Last week, Forbes released its third annual “30 under 30” list, highlighting young adults in different work fields. The list included three Middlebury alumni: Alexandra Cart ’08 and Emily Núñez Cavness ’12 were featured in the social entrepreneurs list, and Lisa Gretebeck ’10 was included in the healthcare list.
After graduating from Middlebury, Cart, Núñez Cavness and Greteback went on to found their own companies.
Greteback co-founded Pou Sante: Amar Haiti, which improves the health and productivity of the animals, thereby increasing the quality of life for families in Haiti.
Cart started Madeira Global, an impact-investing firm that generates financial returns by investing with companies providing social and environmental solutions. She was on campus in October as part of Middlebury’s Friday lecture series to provide students with her own insight about impact investing, the financial world and starting your own company.
Núñez Cavness started her company Sword & Plough at Middlebury with fellow graduates Cully Cavness ’09.5 and Haik Kavookjian ’09.5. Sword & Plough takes army surplus items and turns them into fashionable bags and accessories. The company provides manufacturing jobs to veterans for the construction of its products and donates 10% of the profits to veteran initiatives.
At a conference held by Middlebury College’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship (CSE) during Núñez Cavness’ senior year, the keynote speaker introduced to Núñez Cavness the idea of companies recycling materials into products. As a result, Núñez Cavness — who was raised in a military family and trained as a cadet for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) while at the College — took inspiration from this and created Sword & Plough.
Soon after Núñez Cavness began brainstorming ideas for her company with the help of her sister, she entered into the CSE’s first business plan competition. Núñez Cavness earned the first place prize and was awarded a $3000 grant for her project.
Winning the competition was a confidence boost for Núñez Cavness. “It was so helpful to have this group of peers and professors who wanted to hear about my idea and who challenged me to develop it further,” Núñez Cavness said. “Mentors and professors like Jon Isham, Alan Hassenfeld, Liz Robinson, Susan Ross, Charlie MacCormack, Dave Donahue, MariAnn Osborne, Mike Kiernan and Heather Neuwirth all played a guiding role in Sword & Plough’s very first stages, and they continued tohelp me figure out my next steps for Sword & Plough after I graduated.” Isham, MacCormack and Ross all sit on Sword & Plough’s board of advisors.
After winning the CSE’s competition, Sword & Plough experienced tremendous success in other competitions. When Núñez Cavness and her team put the company on Kickstarter, a global crowd funding platform, their goal was to raise $20,000. They reached this goal in the first two hours. At the end of Sword & Plough’s month-long campaign, it had raised $312,161.
Núñez Cavness said, “[Sword & Plough] truly would not exist without Middlebury and especially the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship.”
Last week, Sword & Plough challenged current MiddCORE participants to design a new product for the company. Núñez Cavness said, “I was blown away by their work. We will definitely be implementing the winning team’s idea and we’re hoping to eventually implement all of the designs.”
Elizabeth Robinson, co-director of the CSE said, “It’s great to be able to reach out to these creative and innovative young alums and bring them back to talk to students.”
“A really unique and special thing about Middlebury is the incredible support we give to students who have new ideas they wish to pursue. There is such value in helping students apply what they have learned in the classroom to real world challenges,” she added,
Núñez Cavness offered some advice for students.
“Throughout the start of Sword & Plough, there were many moments when I was out of my comfort zone, and I initially wasn’t sure if I had the specific knowledge to do it. One of the most important actions our team took was to acknowledge these moments, encourage each other to dive in and learn as we go. Don’t be afraid to step into something that is way out of your comfort zone. When you hear a great idea from your classmates, go beyond telling them it’s a great idea. Challenge others about how they’re going to take the next step and make their idea a reality. And if you have an idea, don’t be afraid to share it,” she concluded.