Nik Ingersoll is making a living off bananas, which comes as an inspiration to the students of Fenway High School.
“I think it’s amazing how you can turn a small little interest into something so big and powerful, just from thinking of bananas,” said Delilah Barros, a senior at Fenway.
Ingersoll is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Barnana, a brand of organic banana-based snacks on a mission to end food waste by turning the more unattractive bananas — those that are bruised, scuffed, a little too ripe, or a little too small — that often are tossed out on banana farms into healthy snacks. He was also named to the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 food and drink list in 2016.
Ingersoll spoke to Barros and other students as part of this year’s Forbes Under 30 summit service day. The fourth annual summit was held this week in Boston for the second consecutive year and brought together big names such as rapper Kendrick Lamar, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe, and thousands of other young influencers and entrepreneurs.
I think it’s amazing how you can turn a small little interest into something so big and powerful, just from thinking of bananas.
Several summit attendees wrapped up a week of networking and speeches by volunteering to visit various elementary, middle and high schools across the city to inspire Boston’s school children to think about innovation and entrepreneurship. Some simply spoke about their work, some participated in a hackathon with students, and others helped students work through a mobile math lab.
Ingersoll spoke to the students not only about his career path, but also about how his interests in sports and healthy eating led him to co-found Barnana. He says it was important for him to speak to the students at Fenway because of his upbringing. Ingersoll grew up in a small town in western Nebraska, where he says it was hard for people to imagine leaving the area.
“It was super isolated. No one really escaped that area and did anything like [what I’m doing] before,” Ingersoll said. “I never had access to even ask questions to someone that would walk around in my shoes then. I would’ve given anything to have that.”
The students took full advantage of the opportunity to ask Ingersoll their burning questions — everything from whether he knows any celebrities (because he lives in Los Angeles) to why it’s important raise money to start a business, how to pay attention to buying trends, and how to get the most out of college.
I never had access to even ask questions to someone that would walk around in my shoes then. I would’ve given anything to have that.
Ingersoll says he felt like he could relate to the students. Many students at Fenway will be first-generation college students, as he was.
Hearing how Ingersoll transformed his unique interests and passions into a career will help the students learn to think outside of the box when it comes to choosing a career, said Morgan DesPrez, the director of Fenway's Ventures program, which introduces students to professionals from different fields.
“One of our mottos here is to try things on, and I think that’s exactly what we want our students to leave with — the idea that you’re curious about lots of different things and you’re willing to pursue or take something you don’t know a lot about, but are curious about, and delve into it a little bit more,” she said.
Ryan Inchaustegui, a senior who is interested in a career combining business and sports, received encouraging words from Ingersoll.
“He told me, ‘You can be it, as long as you’re dedicated and you pay your hard work for it, anything is possible,’” Inchaustegui said. “I try to relate myself to him, and when he was explaining his story, there was no [stopping]. In college, he wanted to do … design, and then he became [a chief marketing officer]. And then I asked him what his future is … he just said he goes with the flow, and there really is no [stopping]. He’s going to continue to be the best he can be. So that’s something that I connect to.”
Ingersoll says in addition to hard work and dedication, surviving in a business-minded world isn’t just about having a passion — it’s about understanding your passion on a deeper level and finding a way to make money off it. He added that practical business savvy is vital to helping students succeed in the real world.
“I think there’s too much focus on putting kids into boxes and making them a corporate robot worker ant for a giant bureaucratic system, and that’s the only option,” Ingersoll said. “I think that practical business classes and really explaining the way business works, it’s astounding to me that that’s not part of the [standard] curriculum.”