Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown ’94 to give keynote address at Commencement
Renowned entrepreneur and environmentalist Ethan Brown ’94, the founder, president and CEO of Beyond Meat, will deliver the keynote address at the College’s 103rd Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 23, 2021.
Brown, one of the newest members of the Connecticut College Board of Trustees, majored in government and history at Conn while competing on the men’s basketball team and serving as publisher of the Connecticut College Review. He went on to earn an MBA at Columbia and a Master of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.
“This combination of history, policy, business, journalism and competitive sports would prove to be a formidable foundation for his future career,” President Katherine Bergeron wrote in a letter announcing Brown’s selection to the College community.
Brown first held leadership roles at Ballard Power Systems, the world’s leading hydrogen fuel cell developer. While working in the alternative energy industry, he had a revelation about the environmental impact of livestock production, an insight that led him to imagine an alternative meat industry. In 2009, Brown founded Beyond Meat with the revolutionary concept that muscle could be synthesized from a variety of plant-based proteins, providing an animal-friendly and environmentally responsible alternative for traditional meat eaters. Prominent early investors in the company included Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio.
In May of 2019, Beyond Meat made its public debut. The first plant-based food company to go public on a major exchange, the company closed its first day of trading 163% above its initial valuation, making it the best performing first-day IPO in decades. Today, the company’s valuation stands at about $8.75 billion.
Brown has long been a distinguished environmentalist. He created and opened a center for fuel reformation and has held prominent positions in the renewable energy industry, including as Vice Chairman of the Board at The National Hydrogen Association and Secretary of the U.S. Fuel Cell Council. The Aspen institute named him a Henry Crown Fellow—a distinction reserved for young entrepreneurs that demonstrate leadership driven by a spirit of community. In 2018, he received the United Nation’s highest environmental recognition—the Champion of the Earth award.
“Brown’s devotion to creating a better world has been evident in all his commitments,” Bergeron wrote. “His address to the Class of 2021 should be a perfect culmination of the work being advanced this year both by the Office of Sustainability, with its theme of ‘Nourishing Community,’ and by students in our new Food Pathway.”
During the ceremony, the College will confer on Brown an honorary degree—a doctor of humane letters honoris causa—an award that reflects not only his achievements as an entrepreneur dedicated to environmentalism but also his commitment to the values that animate the College’s mission of putting the liberal arts into action.