Events & Media

Bren School Master’s Students Win Southwest Regional Finals,
Reach Final 8 of Walmart National Entrepreneurship Competition

Their business would help to “green” the fashion industry by sourcing sustainably made fabrics

Santa Barbara, CA
– On March 2, a team of three Bren School master’s students won the regional semi-final round of the Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge, hosted by the University of Southern California. They are now among the final eight teams still in the competition.

Morgan Furst, Amanda Lindsay, and Alex Silvester, who created the business model for “Forget-Me-Not Sourcing” through their participation in the Bren School’s Eco-Entrepreneurship (Eco-E) focus, will travel to Walmart headquarters in Arkansas for the competition’s national semi-finals and finals, to be held April 12 and 13.

“This is great news, and it speaks volumes about the Bren School’s Eco-E focus, the students who are pursuing it, and the preparation and mentorship they receive from their Eco-E advisor, Emily Chan, as well as other faculty, staff and visiting entrepreneurs,” said Bren School dean Steve Gaines. “Through their non-traditional business training, which combines the latest, most-effective approaches to entrepreneurship with a deep understanding of environmental science, the Forget-Me-Not Sourcing team was able to compete, and win, against a field made up entirely of MBA students. That is remarkable.”

“Emily prepared us so well, and we felt really confident,” said Furst. “It couldn’t have gone any better. We were prepared for the questions and thought it was the best presentation we’d given. The business-model work prepared us better for the business plan. We had so much more data and first-hand interviews and knew so much more about our industry.”

Forget-Me-Not Sourcing would support the greening of the fashion industry by providing designers with sources of fabrics that are made in a way that is both environmentally sustainable and incorporates the tenets of environmental justice, such as healthful working conditions  and fair pay and living conditions for those employed in the textile industry

Sixty-four teams competed in the eight regional semifinals, having qualified by winning their respective school competitions. The other teams in the southwest regional were Cal State Fullerton, USC (2), UC Irvine, and Bainbridge College. (Teams from Pepperdine and UCLA dropped out at the last minute.) All of the teams except Forget-Me-Not were made up of MBA students.

The eight national semifinalists will present to a panel of judges on April 12 in Arkansas. Two finalists will then be chosen to present a second time the following day, April 13, to decide the winner.

The Bren team had to alter and augment their business model to create a business plan for the regional semifinal, which was focused on elements more characteristic of a plan, such as long-term scaling up of the business and long-term profitability. Figuring out the numbers on the financial side fell to Silvester.

“I was shocked when we found out we’d won,” said Silvester. “I couldn’t believe it because there were six teams from great schools. It validates all the hard work we’ve done and our preparation to compete.”

“Our Eco-E students learn to build a business model, which requires them to go into the marketplace and find out what customers need, rather than creating a product or service they think might be useful and then coming up with a business plan for executing it, which can create tunnel vision,” said Chan, Bren School Eco-E Project advisor and lecture. “So it was validating to have one of our teams win a business-plan competition. It means that our Eco-E curriculum and process are working. Our students’ pitches are more convincing, and they are better-prepared to field questions from judges, because they have been developing their business models outside the classroom and are able to discuss how they have had to “pivot” based on feedback gained by talking to real target customers.”

“Walmart is sometimes seen as the bad guy and sometimes as the champion, but either way, it is always really big,” said Lindsay. “And now we have the opportunity to go share our idea with them. I keep thinking, how many people get to be flown out to Arkansas to present to Walmart executives?