BSL Alumnae, Ola Kayal, keeps it cool with Nabati a plant-based ice cream startup

For the next installment of our BSL careers office interview series, where we take a look at the post-BSL lives of our business and entrepreneurial graduates, we chatted with Ola Amro Kayal, founder of Nabati, an ice cream business with a twist. Based in Florida, USA, Nabati (meaning ‘plant-based’ in Arabic) is not your typical ice cream shop. It offers plant-based, organic, unrefined ice cream while sending an environmental message. All of the 100% plant-based ice cream, toppings, sauces, and desserts are served in biodegradable packaging. It is also a concept store, and they often collaborate with like-minded brands for various green campaigns.

OlaKayal_AtNabati_1_ByMelanieOlivaWhat degree did you received from BSL?

I graduated with a Bachelor in Business Administration with a focus on sustainability. I think we were the first group at BSL to do the switch to Sustainable Business as a subject. 

Which subjects and professors stood out to you most?

BSL was a very unique experience for me. I remember most of the content from my classes and, of course, all of my amazing professors. It was such a personal and hands-on learning experience, something I had never experienced before. I loved that all the professors were actually working in the industry they were teaching. What sticks with me the most is a class I had with Arash, Systems Thinking MIS. I also remember solving big problems with the fishing game simulation which was fun and informative. 

What is the most valuable lesson you learned during your studies and how have they helped you in your career? 

The case study approach left a mark on me as it made me realize that every situation in life is different. Of course, it’s always good to have a plan but it is also important to be adaptable to change. But I think the most important takeaway from my degree was that my education embedded in me a strong sense of sustainability in my lifestyle, actions and business decisions. From all that I learned at BSL, the question I still ask myself to this day is “What is the most sustainable way to operate?”. This keeps propelling me forward in my personal and professional life.  Nabati_Storefront_ByMelanieOliva

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in beginning your business?

What I learned from the outset is that every day brings a new set of challenges. Due to Nabati being based in Miami, USA, I faced a lot of challenges with acquiring the various permits for construction. Everything in this city requires a specific permit and costs a lot of money. Finding good quality workers and making sure they are satisfied is another challenge in itself. This continues to become a challenge, managing everyone’s personal needs and problems. Setting up standards and controlling them is something that is difficult to balance at first, but gets easier with experience. Delegating tasks is always tough when you are a perfectionist, so letting go of certain things and allowing others to handle them has been a point of personal growth for me. Marketing and getting my brand out to the public has also been challenging. The market for organic foods in the USA is already rather saturated, but plant-based ice cream is a unique offering. So getting the public to be able to know and differentiate the product is difficult, but we’re making headway!  

What have been your biggest wins so far and what would you attribute them to?

We have been fortunate enough to have numerous articles and publications favorably reviewing what Nabati is all about. There has been a lot of interest in us being the first 100% plant-based ice cream shop in Miami that is also plastic-free. We have recently been officially recognized by PETA which is amazing.

Nabati_OwnContainer_ByMelanieOliva

What is your vision for the business and your professional career going into the future? 

My dream is to have Nabati franchised in the USA. From there, I would love to open stores across the globe. We are now working on our wholesale capabilities with the aim to supply restaurants and shops in the USA. 

Do you believe that studying at BSL has provided you with a competitive advantage among your peers?

I think studying at BSL gave me a full overview of business administration with a real-world perspective. Gaining experience from industry professionals really helps you understand all the various and complex elements of running a business. It is cool to get the chance to put your theory into action. Like anything rewarding, it is challenging but also so exciting. If you have drive and passion to start your own business, then I would highly recommend BSL to gain valuable real-world experience.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to other budding entrepreneurs and business-focused students? 

I don’t only have one piece of advice, I have many! Have a plan but remember to be creatively adaptable. It’s important to know everything that is going on in your business, even if you are delegating something you should know how it is done to know what to expect. Finally, don’t be scared to make mistakes, that’s how you improve your business! And perhaps my most sage piece of advice: work hard – nothing good in life comes easy. 

Thank you for your time, Ola! It was truly insightful getting to know more about how you started your business and how your studies at BSL helped equip you with the necessary skills and perspective to create something of your own. From all of us at the BSL Careers Office, we wish you and Nabati continued success. Next time we’re in Florida we’ll be sure to try some of your delicious plant-based ice creams!

Innovation course addressing the learning appetite of students, the imperatives for companies and the challenges for megatrends

As I am correcting the post-assignments of the “Internal and External innovation” course, I am reflecting on the nature of innovation that will have to be addressed by us but more importantly by our students over the next decade.

Obviously, the Digital revolution will continue and it is estimated that half of the jobs in this area in 2030 don’t exist today.

Sustainability: the increase of population from 7.5B today to 10B in 2050, with natural resources that will actually reduce in absolute value, will have to be tackled.

Inequality, with a middle class that used to be the cement of democracy, will get poorer and with an aging population that may not afford the cost of medical care.

There are a dozen more critical topics that will equally require a constant curiosity, critical eye, pertinent innovation, and successful execution.

Along with all the courses of BSL, we hope that the innovation best practices and experiments that our students have played with will better equip them to face these challenges. We hope that the creative teamwork they have engaged in the internal and external innovation class will give them the fortitude to discover, to ideate, to try, to iterate and deliver value for the world.

In the meanwhile, our students will certainly deliver value to customers, helping their company to develop and prosper, but also ensuring that this prosperity will bring true value that will not be used to buy and deplete other companies.

To achieve this ambitious vision, we sincerely believe that we have given the participants an appetite for continuous learning, confidence in the creativity they showed during their childhood and the trust in working in teams, as they did in our class, working for instance on a real venture. They helped indeed a young entrepreneur in collecting customer insights, making sense of them and brainstorming on various scenarios. True Design Thinking process applied in real life!

Yves KarcherAuthor: Yves Karcher, BSL Associate Professor

BSL Alumni Mentoring Program – a year after the launch

careers guidance counsellorThe BSL Alumni Mentoring Program has been up and running for a full year, with 20 Alumni and 20 students involved in this pilot project launched by BSL Careers in January 2018. It is time to share with our community some observations and feedback about the program.

To mentor? Or not to mentor? This is the question that many BSL Alumni may have asked themselves after reading the email about my mentoring idea in summer 2017. It’s been nearly one and a half years since and I have spoken to numerous people both in person and over calls on the phone and Skype for interviews, the launch and the feedback gathering. As the designer of the program, it has been a great experience for me to get to know the Alumni, and to connect students with mentors from around the world.

I started gathering feedback from the mentors and the mentees throughout 2018. This data was collected through emails and face-to-face interactions and has enabled me to identify encouraging patterns as well as some areas for improvement. The results varied with many connections working well, with few barely taking off at all. Let’s look at some of the key takeaways from the program.

Positive patterns

The majority of students selected for the program reported that they found the experience to be a great success and enjoyed their first taste of a high-level networking. These students stated that the program offered them a safe space, free from grading and judgement, offering them opportunities to understand more about how professionals think in the different phases of their careers. The discussions concerning careers and professional development were also found to be extremely valuable.

Most of the Alumni mentors enjoyed opportunities to connect and engage in thoughtful conversations with younger, ‘switched on’ students and gained valuable insight on the next generation’s trends and incentives.

A discussion with a particular mentor made me realize that the program could also develop in directions that were not necessarily foreseen during the design phase. A very experienced entrepreneur, who was paired with a Master student, shared his highlight of the program, mentioning that “…at some point, the student and I swapped the mentor-mentee role as we reached such a great level of empathy between us. Something I truly enjoyed!”. I found this statement to be highly encouraging, as both the mentor and mentee indicated that they have continued the mentoring beyond the 10 hours and will meet this coming April in person!

Some experienced Alumni have also expressed their appreciation for the program, being of the opinion that it came at the right time in their careers when they felt a need to give back and help others.

On top of these positive patterns, we managed to bring some of our Alumni back to BSL and enrich our MBA seminars while tightening the connection between current students and Alumni, something which is particularly important when nurturing our community.

Where and how can the program improve?

I have taken into account that many of the Alumni who have a wealth of managerial and work experience have never officially mentored anyone before. Taking this feedback into consideration, I will be preparing future mentors with some practical examples to help guide and inspire them. In doing this I hope to improve the overall experience for both mentors and mentees.

Additionally, I received feedback regarding the impact of imposing mentoring time frames. Some felt that by assigning 10 hours to this process, the program ran the risk of limiting an experience that should develop naturally, without boundaries. This feedback will be implemented into future programs when new mentors will only receive a finite amount of hours to decide whether they will continue mentoring their mentees.

Lastly, many mentors expressed concerns that their mentees seemed to be more interested in accessing their networks than engaging in holistic discussions about their future. As the aim of the mentorship program is to create a space in which mentors can share personal and professional decisions, challenges, dreams and fears, we will be adapting the application process, requiring new applicants to submit a thorough motivation statement.

Alumni Mentoring Program in 2019

If you are a BSL Alumna/Alumnus with 5-7 years of management experience and would like to know more about the BSL Alumni Mentoring Program, please contact me directly at daniele.ticli@bsl-lausanne.ch. I will be happy to walk you through the objectives of the program and share some inspiring stories with you!

Dani-Linkedin-300x300Author: Daniele Ticli, BSL Head of Careers and External Affairs