By Rebecca Beyer
Ariana Day Yuen ’19 was so sure she wanted to launch an agroforestry startup that she didn’t apply for an internship between her first and second years at Yale SOM.
“I was like, ‘OK, I’m committed,’” she remembered in a Career Conversations podcast episode with Amy Kundrat ’21 earlier this year. She would instead focus her summer on the startup, based in Ethiopia, which combats deforestation by facilitating the sale of sustainably grown forest-based products. “At that point, I [knew] that I was dedicated to this.”
In fact, Yuen, who previously worked as a consultant, had already postponed attending SOM for a year because she wanted to give herself more time to explore the possibility of the venture, now called Forested Foods. By the time she enrolled in the fall of 2017, she “made a beeline” for the many opportunities on campus for entrepreneurs.
“My decision to defer coming to Yale really helped me hit the ground running in terms of being more intentional about how I utilized resources, joined communities,” she says.
Yuen quickly connected with Jennifer McFadden, associate director of entrepreneurship, with whom she took the Start-Up Founder Practicum course, and was a member of the inaugural Tsai CITY Accelerator. She also participated in some of Tsai CITY’s multi-week workshops, including one on food businesses; connected with the Yale Center for Business and the Environment; and took courses at the Yale School of the Environment and the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.
“These programs were so catalytic,” she says. “Being a part of [those] communities really helped keep me sane, but also helped keep me going.”
After graduation, Yuen returned to Ethiopia and immediately began work on her company’s first product, Maryiza, a line of honey that is single-origin, or traceable to a specific forest, flora, and farmer group. Forested Food’s mission is rooted in the belief that connecting smallholder farmers with buyers will reduce deforestation, which will in turn help mitigate the effects of climate change.
“A lot of times the reasons that ecosystems get destroyed is not because community members don’t appreciate the ecosystem,” she says. “It’s because they are thinking about how to make sure they’ve got income coming in regularly to take care of their family. Our job is really to build a buying relationship for them where it actually makes sense to engage in conservation-based agriculture.”
Yuen says Forested Foods eventually hopes to work across the Global South but that the company is in the “very, very early stage.”
She says she continues to benefit from relationships she formed at SOM with classmates, faculty, and staff—as well as with the current students who interned at her company in 2020.
“Everyone was just so ready and willing to avail their networks and resources to me,” she says. “If you just engage people genuinely about what you’re doing and also [learn] about what they’re doing, you can find these incredible outcomes.”
Listen to Ariana Day Yuen on the Career Conversations podcast:
Interviewed on March 9, 2021