Pitch Perfecting

This fall, Burnham House has been the center of operations for an upper school economics class – led by MB’s own CFO, Vickie Monta.

The elective math class, Economics of Business, has explored a range of finance topics with students not only focused on the bottom line but big dreams, as they prepare to pitch their own startup businesses in shark-tank style presentations this January. “Their ideas have been awesome,” Vickie enthuses. The semester-long course, comprised primarily of juniors, aims to give these young entrepreneurs everything they need to bring their business concepts from idea to start-up. They’ve learned how to develop a business concept, test market conditions, develop a budget and financial model, create marketing material, and plan a strategy to communicate with potential lenders. In January, students will present their concepts to their peers and potential funders in the Woodman Center.

Along the way, they’ve been guided by various experts and faculty. Calling on MB’s wide network, Vickie has also recruited alumni expert speakers from around the world, such as investor/entrepreneur Jeff Fine ’81, president, Everest Financial Group, connecting from London; Habib Gorgi ’74 (shown), founder, managing director and senior advisor of Nautic Partners; and Matt Rawson ’16, investment specialist at Bank of America. All of these alumni gave of their time and expertise as part of MB’s MB Connects program, which connects school alumni to current classroom topics. One group was even set up with Gary Goldberg ’87, CEO of SquadLocker, who graciously afforded his time as mentor, as they sought to learn more about the textile business, the focus of their own business proposal.

One day this fall, Christopher Hoyt, Woodman Center Production Manager, stopped by to help evaluate student presentations while Vickie discussed financial models with students, one on one. Vickie joined MB in 2020, bringing a background in finance at both the secondary and higher education levels (at New York’s Nightingale-Bamford School, MIT, Boston College and Harvard). It’s no surprise to find Vickie teaching a class; she thrives on school life and has been found in a multitude of non-desk roles during the pandemic, from guiding traffic to taking temperatures. Vickie says she was drawn to MB, for the chance to work in such a student-centered environment.

“I enjoy helping to create and refine the financial systems that undergird the mission here at Moses Brown,” she says.

She brings a considerable background to advise these young entrepreneurs, having advised startups and started a nonprofit in Africa focused on HIV/AIDS care and treatment.

The class vocabulary is rich with usable terms, new to the students but daily work for Vickie – equity, revenue, expenses, salaries, data, selling, finance, markets, P+L, success, market conditions are just a few examples. While her financial knowledge maintains the health of the school on an annual basis, it is of immediate assistance to these students learning today. Vickie asks the class to talk out their startup plans, think out their questions and set goals.

This week, the students are focused on their upcoming pitches and how they can impress a panel of judges in January — Matt Glendinning, Ron Dalgliesh, Debbie Phipps, Jared Schott, Luke Anderson, and Jean Pennacchio — who will take on the personas of various successful business leaders and investors, ready to pepper the students with questions as they pitch their business for investment opportunities.

Sophomore William C. (left) is promoting a family business in Cape Verde, thinking of ways to expand his family’s hotel/market and better promote it overseas.

Another student is launching a business as a mobile bike mechanic, to solve the delivery issue in bike production and help consumers assemble their bicycles at home.

One team is launching a nonprofit. “The whole point of a nonprofit is to do what you need to do as cheaply as possible,” Vickie counsels as they discuss their business model, ways to get people to donate or volunteer their time. Own Your Time grew out of pandemic life, as a way to help the elderly get medicine and food but also companionship, independence and a personal connection. “We can help build relationships; it’s not just about deliveries,” say Sean and Emma.

Another classmate is launching a shoe company based on custom features and a wide degree of options. He’s already networking to help his company succeed – talking to Brendan for help with the math models and to David in the Y-Lab to use the 3D printer. His coursework in AP Computer Science is also coming in handy. He based his research on extensive surveying of the upper school for footwear preferences and needs.

One team plans to open a sports bar and grille, calling on their own experience as athletes, seeing it as a place where people can truly come together. “The love of sports transcends diversity, differences,” says Ethan. “When the game starts and your team plays, it all clears away.”

Vickie wants students to think big – not just about a summer job but what could be a conglomerate, or an idea worth repeating.

Her students appreciate the real-world perspective Vickie brings to the content at hand. It’s more than math but a real perspective that influences the schoolhouse surrounding them. “She’s realistic and brings real experience,” one student says. “Everything we are doing, she can say ‘been there, done that!’”

December 2021