Andrew Bustin turned his capstone project into a consulting job

Andrew Bustin moved to Portland, Maine, in 2018 for two reasons. One, to pursue his MBA at the University of Maine Graduate School of Business, and two, Portland is a mecca for world-class food and drink experiences.

Andrew’s background is rich with experiences in national land conservation, sustainability, permaculture, and the local food movement. After five years of working for The Trust for Public Land, building parks, playgrounds, community gardens, and other “land for people” projects, he traveled throughout Southeast Asia to learn about regenerative agriculture and seed saving.

While the MaineMBA’s concentration in Sustainability attracted him to UMaine, his capstone project with Dr. Nadège Levallet propelled his career in Maine forward.

The MaineMBA capstone course (MBA 649 – Strategic Decision-Making) is all about solving real-world problems. Dr. Levallet identifies corporate partners eager to work with MBA students on a strategic problem or issue they are facing in their organizations. “Students pick the problem they want to work on and sign up to join a team,” Dr. Levallet says. “These small teams meet weekly with their corporate partner. Students research the issue, pitch their recommendations, and submit a final report.” At the end of the course, the corporate partners choose the winning team based on the caliber of their work and recommendations.

The corporate partner that stood out to Andrew was Maine Huts & Trails (MHT). This non-profit organization in western Maine operates an acclaimed backcountry recreation corridor with 80 miles of public trails. Their offerings include groomed hut-to-hut skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, paddling, and mountain biking. MHT is focused on building a new off-season model. They looked to the student teams to identify partnership opportunities to help them reach their goals.

“What excited me most about this course was that the organization we worked with had a very real need for our help,” Andrew says. “The work in this course felt important, which was motivation to do a good job. The fact that the course was competitive with other teams added to that excitement, too!”

The creative aspect of the Maine Huts & Trails project was also enticing. “MHT was specifically looking for help from UMaine business students to explore creative partnership opportunities to allow them to bring in more revenue during the non-winter season with the least amount of demand on their limited full-time staff,” Andrew says.

Throughout the 8-week course, Andrew’s small group of Jackie Leonard and Greg Wright worked closely with Dr. Levallet and MHT Executive Director Wolfe Tone. “I really enjoyed working with my group, and I looked forward to our regular online meetings,” Andrew says. “Our strengths and weaknesses were complementary. This balance helped up create a well-polished and professional finished product.” The team dedicated 20 hours a week to this project and won first place in the capstone challenge.

“Andy was especially enthusiastic about the project right from the start,” Dr. Levallet says. “The team’s solution was well-developed and realistic, with a significant amount of research to support their recommendation.”

After his graduation in May 2022, Andrew spent the summer focused on running the small business he started when he first moved to Portland. Feel Good Portland is a seasonal company that hosts events celebrating the people and businesses that make Portland unique. As fall approached, he started putting out feelers for a new job opportunity and found one in a familiar place. “Maine Huts & Trails had received a grant from the Maine Timberlands Charitable Trust to continue the business development work my capstone project had focused on,” Andrew says. He is delighted to continue the work he started at UMaine as MHT’s Sustainable Business Development Consultant.

“Stepping into this new role has required learning more about MHT’s organizational history and familiarizing myself with Maine’s western forests and mountains,” Andrew says. “There are lots of great opportunities to explore. But, just like the capstone project, the challenge becomes prioritizing and cultivating the necessary relationships with partners who can help us reach our goals. It’s rewarding work, and I’m excited to see how this summer unfolds at the huts!”