MSx Student

Doyle Galvin

MSx Class of 2024
Doyle Galvin
Doyle Galvin
The vision is to get more veterans growing businesses in countries like the ones where I’ve worked.
February 27, 2024

In the mid-2000s, Doyle Galvin was a young Naval officer assigned to a high-tech Special Operations Command maritime platform that assisted Southeast Asian and Pacific Island countries in counter-terrorism operations as part of the post-9/11 global war on terror. As head of operations, Galvin had responsibility for everything from scheduling training exercises and missions to navigation. “It was a pretty intense job,” he recalls.

One small part of his duties — coming up with humanitarian projects in the same countries where the Navy was combatting terrorism — would also set Galvin on a very different career course. Seeing the everyday struggles of people in developing countries was an epiphany for Galvin, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate. After finishing his Navy career in 2008, Galvin searched for a way to continue helping the same sort of communities worldwide.

It was the start of a career journey that would lead Galvin in his post-Navy career to work in microfinance in Cambodia, to assist local banks in Ghana that helped small farmers, and eventually to the rural countryside in Tanzania, where he built a seed and crop-protection business from scratch. Eventually, it led him to the MSx program at the GSB, where he aims to enhance his social entrepreneurship skills.

What led you to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and serve in the Navy?

I was born in upstate New York, but when I was five, we moved to Newburyport, a small town along the Atlantic coast in Massachusetts, just north of Gloucester. My dad was in construction management, and Boston was a growing market at the time. My mom taught English at a high school in that town for 30 years. I was interested in politics and government service, and growing up along the coast, fishermen and boats and going to sea are a big part of the culture, so that influenced me as well. Then, when I was in high school, on a visit to Washington, DC, I made a side trip to Annapolis. I really liked the campus, and the people that I met, and the idea of serving the country and putting service above self just drew me in.

The Naval Academy was a massive influence, the foundation for all the leadership skills that I would use later in my career. Early in my senior year, the September 11 attacks changed the whole dynamic of what life would be like after graduation. I went to the Middle East a few months before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was on a ship that fired some of the first missiles in that war.

I wanted to do something different on my second tour, so I went to work for Special Operations Command. I was assigned to an experimental boat, a catamaran prototype which was built from lightweight materials so that it was super-fast.

How did that experience lead you to become interested in helping people in developing countries and becoming a social entrepreneur?

I had an opportunity to come up with ideas for humanitarian and community relations projects in the countries where we were working. I could think of something and push it forward. For example, I found an NGO in one of the countries that was working with local orphanages, and I set up a small project to bring them together with our own crew. This was next to the area where we were operating all the time, but we never really touched or had a feel for. We’d deliver some supplies, make donations to the community, and build a better relationship with local people.

After the Navy, I eventually returned to graduate school at Johns Hopkins to study economic development and international economics, all related to figuring out how I could help the sort of communities I’d worked with in those emerging and developing markets in Southeast Asia. After that, I worked in Cambodia in microfinance and in Ghana, helping rural banks that were lending to smallholder farmers. I realized that I really enjoyed working in those places and that a lot of the skills that I had from the military, such as dealing with tons of different variables and challenges, were really transferrable to this sort of work.

Why did you choose agriculture as your focus?

Agriculture was at the top of the list for helping people because sometimes 70% of the jobs in those countries are related to farming. I was fortunate to find a global company called Syngenta, based in Switzerland, which was looking for someone to go to Africa by themselves and start a project to increase sales of seeds and crop protection products for smallholder farmers. I thought, “This is my dream job.” The next thing, I was being dropped off in East Africa. I had autonomy to develop a vision and a plan, and once I got approval from headquarters in Switzerland, to make the investments and start putting it all together.

“I worked in Cambodia in microfinance and in Ghana, helping rural banks that were lending to smallholder farmers.”

How did you utilize your military skills as a social entrepreneur?

I didn’t learn this term until recently, but I had an intrapreneurial experience in the Navy when I was an officer on that catamaran, doing humanitarian projects. It was very much like a startup inside a huge organization that already had its line of products and services. I was looking for a similar opportunity; leading a geographical expansion into a developing country for Syngenta was perfect.

The job also was full of risk. Tanzania is more than twice the size of California, but a lower-middle-income country. And as a foreigner and an outsider, you don’t really understand what’s going on. So it really became about communication. My first priority was building a local team. I was fortunate to find a talented young person from a local university who was my first hire. I decided that instead of setting up headquarters in a big city, I would first go out into the middle of the country, to a small town. I needed to be close to the customers and understand their work and their needs. I created a smaller operation that would scale so that as I hired and trained more people, we gradually could replicate it and expand.

After you worked at Boost Biomes, an AgTech startup in the Bay Area, you applied for the MSx program. What led you to come to Stanford?

I realized that social impact is a big part of Stanford’s DNA and of the mission of GSB, as is entrepreneurship. That appealed to me, as I’ve always had a social impact and service-oriented mission. I thought MSx would help me to better understand the skills needed to succeed as an entrepreneur.

What classes and instructors have been especially useful to you?

My favorite course has been “Riding the Next Wave in Developing Economies,” where we learned about business models that are working in some of these emerging markets and the people and companies who are investing in them. It’s split between the theory and guest speakers who are investors or entrepreneurs. Steve Ciesinski and Federico Antoni, who’s an investor in Latin America, were the instructors. Another course is “Angel and Venture Capital Financing for Entrepreneurs and Investors”, taught by Ilya Strebulaev and Brian Jacobs. They’re teaching a lot of the nitty-gritty about investing and early-stage startups and what to consider when deciding who to invest with. This added so much in terms of details that I didn’t know at the first startup I worked at. And then there’s Startup Garage. I’ve learned a lot more about the research-driven process of coming up with an idea, validating it with consumers, and really getting clarity on the user need and the type of business model that would work in the target area you’re interested in.

Being in MSx has really been an incredible opportunity, too. The people in my class are from different countries all over the world and they’ve had an amazing range of experiences. They’ve started and sold companies, and they have finance skills and entrepreneurial skills. We have ex-military and even a doctor in the program. Some of them have transitioned through several different careers, and they’ve been able to build teams and succeed.

What’s in store for you after Stanford? Do you already have a startup in mind?

The vision is to get more veterans to be involved in growing businesses in countries like the ones where I’ve worked. I had a great experience in East Africa, and a lot of my friends are building businesses in developing markets, ones with all kinds of crazy operational challenges. Military veterans have a lot of the solutions and experience in overcoming those issues. So connecting those two communities would have an impact on business and social outcomes in those developing countries. At this point, it’s just a partnership with a friend of mine in Africa, and we haven’t moved it along far enough to be announcing it.

Photo by Elena Zhukova

Doyle Galvin
Doyle Galvin
MSx Class of 2024
Newburyport, Massachusetts, USA
MS, Stanford Graduate School of Business
MA, Development Economics and International Development, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
BS, Political Science, U.S. Naval Academy
Professional Experience
Director of Corporate Development and Strategy, Boost Biomes
Global Vegetable Seeds — Business Improvement Lead/Chief of Staff to CEO, Syngenta
Financial Services Consultant — Agriculture Value Chain Enhancement Program, ACDI/VOCA
Current Profile