Getting involved with Zasaka this year was a true highlight of my entire Graduate School of Management experience – and it proved that UC Davis was totally the right school for me.
One of the main reasons I decided to get my MBA at the GSM was the sustainability and entrepreneurial culture that seemed to be widespread across campus.
The Big Bang! Business Competition is just one of the many programs here at UCD that helps keep that culture alive and well. The competition is run by the amazing UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. They provide opportunities year round to work on new business ideas and meet great people (like the Zasaka team: Carl, Sunday, Rashmi, and Julia!).
I first got excited about Big Bang! when planning my move from Boston to California in 2012. That year’s winner was an improved solar power technology and the People’s Choice Award winner was a technology for asphalt roads that captured energy from the sun and the pressure of passing vehicles. How cool!
Then in my first year at the GSM, I took Marc Lowe’s New Business Ventures, where student take business ideas from startup to VC funding to 10x. I worked on a team that developed a news platform for college-aged millennials. We took it all the way to the Big Bang! Semifinals! The judges asked seriously hard questions about finances, differentiation, and operations that kept us learning more at every step in the competition. I found out through the process that I had built some great skills by that point in my MBA! It made me eager to stay involved with entrepreneurship on campus and further tailor it to my interests.
This January I first met the incredible Zasaka team through the course, D-Lab, taught by Kurt Kornbluth in the UCD Program for International Energy Technologies. The class was developed by the UCD Energy Efficiency Center (EEC) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). What an incredible 10 weeks! We broke into seven teams that used small business ideas with innovative design and technologies to address real problems in developing countries with international partner communities. The projects from our class and a few past years are here: http://piet.ucdavis.edu/?page_id=12
At this point I knew absolutely nothing about post-harvest grain storage and crop yields in Zambia. Nothing! Through weeks of research and regular conversations with the Zasaka founders, our team helped develop a financial model, stakeholder analysis, and go-to-market recommendations. We built an understanding of the governmental climate of Zambia, lives of smallholder farmers, and crop trends.
I had grown to love this little company.
So, I took the Zasaka team up on their offer to join their Big Bang! group. Countless financial models, value chain descriptions, crop cycle explanations, and amazing team conversations later, Zasaka was pitched to the Big Bang! judges.
Five pitches, 10 judges, and 150 audience members later, we were honored to win both the Ag and Food Innovation and People’s Choice awards!
The competition and team Zasaka confirmed some of the main lessons I learned at the GSM. Seek out difficult feedback and constantly iterate. Get the right people in the room. And keep pushing yourself to take on challenges inside and outside of the classroom.
Thanks to so many sustainability and entrepreneurial leaders, we have a culture that can’t be beat here at UC Davis. I’m excited to stay involved with Zasaka in the years to come and wish all future Big Bang! competitors the very best of luck!