While on a business trip in Shanghai, Kurt Brown discussed business opportunities and social needs in the area with a friend.
The pair recognized the potential to improve working conditions for local factory workers and realized they could start a business to help meet that need. Their idea blossomed into an impact investing venture, a topic Brown also teaches as an adjunct professor in the Ballard Center for Social Impact at the BYU Marriott School of Business.
The company Brown and his colleague started in Shanghai is MicroBenefits China, which helps factories track productivity. Brown says the company helps organizations increase profit and improves conditions for workers by giving them benefit packages. “Honestly, MicroBenefits China came out of nowhere. My partner and I thought of the idea in a hotel room, not intending to start a business, but ended up taking a risk and creating a company. I’m grateful we did, because we love what we do,” Brown says. “Using profit for good is the most fascinating, interesting field.” He and his partner run the company in addition to their day-to-day professional careers.
MicroBenefits China is just a part of Brown’s professional journey, which started when he graduated from BYU Marriott in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in finance. After graduation he worked as an investment banker on Wall Street, along with other positions, including time as a capital management director in Salt Lake City.
Brown’s current day-to-day job is being the co-owner and cofounder of TownSquare Capital, a company that runs investment programs for companies that do not have in-house investment teams. He started the company in 2016 with a few colleagues. “Entrepreneurship has always been in my blood,” he explains. “I enjoy the building process of putting a product together that provides a valuable service to clients.”
Despite his many responsibilities with his companies, Brown jumped at an opportunity to join BYU Marriott as an adjunct professor in 2015. “When I was a student, I loved my experiences with the practitioner professors,” he says. “I try to give students unique insights and teach specific applications. I like giving students direct access to the industry by sharing my experiences.”
Beyond using lessons from his professional life, Brown also uses his connections to give his students a wide variety of insight. He often invites guest speakers to class to share their unique perspectives. Additionally, Brown further helps his students by sharing memories from his own job-hunting days to help prepare them mentally to land the jobs they want. “I always encourage my students to not only earn good grades but to also get outside the box in their approach to building the careers they want. Students need to have an intentional path toward their goals and be creative,” he says.
Brown teaches classes on impact investing for the Ballard Center. He understands that his students are passionate about improving the lives of others but need technical skills to be the best impact investors possible. “I think impact investing is harder than traditional investing,” Brown explains. “Starting and running a successful business is already hard enough, but then business owners also have to add a mandate to create impact that works toward solving a social problem, resulting in two lofty goals. In my class, I focus on both, because no matter how well intentioned someone is, their impact investment idea will fail without a successful business model.”
In addition to helping students succeed, Brown relishes the opportunity to share his passion with them. “I love what I’m doing, I truly do. I love the business my friend and I are building in China, my work at TownSquare Capital, and my interactions with students,” he says.
Writer: Mike Miller