by Cheryl Snapp Conner, originally published on February 4, 2013, Forbes
Here’s the story of a highly successful entrepreneur, Joshua Rosenthal, and his organization The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), who is actively setting a new direction for post-secondary education. With no prior business or MBA background (Rosenthal’s degrees are in academia), he’s breaking the rules of traditional management as well, yet his company is achieving phenomenal growth. In many respects, coming from a non-MBA background is perhaps a net plus—John Greathouse wrote compellingly about the reasons most MBA’s actually fail at startup companies here.
Now 20 years old, IIN is comprised of some 150 employees in the Flatiron District of New York. The program has produced 20,000 graduates worldwide. IIN has grown 30% per year over the past several years, even in (and perhaps especially in) the troubled economy, with a program that produces certified Health Coaches in the span of a year for a tuition cost of approximately $5,000.
What I find most interesting about IIN, however, is Rosenthal’s vision. His primary motivation is not profit (in fact at the end of his career he intends to give most or all of his assets away). Rosenthal is a quiet and spiritual individual whose driving agenda is to influence the world for good. The traditional model for post-secondary education simply got in the way. IIN consistently partners with similarly mission-driven organizations, and has already given $500,000 (so far) to charities and foundations around the world.
It would be fair to categorize Rosenthal as a full-on social entrepreneur. By his own admission he is not a capitalist, yet he is keenly aware that his school must meet traditional metrics in order to achieve his greater mission of promoting greater health and happiness in the world. For example,
the company just launched WellnessToday.com, a site with no advertising, to advance global wellness and health by providing cutting edge information on topics of nutrition, fitness, and relationships.
When Worlds Collide
Despite all the articles and schools of thought on the rules that make a company successful, Rosenthal is an example of someone who created a flourishing venture in a non-traditional process while generally ignoring standard management rules.
His sense of higher mission is certainly helpful. As we visit, I mentally walk through the rules I covered in the 5 Sure Signs a Startup firm will succeed – 1) has validated customers, 2) has a strategic perspective, 3) cash conservative, 4) operates with transparency, and 5) communicates well. I note the answers all appear to be yes.
However, Rosenthal describes his business strategy in a different way. When I ask about his model for business he shows me a Venn diagram on How to Be Happy in Business (the copy here included courtesy of Simon Kemp, @eskimon). The philosophy is simple and even obvious—the intersection of what you love with what you’re good at and what pays well is the area that produces the highest business (and personal) “win.”
IIN is privately held, but a little mental math of a profitable venture growing 30% per year produces impressive metrics by any commercial measurement stance. The company provided me with this information about the 20,000 students who have graduated so far:
71% enroll with the intention of becoming a Health Coach
64% enroll for personal development and enrichment
56% enroll to improve their or their family’s health
30% enroll to advance or supplement their current career
With their degrees:
70% launch a health coaching practice while still a student.
Of these students, 69% begin working with clients in a six-month program before graduation
69% make an income through health coaching while still in school
25% charge $100/hour
Out of curiosity, because I’m intensely interested in health and nutrition myself, I put the word out to my circle of fitness friends to see if any of them were familiar with IIN. I got an immediate response from a friend who graduated in 2012. She thoroughly enjoyed the program; so much so that she’s now continuing forward in the school’s Immersion Program that will provide her (free of charge) with advanced training on how to use her abilities to create her own business. The program is timely as she’s in the process of closing down a traditional brick and mortar business that is no longer profitable enough in the Internet economy—the IIN career training is helping her transition successfully to a new career.
Integrative Nutrition employees enjoy each other's company as they eat the healthy lunch IIN provides
Friends and Foes
Who wouldn’t welcome an organization like this? As I inquire, apparently traditional universities, somewhat understandably, resent the implications of a company that can produce graduates within a year that may be competing for jobs, in some cases, with graduates of their traditional 4-year programs.
Likewise, by its very nature IIN is destined to be at odds with purveyors of non-health products such as the tobacco industry and its commercialized cousins. However, the company’s alliance with traditional academia has become increasingly strong, even as the company upsets the economic apple cart on which they rely.
Dr. Greg Braxton-Brown, teaching and learning coach for IIN, notes that the Health Coach certificate program IIN provides is an entirely different entity than the traditional programs that are predominantly science and research based. In contrast, IIN’s program is a practical and “integrated” (thus the name) analysis of nutrition programs that provides understanding, application, and applied learning of traditional and holistic programs. Its goal is to 1) help people identify the dietary principles that will be most effective for them, and 2) assist practitioners in applying their knowledge to a coaching or teaching job or to the independent business the program can help them create.
IIN does not eschew traditional education, Braxton-Brown notes, citing a fairly extensive list of college and university partnerships. IIN has submitted its curriculum to the National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS), an agency of the University of the State of New York, who examined IINs curriculum and coursework and determined how it compares to traditional college coursework. The agency has concluded that IIN’s Health Coach Training Program (HCTP) is equivalent to 29 college credits.
Braxton-Brown reports that IIN has a continuing education partnership with the State University of New York and the California State University, the nation’s two largest university systems. Purchase College of SUNY and Long Beach of the California State University currently both grant 42 CEUs for completion of HCTP.
A yoga instructor conducts classes for employees on site
Many colleges and universities accept IIN credits in transfer. IIN also has a unique partnership with Goddard College for a fully articulated Bachelor of Art and Master of Art degree programs that build on IIN teachings. While it is still a few years away, he notes that IIN is building a PhD partnership program as well. Many students who come to IIN have a bachelor’s degree or even a graduate degree already in hand, he says, and are looking for specific subject matter to supplement their traditional training or to assist them in turning an avid interest into a full time or supplemental career.
From the Beginning
I asked Rosenthal how, as an academic whose interest and focus was never on business, he came to found and lead a rapid growth organization. He shared parts of his story with me. Other aspects are perhaps personal enough to warrant finding the opportunity to meet Rosenthal and his organization yourself. Perhaps I will share more of that interview on another day.
Rosenthal was always intrigued by different approaches to nutrition. After 10 years studying and teaching macrobiotics, he realized the very foods this protocol says are bad for you, such eating garlic, oranges, or drinking plenty of water, are considered supremely healthy by other programs. The dichotomy launched him into years of research to discover for himself what he could stand behind and advocate as true.
The academic side of his nature compelled him to scientifically research all major dietary theories—high protein, low protein, high carb, low carb, vegetarian, vegan, raw foods, etc.—in all, he has analyzed more than 100 prevailing nutritional methodologies.
In his quest for discovery, he concluded that most every program contains points of merit, but that for most people no single dietary theory will provide every answer. Likewise, the same diet that helps an individual achieve optimum health could actually become their downfall over time if followed too strictly.
He noticed that people following very different dietary theories were equally healthy. Nutrition is the only science where some people’s experience can produce outcomes that are opposite of what others have proven. Thus, the approach to his program (and the theme of his book – Integrative Nutrition—available from Amazon or from the IIN site) and his core principle of bio-individuality. Bio-individuality is what it sounds like. There’s no one-size-fits-all diet, IIN maintains, and one person’s food could be another one’s poison. In 1991 Rosenthal taught his first live class in New York City. The Integrative Nutrition program is now available online with students around the globe.
Students participate online and by phone making it possible to study anytime and anywhere. The school also conducts free live conferences several times a year in New York City.
This is the way to celebrate a graduation. Rosenthal and students enjoy a live IIN event.
A walking tour through the company’s headquarters unveils a culture like no other business I’ve encountered before. The atmosphere is quiet–even serene. The employees are energized and visibly healthy.
The sunny rooms are a surprising contrast to the Manhattan scenes at the street level below. In the main area there is a commercial kitchen, where the business prepares an organic breakfast, lunch and snack that it provides for the employees free of charge, every day. The open space lunchroom space doubles as a meeting and conversational area. And at 5:30 pm, they offer nightly yoga classes with specialized trainers.
Megan, the team member who guides me (everyone is on a first name basis at IIN)—notes that while it’s not required that employees stay on site, they are encouraged to enjoy the company provided amenities and to get better acquainted with each other as friends over lunch. A massage therapist comes regularly. On the day I visit, the company-provided chiropractor has just left, Megan tells me, and I can see various team members stretch in delight. This is clearly not a typical corporation in any respect.
For the future—Rosenthal acknowledges that he fully expects his personal vision for IIN and the traditional constructs of capitalistic business will continue to bump and collide. He is up for the
challenge, although he anticipates the need and welcomes the help of others who are like-minded. He views the additional press his company’s growing presence will bring with mixed emotions. “I’m not sure I like the attention,” he acknowledges—“But if it gets people thinking about ways to live a healthier and happier life, then that’s good. Maybe my mother will see it, and if she does—it’s my hope she’ll be proud.”
Cheryl Snapp Conner, founder and managing partner of Snapp Conner PR, has more than 22 years of experience in public relations for leading technology firms.
Joshua Rosenthal has also published a book called "Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger for Health and Happiness." It's available for complimentary download here!