Cornell University Johnson at Cornell University

Hatching innovative startups

Startup Snapshots

Troy Holmberg, MBA '99:
Coconut-fueled microfranchises

troy holmberg Troy Holmberg, MBA '99, president, Coast Coconut Farms []

In 2005, Troy Holmberg cooked up a new enterprise that helps rural Kenyan women become self-sufficient businesspeople. Drawing on an abundant, sustainable, natural resource, Coast Coconut Farms (CCF) produces organic, virgin coconut oil, a premium export product initially marketed for use as cooking oil or a health supplement. To create additional demand for CCF oil in the United States and Europe, Holmberg also founded Basa Body LLC, which makes natural skin-care products from the CCF oil.

CCF's producers buy coconuts from local farmers, who harvest the thousands of trees that grow along the coast. Next they grind the coconut meat, heat it using coconut husks to fuel the fire, then cold-press the meat by hand to extract the oil. The residue is sold for baking or as animal feed. Family-owned microfranchises produce CCF oil, using hand-operated oil presses purchased from CCF, at rural production sites having access to water, electricity, and sufficient infrastructure to transport the coconuts.

Holmberg came up with the idea for CCF while working for Yehu Microfinance, a startup Kenyan bank that provides loans to local women to help them establish their own businesses. Although Yehu's clients had increased their incomes several-fold, Holmberg and his colleagues realized they were still only earning about $2 per day raising chickens or running home-based kiosks. "There had to be something more we could do to help them build wealth for themselves and become self-reliant," says Holmberg. CCF has raised its producers' daily income to between $4 and $10 per day.

"While managing for a double bottom line in a social enterprise halfway around the world is a tremendous challenge," says Holmberg, who manages CCF from his home in Utah, "to do well while doing good is as good as it gets."

Devora Barer Zack, MBA '94:
Making connections

devora zack Devora Barer Zack, MBA '94

"I decided to start my own business in the exact moment I was unexpectedly laid off from a small consulting firm," says Devora Zack. Within days, a major corporation, having heard she was an effective and innovative leadership consultant, contacted her to do a leadership series - and Zack's new consulting business was born.

Zack started her company in June 1996 by setting up shop in her one-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C. Her reputation brought clients running, and she actually had to keep them waiting for proposals while her new stationery was being printed.

Since then, Only Connect Consulting, Inc. (OCC), now based in Potomac, Md., has grown to include eight associate consultants in addition to Zack. Specializing in leadership and team development seminars, communication, personality inventories, coaching, and change management, OCC's list of high-profile clients includes the U.S. Treasury, America Online, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Deloitte, and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

OCC's track record keeps clients knocking at the door. Her innovative design and facilitation for the U.S. Government's Presidential Management Fellow Orientation Program has received the highest marks in the program's history, and her training designs are regularly featured in the Pfeiffer Consulting Annual. As Zack puts it, "The best advertising is facilitating off-the-chart programs."

OCC custom designs each program, based on an in-depth needs analysis of each client.

Zack also emphasizes building connections among client employees who participate in her programs. "I've been brought into workplaces where colleagues aren't speaking, and within two days, they are going to lunch and laughing together."

She credits a good deal of her success to her Johnson School background. "Virtually every class I took contributed to running a successful startup - from finance to marketing," says Zack.

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