MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative
How Shayna Harris is changing the face of food
With a passion for social justice and sustainability, she has worked for nearly two decades developing sustainable food strategies, leading transformation, and making people’s lives better in more than 20 countries.
“My grandfather immigrated to the US from Germany because he could not make it on his family farm,” says Shayna. “When I learned that most of the world's poor are farmers, I dedicated my career to equity in food systems.”
While earning a dual bachelor’s degree in international relations and political science from Boston University, Shayna also worked at Oxfam, where she collaborated with some of the world’s largest coffee companies, helping them understand why it was important to adopt sustainable trade policies and how to work with farmers.
During the rise of the specialty coffee movement in the 2000s, Shayna discovered how she could make a difference with companies like Starbucks, Green Mountain, Intelligentsia, and Cooperative Coffees. In 2008, Shayna was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and she put her vision into action. Working in small farming communities in northeastern Brazil, she got to know agro-ecological farmers, and understand the fresh produce supply chain from production to distribution. This eye-opening experience led her to MIT Sloan, where she studied corporate sustainability, government relations, entrepreneurship, and leadership.
“My two years at MIT Sloan were absolutely formative for my career,” Shayna says. “I transitioned from an influencing role in the nonprofit sector to an insider role in both corporate and fast-growth startups. The exposure to innovation and cutting-edge ideas with a systems lens helped me hone in on areas where I could make the most impact in my career, because it aligned my passion, purpose, and skill set.”
While at MIT Sloan, Shayna completed a Sustainability Internship with the organic food pioneer Stonyfield Farm. She also founded the MIT Food and Agriculture Collaborative and the school’s first Agriculture and Innovation study tour, which brought 22 MBA students to Brazil and India in 2010. As a result, she was named an MIT Woman of Excellence that year and won a Martin Trust entrepreneurship award.
Investing in diverse entrepreneurs and emerging fund managers is a modern siren song, and this is a historic opportunity for us all to align our words with action.
After earning her MBA and Sustainability Certificate, Shayna worked for almost five years at the food giant Mars, overhauling the company’s sourcing practices for raw ingredients like cocoa to strengthen the supply chain and meet growing demand. She became increasingly convinced that the opportunity for truly transformative change happens when innovation, R&D, and sustainability strategies are developed in tandem. If not, the pace of change to meaningfully impact the climate, human health and workers is too slow. With this in mind, Shayna was ready to lead more disruptive change.
Shayna left Mars to become the first C-Suite hire and Chief Operating Officer for Farmer’s Fridge, a Chicago-based start-up that sells healthy foods out of IOT-enabled vending machines. Shayna developed and scaled the business from a local proof-of-concept to a multi-million dollar business in the Midwest and Northeastern United States.
"I am a builder by nature,” she says. “I thrive in ambiguous environments where the goal is clear, and the path is to be forged. At Farmer’s Fridge, I leaned into my superpower of aligning diverse teams against a strong mission to deliver what was previously thought to be impossible.”
Following her success at Farmer’s Fridge, Shayna co-founded another pioneering venture, Supply Change Capital, with fellow MIT Sloan/LGO grad Noramay Cadena, MBA ‘11. With her new firm, Shayna is focused on the funding side of the food and tech industry, catalyzing the future of food.
“The demographics of America are rapidly evolving. Multicultural consumers are already more likely to reach for natural and organic foods. We believe that if diverse founders in food tech are funded at higher rates, explosive value will be unlocked. Why? Currently almost half of our population is diverse, and half are women. Yet only 2% of venture funding goes to women, 2% to Latinx, and 1% to black founders. There is something profoundly imbalanced about who currently gets to sit at the table.”
Supply Change Capital invests in ‘The New American Table,’ where diverse foods created by diverse founders will reign supreme, enabled by sustainable ingredient supply chains, and agtech/foodtech. And because the firm believes in giving back, it is hosting a Sustainability Initiative intern this year.
“Supply Change Capital is proud to support and be one of the many diverse investment fund managers in our incredible alumni community,” Shayna says. “Investing in diverse entrepreneurs and emerging fund managers is a modern siren song, and this is a historic opportunity for us all to align our words with action.”