On Thursday, January 19, Blair brought together a host of international business leaders at the fourth annual Finance Summit to address the challenges and opportunities posed by venture capitalism and entrepreneurship. Started in 2019, the annual Finance Summit has become a valuable opportunity for the Blair community to make connections with industry experts, learning from their wealth of experience and knowledge, as well as exchanging ideas about recent trends. This year, the summit was held in New York City and moderated by Ashley Thompson ’08, co-founder and CEO of MUSH.
Head of School Peter G. Curran started the event with a welcoming address before he and Ms.Thompson introduced the program’s panelists, distinguished Blair alumni: Sarah Apgar ’98, founder and CEO of FitFighter; William Bao Bean ’91, P’23 ’25, managing director of Orbit and general partner of SOSV; and David Neville P’26, co-founder and CEO of Westman Atelier.
During the hour-long conversation and question-and-answer session that followed, many of the panelists shared the story of the origins of their businesses and addressed topics such as how they timed and financed their ventures, how they managed to stay true to their core values and what specific lessons they have learned along the way. Ms. Thompson, whose fast-growing brand MUSH won “Breakfast Product of the Year” in 2022, noted that her father’s sound entrepreneurial advice at the beginning of her career has paid dividends. “My father…had a pretty old-school way of thinking about business,” she told the audience. “That you need to make money while doing it. I took that mentality into building MUSH and can proudly say that we’ve been profitable every year.…That’s put me in an incredible position. The fact that we don’t have to depend on outside investment is a place of strength.”
Co-CEO of two successful businesses, David Neville launched skincare and cosmetics company Westman Atelier after a nearly two-decade career building iconic fashion label Rag & Bone. Mr. Neville spoke extensively about the financial challenges of finding capital partners and seeding one’s own business. On one point, he noted, he felt certain: “You’ve got to be all in as an entrepreneur. The buck stops with you. You’ve got to live and breathe what you’re doing.…That was definitely the case with the Rag and Bone business. It was a risk, but our livelihood was on the line. That was actually very healthy, because it meant we were super-focused and it didn’t feel like work.”
As the discussion drew to a close, Blair alumni, parents and more than a dozen students took the opportunity to enjoy a reception with the panelists where they mixed, mingled, connected and shared ideas. “This is one of my favorite events to hear different perspectives,” Mr. Curran noted. “I look forward not only to what our panelists will share but also the robust discussion afterward.”
Read more about our Finance Summit moderator and panelists below.
Moderator Ashley Thompson ’08, Co-Founder MUSH
Ashley Thompson co-founded MUSH in 2015 with the conviction that simple, delicious and nutritious food can elevate the world in powerful ways. Her conviction stems from a strong belief that better outcomes in life begin with better food, and that public health is a public good. Ashley envisions a world where healthy food is accessible to everyone, and MUSH’s product line of plant-based, overnight oats is the first step in fulfilling this vision.
Ashley’s passion for health and wellness developed at an early age, sparked by personal and familial struggles with health. She has an insatiable curiosity to understand the connection between what you eat and how you experience life. Having graduated from Columbia University in three years, worked on Wall Street and been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 for building a high-growth consumer packaged goods brand, Ashley confidently promotes the idea that when you eat well, you feel better, and when you feel better, you do well. MUSH is now the leading brand in its category, powered by an incredible team of passionate individuals who love to help others feel, think and do better.
Sarah Apgar ’98, Founder & CEO FitFighter
Sarah Apgar is the founder and CEO of FitFighter, a global fitness brand that offers a transformative strength program with her own innovation, the Steelhose. Sarah launched FitFighter in a Long Island, New York, firehouse to prepare firefighters better for the rigors of their job. Her successful pitch on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and seed investment from Daniel Lubetzsky, founder of KIND bars, helped her grow the company into a global platform for gyms, trainers, retail, including DICK’S Sporting Goods, the military and home fitness.
After graduating from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in 2011, Sarah served as an executive at Warby Parker, opening the company’s first 55 brick-and-mortar retail storefronts in the United States and Canada. Sarah is an Iraq war veteran, was an All-American athlete at Princeton University, and has been featured in a variety of print and online media, including Muscle & Fitness, Rolling Stone, ESPN, and Men’s Health. She lives in Freeport, Maine, with her husband, Ben, a plastic surgeon, her two daughters Emory (6) and Aryln (5), and pup, Louisiana.
William Bao Bean ’91, P’23 ’25, Managing Director Orbit & General Partner at SOSV
William Bao Bean is managing director and co-founder of Orbit Startups, the first and longest running startup program in Asia, as well as a general partner at SOSV, the second most active venture capital investor in the world, with $1.5 billion in assets under management. Orbit provides hands-on support for growth, partnerships, fundraising and user acquisition combined with an initial investment package and millions available in follow-on funding from SOSV. With a focus on digitalization across emerging and frontier markets to drive efficiency in ecommerce, fintech, media, health, education and logistics, Orbit’s consumer ecosystem has helped its startups scale to 153 million monthly active smartphone users.
William joined Orbit from SingTel Innov8 Ventures, where he was a founding managing director supporting China investments. Prior to that, William led investments in China and Southeast Asia as a partner at Softbank China & India Holdings. William started his career in equity research, most recently with Deutsche Bank, where he was a top-ranked analyst for Asia Internet and China Tech, Media and Telecom.
David Neville P’26, Co-Founder & CEO Westman Atelier
An integral feature of the New York fashion landscape for nearly two decades, designer David Neville and his partner, Marcus Wainwright, built the Rag & Bone brand from conception into a global lifestyle brand. Today, the international fashion label operates in over 50 countries across the globe and operates 25 of its own stores in the United States. As co-CEOs, David and his partner worked to develop the brand’s wholesale business in multiple categories, operating stores and driving the label’s direct-to-customer business. David’s work has been recognized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund for extraordinary design excellence, and he has received numerous honors including the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Swarovski Award for Emerging Menswear Talent.
In 2018, David stepped aside from his role at Rag & Bone (where he remains a partner and board member) to launch a skincare and cosmetics company with his wife, Gucci Westman, called Westman Atelier. Westman Atelier is now distributed in 25 countries, and Westman Atelier received the Women’s Wear Daily Beauty Inc. Awards for Launch of the Year in 2018.