Leveraging my MBA to Help Save a Community Space

September 6, 2016
by Sarah Feldman, MBA

As a child, I developed a life-long passion for ice skating. Even after I completed my MBA at the Rady School of Management in 2015 and began working full-time in data analytics at Tesla Motors, I still make time to figure skate on weekends. Imagine my shock when I learned in January of 2016 that the rink I learned to skate at, Belmont Iceland, would be closing. This was the rink where many Olympians, including Brian Boitano, trained for the Olympics and is near the home of Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi. The rink would likely be sold to an non-ice rink group, which was tragic considering the historical nature of the rink. However, as an MBA I knew there must be a chance to change the course of events, and somehow help the community who wanted to save our rink.

I had some experience with the ice rink business. Prior to pursuing my MBA at the Rady School, I helped lead the effort to create a not-for-profit ice rink in Santa Barbara. This $15M capital campaign took over a decade and was completed in 2015 with the ribbon cutting ceremony of Santa Barbara’s newest and only ice rink, Ice in Paradise. Lessons that I learned through that effort I took and refined through business school in how to motivate, lead, and campaign for a cause.

ice rink

After finding out about the Belmont Iceland closure I spoke about it with a Tesla coworker. My coworker suggested that I should help save the rink using my MBA skillset. The first thing that I thought of was, “Why are we [who want to save the ice rink] not offering to also buy this rink as a corporation?” In every finance class that touches on acquisitions, there is almost never a case without counter-offers and bidding. When I initially went to meet with the save-the-rink community, we began to discuss our options. Nothing is ever a done deal in business. From there, we met with local and state politicians to see what could be done from multiple angles of attack. It was around this time that we started getting a fair amount of local press coverage.

Using my strategic MBA skills, I analyzed the situation through the lens of a classic business case, creating an exploratory proforma for the rink effort. By the time I completed the initial analysis, I had put together a business model, pitch deck and dream team. Before I knew it, I was sitting in various Silicon Valley Starbucks and hip Palo Alto coffee shops pitching my home ice rink 2.0 to elite Sand Hill Road type donors and investors. It felt like an episode out of HBO’s Silicon Valley. Rady School Lab to Market professor, Del Foit, would be proud.

Despite my initial thoughts otherwise, the rink could be quite profitable! As my MBA taught me, bringing in subject matter experts was of utmost importance. During this time, I flew down to Santa Barbara for advice and met with Jack Norqual, a key member of Ice in Paradise’s Board of Directors. I reached out to other members of the team with whom I had worked in Santa Barbara, as well the head of a regional hockey league.

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By this time I had formalized the group into a benefit corporation, Silicon Valley Ice Skating Association, with the intent to purchase the Belmont Iceland ice rink in a counter-offer, with an amazing team spanning executives who worked at Cisco, Google, Tesla, eBay and beyond. The Rady alumni network was also a strong support during this time, as advice from classmates helped significantly along the way.

Pursuing my MBA at the Rady School pushed me to think creatively and strategically throughout this process. The Rady School’s quintessential entrepreneurial course, Lab to Market, provided the structure for how I could analyze the landscape— a closing ice rink in the middle of a thriving skating market. My experience with Rady School Graduate Career Connections taught me that networking would be key, and reaching out to subject matter experts was of utmost importance.

The next thing I knew we had hit the papers half a dozen times! The effort to save skating in Silicon Valley continues and the Rady network is growing stronger within the group. Stay tuned for more updates on our progress.

Culture of Entrepreneurship