Michigan Ross Students to Launch a Business to Connect Detroit Youth to Entrepreneurship

Immersive Leadership Program Brings Positive, Action-Based Learning to Life for Students Across Five Degree Programs

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business today unveiled details of its annual Impact Challenge, one of the most ambitious and immersive leadership development programs of its kind for business school students. Organized by the Ross Leadership Initiative (RLI), the 2014 Impact Challenge will focus the energy, creativity, and experience of business school students to develop, launch, and fund a business within a week’s time. Each year, the Impact Challenge is directed at making a positive difference in the Detroit community, and as such the new start-up venture will be focused on increasing the odds that Detroit-area children grow up to become successful entrepreneurs.

From the Ross Impact Challenge 2013The Impact Challenge, a fast-paced, week-long program for Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA students, has been expanded this year to also engage Weekend/Evening MBA, Global MBA, Master of Management, and BBA students. General Motors is sponsoring this year’s Challenge with a $50,000 investment in the educational experience. Local partner organizations include the Detroit Parent Network and TechTown Detroit. The experience is an intensive, action-based learning program for students and core to the Michigan Ross mission to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world.

“We fundamentally believe that business can be a force for positive change in the world, and the Impact Challenge is an embodiment of this belief,” said Scott DeRue, associate dean and faculty director of the Ross Leadership Initiative. “This year’s challenge will create a lasting impact for Detroit youth and our students at Ross. There is so much positive momentum around Detroit’s start-up culture that we wanted to do our part to support area children to become successful entrepreneurs. Starting a business from scratch is an ambitious goal for anyone, but our students have the knowledge and passion to bring this to life and will experience firsthand the power of business to make a positive impact.”

The 450 first-year MBAs will work in six teams to engage community leaders, business owners, parents, and youth in five neighborhoods to generate a set of new venture concepts. Workshops on design thinking and feedback from key stakeholders will help students develop their venture concept, business plan, and pitch. The MBAs will be building on the insights and recommendations developed earlier in the year by Ross’ Weekend/Evening and Global MBAs and Master of Management students. In the end, approximately 1,500 Ross students will have been a part of the venture creation process.

On Thursday, Aug. 28, each team will pitch concepts to a panel of judges. The judges will select one concept for launch, based on the business venture’s potential impact, strategy and long-term viability, both in terms of financial feasibility and sustainability.

The following day, 500 first-year BBA students will then have mere hours to complete their phase of the challenge: designing and launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise seed capital to support the venture, which will be complemented by funding from corporate partners. From there, teams of students will take the winning idea and work over the next eight months to launch the venture, with guidance from Ross faculty and partners such as Detroit’s TechTown.

"Working closely with Michigan Ross to design this year's Impact Challenge and then bring it to our SWOT City Detroit neighborhoods is an incredible opportunity," said Leslie Lynn Smith, president and CEO, TechTown Detroit. "Every day, we work to transform these underserved neighborhoods into vibrant and dense communities—places where kids are inspired and supported, not consumed by a chronic sense of hopelessness. We take seriously our obligation to carry economic and social justice to our most disconnected communities—our neighbors—and we are deeply grateful for Ross' shared commitment and partnership.  It's not every day that such a respected institution takes the time to really dig deep, engage, and support the future of our neighborhood children. We have no doubt that the winning venture will make a significant impact, and we commit to transitioning it from concept to reality."

For more than 20 years, Ross has hosted community service projects in Detroit as part of the onboarding of new students, and 2014 marks the fourth year that has come in the form of the Impact Challenge. In previous years, the Challenge has raised more than $65,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation; engaged organizations to tackle Detroit’s most pressing social problems; and most recently, provided a large-scale back to school fair featuring products, services, and learning activities to help more than 3,000 kids and parents get a positive start to the school year.

“On day one of the Challenge, it's safe to say we were all intimidated by the scope of our task—this would be a huge undertaking for any group in four days, much less a group of almost strangers. We were immediately forced to rely on one another, to step up and take on leadership positions, to innovate and challenge the status quo, and to meet aggressive deadlines,” said Elizabeth Ferguson, MBA ’15 who participated in the 2013 Challenge. “Despite the intensity of the Challenge and the inter-section competition, it was impossible to lose sight of the broader context of what we were doing. We became deeply invested in the stories and concerns we heard, the problems we hoped to fix, and the community we hoped to benefit. The Challenge certainly opened my eyes to what I was capable of and what my section could accomplish together, but more importantly we saw the impact of our efforts on thousands of Detroit kids. It drove home that our Ross education would prepare us to be engaged citizens of the world as well as exemplary business people.”

Theresa Mitchell, director of Project Graduation at Detroit Parent Network, a partner organization for this and last year’s Impact Challenge, said, “It was amazing to watch the Ross students transform the fair from idea into reality in just a matter of days. They injected a level of energy and passion that helped ensure children in Detroit would start the school year strong and set their sights high. Years from now several attendees may go to college as a direct result of what they saw and learned at the fair. We’re fortunate to have the Impact Challenge play a role in transforming our communities for the better.”

Follow all of the Impact Challenge action on Twitter and Instagram using the tag #RossImpact or learn more at http://michiganross.umich.edu/programs/rli/impact-challenge


About Michigan Ross

The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan is a vibrant and distinctive learning community grounded in the principle that business can be an extraordinary vehicle for positive change in today's dynamic global economy. The Ross mission is to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world. Through thought and action, members of the Ross community drive change and innovation that improves business and society.

Ross is consistently ranked among the world's leading business schools. Academic degree programs include the BBA, MBA, Part-time MBA (Evening and Weekend formats), Executive MBA, Global MBA, Master of Accounting, Master of Supply Chain Management, Master of Management, and PhD. In addition, the school delivers open-enrollment and custom executive education programs targeting general management, leadership development, and strategic human resource management.


Watch the results of 2013 Michigan Ross Impact Challenge on Ross' YouTube channel.

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