Sarah Sandford Broderick knows her way around a ballfield. And a boardroom.
A four-time National Fastpitch Coaches Association and Big East Conference Scholar Athlete, the centerfielder and former captain of the UConn women’s softball team came to Storrs for sports but hit homeruns in the classroom as well – completing her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the School of Business in 2000 in just three years.
Two years later, after finishing her masters in financial reporting – and earning an induction into the UConn School of Business Hall of Fame in 2003 – Broderick’s career took off, landing her in senior positions at companies like NBC Universal, GE, William Morris, and, finally, Vice Media, where she served as Chief Operating Officer and CFO.
Now the CEO and founder of her own company, FEAT Capital & Advisory, Broderick – who is originally from New Mexico and now lives in Fairfield – is returning to her Husky home team and joining the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in a new role as Executive-in-Residence, where she hopes to help grow and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs at UConn.
“At The Werth Institute, we are committed to impacting the intersectionality of inclusion, work, and education,” says David Noble, director of The Werth Institute. “We know that achieving cultural change requires a genuine commitment to equitable inclusion through novel and innovative approaches – changes in hearts as well as board rooms and the cSuite. Sarah is a thought leader who brings the same tenacity to the issues of gender, racial, and socioeconomic inclusion that she brought to her career as a corporate executive. We are the pipeline to the future, and we’re excited to have Sarah’s expertise joining us in this important endeavor at The Werth Institute.”
UConn Today recently sat down with Broderick, who will begin her work with The Werth Institute in early January to talk about her goals and expectations and what it means to be an entrepreneur.
Why were you interested in taking on this role?
About a year and a half ago, I left my role as the chief operating officer of Vice Media with the intent of taking a bit of time off to get myself situated with my new babies, and I ended up founding a company called The FEAT and really finding this passion for what I realized was a very under-utilized workforce. What I realized when I left the corporate world was that we’re so focused on trying to advance women inside companies that no one is really focused on the ones that have already left – a 1.7 trillion-dollar economic opportunity for all of these highly educated, highly experienced women who left corporate America. How do we tap into that opportunity and find a way to either allow them to work or bring them back into the environment where their talents can be utilized?
This also got me to thinking about what the future workforce really looks like. If we’re going to genuinely create a diverse and innovative workforce, we have to solve what I believe are four divides: gender, race, geography, and an academic-entrepreneurship-corporate divide, which I think is very disconnected in that what students major in versus what they go on to be.
I was introduced to David Noble and The Werth Institute, and we just really hit it off immediately and kind of bonded over this concept of how do we create an opportunity for entrepreneurship for women, people of color, and underrepresented groups, and how do we connect the academic experience to entrepreneurship and corporations?
What does it mean, in this setting, to be an Executive-in-Residence?
I think what is really important is that, as they’re building out the programming for The Werth Institute, David and his team are really trying to understand the practical application. What is it that these students need most operationally to succeed – whether that’s to give them a runway post-graduation to pursue their entrepreneurial ideas, or whether that’s to solve for some of the barriers, particularly in the Stamford area, that often stand in their way financially.
I think that my role is to bring 20-plus years of senior operating and financial perspective to really help ensure that the programs The Werth Institute are developing not only have support from the corporate world, but also that they are very relevant.
As someone who has decades of experience leading in major corporations, what do you think is one thing an institution like UConn can do to better prepare students to enter that world?
I think that there still is a disconnect between how we force students to choose a major and how we connect that with their hopes, desires, and wishes – how they want to live their life and what they want to do. Do they see themselves in a city or living rural? What kind of lifestyle do you want? And how are we connecting that to job roles, companies, entrepreneurship.
There are some programs that do that very well, like my accounting program in the School of Business – your sophomore year, they reach out and begin this process of connecting your major to a job. But I think so many majors and institutions don’t necessarily make that connection very early on, and so you lose students that need to understand the path between their academic career and what they want out of life.
I think that’s what makes entrepreneurship scary, because it’s associated with struggling. We don’t do a good job of connecting that academic study to the various pathways that may get you to doing things that you love to do.
At The Werth Institute, they know that entrepreneurship is more than just starting a business – it’s a mindset. How do you define entrepreneurship?
I think there’s a divide that we have to overcome, which is that entrepreneurship is associated with a choice between a financial security path or a risk-taking path – in other words, whether you’re going to get a paycheck or you’re going to try to make it on your own. I really believe that entrepreneurship is a mindset of questioning the status quo, and of problem solving, and of being able to communicate and lead through influence to get others to understand the possibilities, the “what if.”
I think that’s where it often falls short. It’s one thing to have the idea, but I think what The Werth Institute is really focused on is how do we see an idea through its multiple iterations. Very rarely does the initial idea create a billion dollar company, right? It’s the idea that goes through multiple iterations that are influenced by not only the individual, but by industry mentors and by the practical application – what’s the right application for an idea in a commercial setting?
What are you most excited about in coming to this role at UConn through The Werth Institute?
I’ve always enjoyed academia, and I’m kind of a lifelong learner. To take this moment in my career that I’m very grateful to have, putting my own passions to work at my company, and using the lens of students who are and will be the generation that I’m trying to make corporate America more accommodating to, that’s very exciting for me. It’s one thing to say, “Here are the changes in corporations that are now possible, and this is why we might actually break down barriers for that next generation who want something different.” But then to be able to actually test that, to see if this is what this next generation really wants in order to be successful – it’s an amazing opportunity to get real perspective.
I also want to give back a bit of what I learned and what I wish I would have known in order to make sure that these really inspiring, intellectually interesting students are aware of the multiple paths that they can apply their curiosity to beyond just starting a business.
For more information about entrepreneurial programs and opportunities at UConn, visit entrepreneurship.uconn.edu.