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Entrepreneurship According to Mark Peterson: Serving the Underserved

Solving food-related problems has been on the forefront of Mark Peterson’s mind since childhood. The Founder and CEO of Ziscuit and serial entrepreneur spoke to Georgia Tech faculty and students about his work building his businesses and charity work from scratch.
Mark Peterson (Left), Erin Lehmberg (Middle), and Tony Holubik (Right).

Founder and CEO of Ziscuit and serial entrepreneur, Mark Peterson visited Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business last week, inspiring students and faculty alike at the Impact Series Lunch, sponsored by the Institute for Leadership and Social Impact (ILSI), CHARGE, and the Blacks in Business and Entrepreneurship full-time MBA (FTMBA) Clubs. Moderated by FTMBA Graduate Business Council President, Tony Holubik, the discussion took a deep dive into Peterson’s story and left the audience humbled by Peterson’s vision of leadership and candor regarding both career successes and failures. 

Peterson’s entrepreneurship career began in high school, where he launched a newspaper, to meet the need for localized news catered to the underserved Black community in his hometown. His early success led him to Dartmouth where he earned his bachelors and MBA, as well as launched his second startup: a mobile hotdog stand. By integrating student IDs with his POS, Peterson addressed students’ food-related needs, another example of serving the underserved while simultaneously earning enough revenue to recoup his student loan debt.

Solving food-related problems has been on the forefront of Peterson’s mind since childhood, so launching Ziscuit was a natural step for him. Being raised in an under-resourced home, Peterson witnessed his mother’s tenacity to provide for the family, especially through her extensive study of grocery ads to find the best deals at grocery stores in the next town over. Peterson addressed this need head-on through Ziscuit, which is a grocery search engine that delivers savings to shoppers, “i.e., the Kayak of groceries.” He wisely explained, “Hunger in this country is not a food problem. It’s a logistical problem.” To him, leadership is taking common things (like grocery shopping) and making an uncommon impact to make the world a better place. His impact is felt through savings on groceries, leaving more money in people’s wallets for their families to thrive.

Student engagement led to an impactful lesson on failure. FTMBA student Brooke Sharee asked Peterson to share some examples of failures throughout his career, and he wholeheartedly delivered. He shared a few experiences where his startups had major hiccups, such as being chewed out by a C-suite boardroom and leaving a joint venture meeting not only without a signature but also having to build from scratch his business model. The room was palpably moved by his openness. Sharee shared, “I had been burned out and was shying away from entrepreneurship, but hearing Peterson’s startup experience encouraged me to reconsider startups as an avenue for impact.” This Impact Series Talk emulated Georgia Tech’s Strategic Objective to lead and inspire by example, where Peterson challenged all companies and founders to steward their leadership to serve people and solve problems, rather than serving the bottom line.

To watch the recording of this insightful conversation, click here, and stay tuned for more impactful lessons on leadership from the ILSI’s upcoming Spring Impact Series. The ILSI is an interdisciplinary initiative that promotes servant leadership and organizational practices that contribute to a more just, caring, and equitable world.

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