Food upcycler and UBC MBA alum Marc Wandler taps into student brain power to grow business
Susgrainable co-founders Marc Wandler and Clinton Bishop display their company values alongside former UBC Sauder student interns. Pictured from left to right: Venus Tsang, Maggie Yip, Marc Wandler, Clinton Bishop and Joanna Zhao.
Marc Wandler discovered his passion for consumer behaviour and the circular economy while he was a UBC Master of Business Administration (MBA) student. As the co-founder and CEO of Susgrainable, he’s built a unique business model that draws on both concepts to turn beer waste into easy-to-make baking mixes that benefit the customer and the planet.
Susgrainable’s corporate vision is two-fold: to fight a global food waste problem and to increase the amount of fibre in people’s diets. The company rescues spent grain from craft breweries and transforms it into upcycled barley flour that can be used to make high-fibre, low sugar baked goods.
Their business model, Wandler says, is inspired by the three principles of the circular economy: eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials, and regenerating natural systems.
“We are trying to make fibre cool and fun by repurposing the other half of beer,” explains Wandler. “The food waste argument generates initial interest, but then there’s the health benefits for the consumers themselves.”
Tapping into the brainpower of brilliant students
Since he graduated in 2019, Wandler has never been far away from his roots at UBC Sauder. The community has been a resource in more ways than one and Susgrainable has brought on several UBC Sauder students as interns.
They’ve tackled many assignments, including the creation of a learning management and onboarding system, a business development project dedicated to teaching circular economy workshops to high school students, a digital infrastructure migration and new intranet, and a real estate research project to validate potential facility sites.
Wandler estimates that Susgrainable has also been the focus of 10 UBC Sauder class projects over the years, with the latest being assigned to the current MBA cohort.
“We put together a project and provide them with one or two touch points,” says Wandler. “The students become more engaged and learn more by working on a real-life project rather than something that is just for a grade and then goes to the shredder.”
By tapping into their expertise and enthusiasm, Wandler says he’s noticed that UBC Sauder students offer immense value when it comes to design work, navigating technical programs, and remodelling. Students have also been the source of many creative marketing ideas.
“I double down on involving students because they bring passion to the work we’re doing,” says Wandler. “Some folks bring experience, but they aren’t actually willing to do the work.”
As for why he has stayed so closely connected to his alma mater and dedicates so much time to the mentorship of students, Wandler says it’s all about fostering a strong sense of community.
“UBC Sauder continues to support Susgrainable, so why wouldn’t we support UBC Sauder? It’s a circular economy in its own way.”
Hitting the shelves at UBC and preparing for the holiday season
Susgrainable products are already available at Safeway, Thrifty Foods, Nature’s Fare Markets and Fresh St. Market. Wandler says his focus this year is a B.C.-wide expansion through additional grocery retailers.
There are also exciting developments close to home. Susgrainable is pursuing a partnership with UBC Food Services to carry baked goods in cafes across campus. Susgrainable produces these in collaboration with a local bakery partner, Leavenly Goods.
Susgrainable’s baking mixes are already on the shelves at the UBC Bookstore just in time for the holiday season. Wandler says he hopes consumers buy the products as a way to spend quality time in the kitchen with family and kick-start conversations about the importance of the circular economy in decreasing the environmental impact of food waste.
The company is also focused on giving back through a collaborative community campaign. For every Susgrainable baking mix sold until December 31, 2022, $2.00 will be donated to registered Vancouver charity Food Stash Foundation.
Wandler says he has challenged local philanthropists, many of whom are part of his UBC Sauder network, to support the campaign and help reach their $10,000 fundraising goal. Susgrainable also plans to donate an additional $10,000 in products to Food Stash Foundation in 2023.
Eyeing an exciting milestone
As they focus on the future, the Susgrainable team is approaching an exciting milestone – the launch of a dedicated upcycling facility. The facility will allow the company to produce flour at scale, lower the cost of production and make Susgrainable items more accessible to a wider audience.
For Wandler, it’s the natural next step in the company’s journey to becoming a leader in reducing waste, reusing materials, and improving the health of Canadians.
“When it’s a circular economy, you have to make it easy, convenient and accessible for customers because we all lead busy lifestyles.”
A class project turns into a full-fledged venture
The idea for Susgrainable was sparked and nurtured at the UBC Sauder School of Business. Wandler and his peers came up with the concept in their Tech Entrepreneurship class, then taught by Paul Cubbon, now Assistant Dean, Innovation.
The interdisciplinary course is entirely project-based and exposes students to the process of launching a start-up.
“The concept of Susgrainable was a project for most, but for me, I could see a legitimate business that I could take forward,” says Wandler.
The next academic term, Wandler had a class with faculty member Justin Bull, Leader, Sustainability & Ethics Group at UBC Sauder.
“He got me and many people in my cohort interested in the circular economy,” says Wandler. “He has a data-centric approach and he does such a good job engaging people in the conversation.”
The consumer behaviour teachings of Darren Dahl, now Dean of UBC Sauder, and Joey Hoegg, Senior Associate Dean, Faculty, also laid the groundwork for the eventual creation of Susgrainable. Wandler says both Dahl and Hoegg remain trusted mentors to this day.
“If you are going to work in the circular economy, you need to understand that consumer habits are the major driving force,” says Wandler. “I go to Darren or Joey if I need to conceptualize something or seek advice on how to modify an idea.”