McDonough School of Business
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News Story

Undergraduates Address Impact of Culture on International Markets Working Alongside Sweetgreen

The influence of cultural factors on business is extensive as it drives people’s behavior, innovation, and customer service. This spring, students in the Dikran Izmirlian Program in Business and Global Affairs (BGA) program worked alongside Hoya-founded Sweetgreen, a national fast-casual salad chain, to address the cultural dimensions of entering a new market.

The inaugural delivery of Global Organizations and Culture: Theory, Methods, and Practice, the program’s second signature course is co-designed and co-taught by BGA faculty, Michael O’Leary in the McDonough School of Business and Shareen Joshi in the Walsh School of Foriegn Service. The course features a semester-long project working with a real company to solve the exact issue many students will face in the business world: entering a new international market.

Sweetgreen and students developed market entry plans for the company in seven countries (Argentina, Japan, Kenya, South Africa, United Kingdom, Qatar, and Turkey). Students examined how the firm’s expansion would be affected by its home culture (organizational and regional/national) and the cultures into which it expands. 

“This class provided the opportunity to work in a tight team for an extended period of time. Not only was time management and collaboration important, but the specifics of this project also required creativity and problem solving, as the question posed by the assignment did not have a right or wrong answer,” said Lauren Basilico (BGA’23). “It was based on the research we had compiled, and we had to make a recommendation to the Sweetgreen executives based on the information we had. These skills are incredibly transferable in any real world business scenario.”

Two months after graduating, Sweetgreen founders and Georgetown McDonough alumni Jonathan Neman (B’07), Nicolas Jammet (B’07), and Nathaniel Ru (B’07) opened their first store on M Street in Washington, D.C. 

Today, Sweetgreen has nearly 100 locations across the United States and recently raised a $200 million Series H round that valued the company at more than $1 billion, officially making Sweetgreen a unicorn. The idea for Sweetgreen started on the Hilltop, where the three friends lamented the lack of healthy, affordable food choices on campus and off.

With the growth of their business over the course of a decade, Sweegreen is now exploring international expansion. This project provided an opportunity to help Sweetgreen and students increase their appreciation for culture and cultural differences, as well as the challenges and opportunities that culture poses for work in a global context.

“Coming from the business school, I thought that international expansions were mostly a strategic move to increase revenues, believing most challenges would be on the costs and operational side,” said Anna Csigirinszkij (BGA’23). “Through the project, I realized that cultural challenges pose just their own set of triumphs, tribulations, and great opportunities.”

Students had complete access to the Sweetgreen executive team for the project. They were able to collaborate with ample opportunity to ask them very specific questions about their case.

“This class project not only helped me cultivate professional skills such as market research and communication, but provided me with a whole other lens of viewing business. Through the specific class assignments and Sweetgreen project, I have come to understand that business does not exist in a vacuum but rather is consistently influenced by dimensions of culture, history, and societal constructs,” said Rishi Bagaria (BGA’23).

The BGA degree is a collaboration between Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business and the Walsh School of Foreign Service to prepare students to lead in an increasingly complex world. It is a single, joint degree that features hands-on experience in Washington, D.C. and around the world; dedicated resources at both schools; and a diverse learning community. This interdisciplinary degree positions graduates to make meaningful contributions involving pressing global issues within business, government, and society.

Dikran Izmirlian Program in Business and Global Affairs