THINKING FORWARD – Ideas for your work from MIT Sloan School of Management

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Ideas for your work from
MIT Sloan School of Management | Office of Communications

+ THREE INSIGHTS FOR THE WEEK
January 3-9, 2021

1. It’s a dynamic time for the meat industry. Labor, health, and environmental concerns threaten the popularity of animal products, but alternative foods face major challenges as well.

The recent MIT Sustainability Summit featured leaders from five companies that are taking varied approaches to making meat more eco-friendly and accessible worldwide. The companies included:

  • Impossible Foods, which develops plant-based substitutes for meat products.
  • Walden Local, which raises and distributes sustainable meat through a farm-share-like program.
  • Butter Meat Co., which focuses on mature, organic local beef.
  • Seemore Meats & Veggies, which produces carbon-neutral, vegetable-forward sausages.
  • New Age Meats, which grows meat from the cells of animals that have not been slaughtered, a process known as “cultivated meat” or “cell-based meat.” (The company’s products are not yet for sale.)

Among the challenges discussed by the firms’ executives: the ways COVID-19 has underscored the frailty of the workforce; navigating a regulatory environment that favors entrenched corporations over upstarts; crafting marketing messages that emphasize flavor rather than virtue; and the need to make high-quality meat and meat alternatives more affordable for a broader swath of consumers.

2. Expanding access to capital for women and entrepreneurs of color requires deliberate and concrete action, not optics.

A recent MIT Sloan panel moderated by MIT Sloan lecturer Malia Lazu discussed steps that banks, investors, and the community can take to open resources, eradicate unconscious bias, and bolster truly inclusive local economies.

Here are some of the ways banks and investors can move from bias to action:

  • Be actively anti-racist when lending and spending. Recent federal data show that Black business owners are rejected for bank loans at a rate double that of white business owners and are less likely to be fully funded. If you are only funding companies run by white males, look harder.
  • Lending money isn’t enough: Build and be part of an ecosystem. Offer expertise to fledgling businesses and encourage large employers to spend a higher percentage of their procurement dollars with Black and Latinx enterprises.

Avoid “diversity theater.” “Stop holding special sessions for people of color [where] you talk about how you really want to help them. If you don’t write the check, you don’t do anything,” said panelist Barbara Clarke, a technology investor.

3. As co-CEO of ThirdLove, an online purveyor of women’s underwear, Heidi Zak, MBA ’07, thinks a little differently about workforce diversity.

“Our executive team is 67% women, and overall, the company is about 80% women,” Zak said in a recent interview. “We actually think about our diversity and our culture as it applies to hiring men. We make sure men are comfortable in the environment, and that they’re spread out in teams across the organization.”

More observations culled from Zak’s Q&A:

On supporting women: I started angel investing in other female-founded companies a few years back, and I’m proud to be an investor in nine early-stage startups.

On learning difficult lessons: We first started manufacturing with an overly ambitious made-on-demand line that backfired. Right before we were going to run out of money, we totally changed our supply chain and manufacturing line based upon what we had learned. So the lowest moment in my career proved to be the most meaningful, and allowed us to grow and scale.

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