Published: Jan. 9, 2020

Kathryn BernellLeeds kicked off the new year by co-hosting the MBArk2Boulder Food Leadership Conference with MBArk on January 2-4. This networking and learning event featured nearly 30 top speakers from the natural and organic products industry, field trips to some of the local food production facilities and a variety of ways for attendees to connect, share and engage—including a food sampling and networking fair with many companies from across the Front Range. In total, we had 124 registrants, including MBA students from 34 different universities, and five CU faculty members involved as well.

Speakers dove into diverse topics, including entrepreneurship, food waste solutions, packaging innovations, the CBD industry, the plant-based foods movement, regenerative agriculture, ag tech, impact investing and indoor vertical farming.

The conference offered Leeds students, faculty and staff opportunities to learn more about this “hometown industry” that is vital to our community and our school, network with industry leaders, and interact with MBA and undergraduate students from schools around the country.

MBARK participantsAccording to the Boulder Economic Council, Boulder has the nation’s largest concentration of natural and organic products companies—and our school is growing its reputation as an educational pathfinder in natural products world. Over the past year, Leeds has created curricular offerings (e.g., Natural and Organic MBA pathway and Food Industry Executive Leadership Development certificate program, also a partnership with MBArk) and co-curricular programming (Natural and Organic Bootcamp and Natural and Organic Case Competition) to prepare students for leadership in this growing dynamic sector.

The MBArk2Boulder conference is yet another example of how Leeds leverages its strong network and local entrepreneurial ecosystem, adding additional value to its educational offerings and helping students connect to and thrive in the booming natural and organic industry that surrounds us.

A Local Startup’s Super Bowl Moment

Dustin FinkelDustin Finkel, a CU Boulder adjunct faculty in the College of Media, Communication and Information and founder of Ka-Pop, an ancient grain snack company, led an intriguing session about his company’s preparation for their big television moment on Shark Tank. He spoke about what the application process and filming was like, how he is preparing for the upcoming airing of his pitch on January 19, and what that exposure could mean for the new company.

“Getting on Shark Tank is like getting your Super Bowl ad moment,” said Finkel.

Along with his wife, who is the chief marketing officer, they run a “scrappy” organization as they work to break into the marketplace and get traction on their business. A health/Paleo enthusiast and CrossFit Instructor, Finkel created Ka-Pop because he wanted to transform a beloved snack, like chips and popcorn, and make it better, using the ancient grains he had in his pantry.

Like many of the speakers at the conference, Finkel emphasized the power of networking in his company’s success. His advice: Do it when you don’t need to; focus on building relationships all the time, so they’re established when you do need them. The relationships he’s built along his entrepreneurial journey came in especially handy when he was informed his Shark Tank pitch would be airing on TV in less than a month, and the race to prepare for additional sales began.