After graduating from the MIT Sloan School of Management, classmates Shayna Harris, MBA ’11, and Noramay Cadena, LGO ’11, set off on their own varied career paths in food and supply chain operations, aerospace engineering, and venture capital. Little did the two friends know their admiration for each other was seeding the most meaningful work of their lives, for ten years later they co-founded Supply Change Capital in 2020.
The early-stage venture capital firm is the culmination of what they learned at MIT Sloan—the systems dynamics courses, which focused on pinpointing the interconnectedness of complex challenges to identify solutions for impact; and the leadership courses, which nurtured their own self-awareness and their ability to coach others—and their desire to build a bold, compelling, and unapologetic venture firm that speaks to multicultural America.
Where do you get your ideas?
Shayna: Food tech is such a white space. Food is a $1 trillion market, and we are in a race against time and climate to feed the world sustainability, so there is no shortage of innovation happening in this space. Given that, there is a lot to keep up with. For me, reading and writing have always been a big part of uncovering innovation and I always have a book on my nightstand. I also write—I’m a contributing writer for Forbes Food & Drink. In listening to other entrepreneur’s stories, I learn not just what is on the cutting edge in food and tech, but I also learn who the entrepreneur is and how they confront challenges on a more intimate level. In interviewing policy and subject matter experts, I have the opportunity to develop stories and follow threads others may not yet be following in the space.
Noramay: Whether it’s operations or venture, I’m always asking tough questions, being curious about what I know, and seeking the truth or the root cause of challenges. I think that’s where the creative energy really flows for me: rolling up my sleeves and working with founders to determine how to best solve their problems or brainstorm with them to help them grow their companies. That intersection of innovation and impact is my jam.
Shayna: But most powerfully, as we are building our firm, we have challenged each other. We both come at this from deeply rooted shared values, but vastly different work and life experiences. It makes Supply Change Capital stronger and more impactful.
How has your time at MIT Sloan influenced your ideas?
Shayna: I’ve had a really strong support network at different stages in my career—the people I met in my classes, my work colleagues, and my friends. MIT Sloan also gave me the opportunity to become an entrepreneur while I was still a student. I came to the school with a deep passion for food and sustainability and I had already spent my career at that intersection. I was able to build on those interests. Participating in the second cohort of the Sustainability Certificate with Jason Jay, PhD ’10, (Senior Lecturer, Sustainability; Director, Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan) deepened my connections with MIT Sloan students tackling similar challenges. I co-founded the MIT Food and Agriculture Club, a student group that is still going strong. I formed an MIT Sloan course and led a study-tour on agriculture and innovation to Brazil. And I was a Legatum Fellow in entrepreneurship, which meant working on my own business in Brazil and Paraguay as an MIT student. These hands-on experiences really helped me to hone in on what I wanted to do post-graduation. After all, the Institute motto is “mens et manus,” or “mind and hand.” That’s a very real thing, and whenever I talk to prospective students, that’s what I talk about the most.
Noramay: I took a leadership class with the late Don Davis, who retired as the CEO of Stanley Works and served as a lecturer at MIT Sloan for many decades. He had twenty leadership mantras to live by, and after he passed away his former students got together and collected them into a book. He was such a big personality and often talked about first-order things like integrity, values, trusting your gut, and doing the right thing. I think about that and my time in the LGO program often because it taught me to balance big, visionary thinking with insights driven by data and a values/integrity process check. MIT Sloan taught me about the collective power of community building and collaboration to produce systems-level change. That’s a particularly important lesson to learn and apply in the venture capital space, where the quality of your ecosystem influences your deal flow, co-investment network, and ability to add value.
Why do you think it’s important to reconnect and exchange ideas with your fellow Sloanies?
Shayna: Noramay and I got to know each other during the core experience, and since then we have always had mutual respect and admiration for each other. Even as our careers took different paths—Noramay in aerospace and venture capital and myself in corporate food and startups—we stayed in touch. In fact, a few years ago she was in Chicago for work and we were in my living room, my newborn in hand, having a conversation about forming teams rooted in authenticity, transparency, and community—shared values of ours. We weren’t even thinking about what could be coming down the pike. It was just a discussion of the importance of giving frank and honest feedback and building a strong partnership. That has now formed the basis of our partnership at Supply Change Capital. Our MIT Sloan experience and network have formed a strong foundation for the work we’re doing now.
Noramay: The sense of community at MIT Sloan runs deep in the veins of all Sloanies. I see it in multiple platforms, like the “Sloanies Helping Sloanies” Facebook group, the Alumni Association, and even the micro affinity groups. When Shayna and I were in brainstorm mode for our firm, we sent an email to our core team to tell them about the work we were doing and to ask for advice. In the spirit of building each other up, they came through with feedback and introductions. The drive for all of us to win is strong throughout the MIT Sloan community and that’s something we’ve been able to leverage and support throughout the years. We plan to cultivate this value through our own firm and ecosystem.