Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Bonny Moellenbrock (MBA/MRP ’98) had an inherent appreciation of the environment. Now she’s in a role that connects her interests in various facets of sustainability.
As executive director of Durham-based SJF Advisory Services, Moellenbrock helps businesses that take care of the environment and their employees. Conservation is “all about putting the tools of the private market to their best use in innovative ways to create a positive impact,” she says. “Sustainable business is the same theme. It’s using private-sector capitalistic tools in ways that are positive for society.”
SJF Advisory Services is a nonprofit affiliated with the venture capital fund SJF Ventures, which invests in high-growth companies that bring about environmental and social change. The nonprofit offers feedback to entrepreneurs on business and financing strategies, training in attracting investors and other services.
A new initiative of the nonprofit is its clean-tech mentorship program in the New York metropolitan area for early-stage green, or sustainable, companies. “We’re making connections that make a difference in the business world. I operate at this intersection of several different worlds,” Moellenbrock says. “We bridge the venture capital world and the clean-tech world, environmental entrepreneurs and economic developers, all these players who are needed to grow a greener economy.”
Another focus of SJF Advisory Services is promoting a business approach that emphasizes employee involvement and opportunity, motivating a work force to engage everyone in the company’s success. “This is an opportunity to use innovation to change how business works,” Moellenbrock says. “If you can show there are different ways to do business where you can make money and do well and be a positive force in society, that’s what we’re about. Businesses can be a force for good.”
One of SJF Advisory Services’ success stories is Ryla, a call center in Georgia. The company offers employees stock options and training opportunities for advancement. That approach has yielded an employee retention rate far above the industry average, Moellenbrock says. “It’s exciting to work with people who want to have a positive impact on the world. Entrepreneurs are fascinating people who have these amazing ideas and are willing to do what it takes to bring them to fruition,” says Moellenbrock, who was a managing director with SJF Ventures before she became director of the nonprofit.
She’s on the advisory board of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s BASE (Business Accelerator for Sustainable Entrepreneurship), which teaches entrepreneurs about sustainable practices. In assessing business plans and financing scenarios, Moellenbrock uses the skills she learned at UNC Kenan-Flagler. But when she started the MBA/MRP (master’s of regional planning) joint-degree program, her main interest was private-sector conservation work.
After she finished, she went to work for the Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina and rose to chief operating officer. Pursuing an undergraduate degree at UNC in public policy with an environmental policy emphasis, Moellenbrock was active in student recycling efforts, and after graduation she worked for Orange Recycling Services in Durham.
SJF Ventures drew Moellenbrock with the opportunity to apply her passion for the environment to the business world. “Positive-impact entrepreneurs are benefiting from this expertise they otherwise wouldn’t have access to,” she says.