Dominican GreenMBA graduate's business plan results in invitation to the White House, State of the Union Address

When Zach Davis was creating his Capstone business plan before graduating from Dominican’s GreenMBA program in 2009, it did not include a YouTube video, a telephone call from Vice President Joseph Biden and an invitation to the White House and the State of the Union Address. It just all worked out that way.


Davis is co-owner and manager of The Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz that opened two weeks before Labor Day in September. However, by Thanksgiving, the organic ice cream shop was a hot spot after Davis used his iPhone in November to film a video thanking President Barack Obama and key politicians for enacting the federal stimulus plan, explaining how it positively impacted the local economy. It resulted in a thank you call and invite from VP Joseph Biden.

Then, a week before the State of the Union Address on January 25, Davis received another invitation from the White House. President Obama wanted him to sit in the President's Box during his speech. He and his Penny partner, Kendra Baker, accepted the offer and all the media attention it brought has been great for business.

“Right now we’re working about 90 hours a week,” Davis said. “I’d love to go to the White House to visit but I’m sure he completely understands that a big part of doing our job is to make sure in this period of economic recovery that our ice cream shop is up and running for the time being.”

The business plan for the ice cream shop started at Dominican.  Davis was attending New College of California and had been accepted at Presidio Graduate School. Then he learned that Dominican was acquiring the trademarked GreenMBA program at New College and going to offer an MBA in Sustainable Enterprise in 2008.

Davis, who already had attended the University of Washington and had worked at UW and UC Santa Cruz, decided to come to Dominican.

 “I feel I have a good sense of what a good university looks like and what a good university can provide in terms of resources to students,” Davis said. “When I found out that they were going to move to Dominican, I just felt that was going to be a perfect fit. A great university with a really strong tradition of education and support … It seemed ideal.”

In his first year at DU, Davis started working for Aggregate Markets in San Francisco, a start-up high-tech online performance ad network company founded by Henry Wong, a DU GreenMBA faculty member.  In the meantime, Davis kept in contact with Baker, a friend from Santa Cruz who was working as a pastry chef at an upscale restaurant in Los Gatos.

 “At that point, ice cream was not really on my horizon,” Davis said.

However, when it came time to write a business presentation for graduation at Dominican, Davis and Baker put their expertise and dreams together and came up with a plan for The Penny to make money. With the help of John Stayton and Jane Lorand and GreenMBA instructors, Davis created a Capstone that eventually was molded into an impressive 75-page business plan to present to a bank.

 “That’s a big part of the program there – constant improvement and measuring what you’re doing,” Davis said. “I presented what was the bones of the plan and there were some adjustments.  All the instructors over the course of the last year had a look at it.  I received a lot of good feedback. I received  some critical feedback that was really valuable in making improvements. All in all it was a huge part of getting us where we are now.”

In the news.

Davis’ You Tube video was originally going to be a hand-written letter mailed to President Obama, United States Congressman Sam Carr and U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. But a friend convinced Davis to put his feel-good story and federal stimulus plan thank you on tape and then on Facebook where, Davis said, “it got bigger and bigger and snowballed.”

By November 17, the two-minute-23-second YouTube video had received tens of thousands of hits and was a big hit in the White House. The Vice President of the United States dialed up Davis.

“It’s definitely a little bit surreal,” Davis said. “It helps that every time I hear someone say `I saw your video’ it’s usually as I’m handing them a scoop so it gets real.”

How real is this? On the day Biden called, Davis and his wife, Brooke, were celebrating the sixth-month anniversary of their first child, John Martin “Jack.”

Well-wishers have suggested that Davis is now a child himself – a so-called poster child of the federal stimulus plan and how it has helped small business survive and thrive.

“We’re a story but we’re not the whole story,” Davis said. “We’re not going to turn the economy around but I like to think that maybe at a minimum we inspire other folks that have dreams to get started on putting those in place. Ten years from now we’ll be just one of perhaps hundreds of thousands of little businesses that started it and helped just making the American dream keeping dreaming.”

This little dream, Davis notes, began at Dominican.