagined, the Green Bronx Machine has used vertical and urban farming to cultivate community and grow more than 65,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx and has influenced communities around the country and the globe to adopt this model.


“Wow - I am speechless after such a fantastic experience in Boulder last week… I’m very excited about a potential future working in the natural and organic food industry and am so grateful for the chance to get things started at MBArk2Boulder.”

  • Beth LaBossiere, Harvard Business School MBA

The Leeds School of Business and CESR were proud to continue to build their relationship with the natural foods industry. If you are interested in receiving information on next year’s MBArk2Boulder conference, sign up here! Keep up with CESR by joining our newsletter!