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UBC Sauder students focus on sustainable food

Four Master of Management students at the UBC Sauder School of Business have been helping a social enterprise formulate a business plan to create a more sustainable food system in Vancouver.

Sky Harvest is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Aaron Quesnel. Specializing in sustainable design, urban agriculture and innovation, the company has seen tremendous interest and demand from Vancouver residents for the introduction of rooftop agriculture to the city’s skyline. It also helps to drive positive change in the food system and engages people in the benefits of sustainable eating.

Jenna Clarke, Jason Cowie, Jerry Lin and Maki Mukai worked with Sky Harvest for their Community Business Project, which pairs students with social enterprises as a key component of UBC Sauder’s Master of Management program.

A passion for sustainability

Aaron engaged the students to work on a business plan for a rooftop greenhouse that will provide fruits and vegetables to local restaurants. The job involved conducting extensive market research, interviewing stakeholders and conducting a survey to collect data on the local market for sustainable produce. The students also focused on financial modelling to create templates that will help the company apply its knowledge and expertise across a variety of projects.

“It was evident that the students were very passionate about this area and that came across in their work and in my dealings with them,” says Aaron. “The market research they did has been extremely valuable for us in terms of getting an insight into what chefs look for in their suppliers, the logistics of their delivery processes, the quantities and seasonality of the produce they need.”

Business skills put to the test

The Community Business Project is a mandatory six-month volunteer initiative that forms a significant part of the MM program and gives students the opportunity to put their business skills to the test helping local organizations with community enhancing projects on a part-time, consulting basis. Having no formal business background himself, Aaron was impressed with the quality of the students’ work.

“The fact that they were able to choose which organization they wanted to work with at the start meant that we had students who were very keen and very interested in the work that we do,” says Aaron. “I think also that the six-month duration of the project was very helpful because it gave us enough time, as the project developed, to go back and re-align the work the students were doing for us.”

“We are a young organization so the direction and focus of our work changes somewhat regularly as different opportunities arise,” Aaron adds. “It was great to have a group of such dedicated people working with us over a sustained period of time.”

Sky Harvest is still searching for a location for its first rooftop greenhouse in Vancouver, but Aaron is confident that the city is moving towards a more sustainable future when it comes to food production. He says that the involvement from UBC Sauder’s MM students has been critical in driving this process forward.