Babson Food Day: Pioneering a New Model
By Peter Venti, Graduate student at Babson College.
As TV personality and Babson Entrepreneur-in-Residence Andrew Zimmern began discussing culinary origins with celebrity chef Kristen Kish, you knew that you were a part of something special. The opening Food Day event featured a panel of prominent chefs fielding questions from Zimmern and fellow TV host and EIR, Gail Simmons. The star power, however, was quickly overshadowed by the richness and authenticity of the content. They weighed in on a number of hot industry topics like getting rid of tipping and the challenges of finding talent, but the real fruit of the conversation came when panelists were given the opportunity to speak to larger issues in the food system. It was candid, intimate, and incredibly insightful. These individuals may be known for their cooking prowess, but the event proved to be a reminder that they are also experts on topics like agriculture, sustainability, and food waste. It was clear that they were rarely tapped to discuss these issues with one another, let alone a diverse audience of students and professionals. Every chef echoed the same appreciation for getting to be part of the conversation and many began their comments with the phrase, “we never get to talk about these things.”
Collaboration and conversation are what made Food Day the most rewarding event that I have been a part of at Babson. As a second year MBA student I have attended more panels than I ever thought possible; but the Food Day process is completely unique – it is built around the idea that every individual in attendance has something important to contribute to the group. There is no lecturing and there are no formal rules. After the introductions and question and answer periods, distinguished guests joined the audience in small groups and dove deeper into conversations. In one such group I was sitting with a famous chef, an ice cream entrepreneur, the former president of Trader Joe’s, a current student, and a strategist at Ocean Spray. Many audience members, including myself, had a fear that they would not be able to add value to the discussions, but early on it was clear that every single person came with a unique perspective that helped spur creativity.
The final event of the day was reserved for Babson student food-trepreneurs to pitch a problem they were facing with their venture and for the panelists and audience to pitch solutions back at them. It is one thing for an entrepreneur to get advice from an expert, but it is a completely different monster when everyone in the room is a participant. The process of actively engaging with one another truly educated experts and students alike. When a Babson student gets the former President of Trader Joe’s to say, “that’s a great idea, I’ve never thought about it that way,” the value of the collaboration model becomes clear. Even the most eloquent and captivating speakers leave audiences with knowledge that is fleeting. At Food Day, I got to be the audience, the speaker, and the moderator, and I can say that it was an event that I will not be forgetting any time soon.