Alumni at Work: Jesse Abelson

November 16, 2018

Recent graduate Jesse Abelson (B.S. Biology '17) balances his role as an entrepreneur with a position in the University's Department of Emergency Medicine

Jesse Abelson

What is your job title?
I am the Chief Executive Officer and Vice President of Vetiver Solutions

Can you give a brief overview of Vetiver Solution's history?
Vetiver Solutions began as an idea during a Grand Challenge Course called Seeking Solutions to Global Health Issues. I had traveled to Haiti several times in the past as an EMT so I had several connections there and had a decent idea about the problems they were facing. Our business model, which we developed over the semester, works by taking a grass called vetiver, which prevents soil erosion, and converting the shoots of the vetiver into yarn. This helps to make sustainable farming profitable in both the short- and long-term. After slowly developing our idea and business plan in the Grand Challenge Course, we entered into the Acara Challenge and won $3,500 in order to pilot our idea. I spent 3 months in Haiti in 2017 and upon returning, we were able to secure more funding through Acara and the Institute on the Environment. In April we were awarded the Social Impact Award and 4th place overall at a nationwide entrepreneurship competition. From this competition, we were also awarded a $25,000 prize. We have since returned several times and continue to work as we get closer to getting our product onto the market.

What does a typical work day look like for you?
In starting a business, a ‘typical day’ doesn’t really exist. My days can be anything from being in Haiti creating fibers from the vetiver shoots to responding to emails all day. I’d say a typical day of work in the US consists of a few hours of smaller tasks, an hour of two of experimenting with the fibers to try to perfect the quality of our yarn, and then an hour or two of research, meetings, or searching for grant opportunities. With all that being said, no two days are the same.

In addition to my work with Vetiver Solutions, I am working part-time at the University of Minnesota Medical School in the Department of Emergency Medicine. Most of my job there is to certify medical students in Basic Life Support. Thus far it’s been very easy to balance these two jobs. Luckily, for the most part, I am able to decide when I work at both my jobs so there hasn’t been any conflicts thus far.

What is the most noteworthy work accomplishment that you've had since graduation? 
The most noteworthy accomplishment since graduating in December has to be winning the Social Impact Award and 4th place overall at the Schulze Entrepreneurship Competition, which is a nationwide competition for entrepreneurs. As a business with a social impact focus, we thought we were in way over our heads at this purely entrepreneurship competition. Amazingly, we did incredibly well at this competition, which was validating for all of us. A prize check for $25,000 was pretty nice as well.

Any advice for students or recent grads?
I have two pieces of advice for students and recent grads. The first is to do something you are passionate about. Passion can take you incredibly far. Before starting this company, I knew nothing about running a business, but my passion has gotten me this far and continues to push us ahead (along with an incredible team). My second piece of advice is connected to that and is actually a quote from Margaret Mead. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Take this quote to heart and remember it…especially when times get hard.