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Ross MBA Students Embark on an ‘Open Road’ Journey, Virtually Connecting With Visionary Entrepreneurs In Detroit


Three teams of students in the Full-Time MBA Program at the Ross School of Business spent the month of May addressing complex business challenges facing three emerging social entrepreneurs in Detroit. 

For the past six years, Open Road at Ross has paired MBA students with forward-thinking entrepreneurs nationwide. Working remotely this year, the intrepid “travelers” had the opportunity to contribute their insights and  ideas to three small businesses in Detroit: Coton Clothiers, Detroit is the New Black, and Shelby + Coffee Down Under

By providing students with the experience of working directly with the social entrepreneurs, Open Road at Ross represents one of many action-based learning programs at Michigan Ross. The program is organized by Business+Impact and the Zell Lurie Institute at Michigan Ross, and funded by the Ford Motor Company. 

Meet the 2021 Open Road at Ross teams and businesses 

The students who participated in Open Road at Ross were: Chris Gradone, MBA ’21; Rachel Ing MBA ’21; Natasha Suddhi, MBA ’21; Allison Winstel, MBA ’22; Dustin Huibregtse, MBA ’21, Alex Johnson, MBA ’21, Briana Jones, MBA ’21, Chris Nguyen, MBA ’21, and Sasha Kapur, MBA ’21.

Coton Clothiers

Founded by Alyssa Blankenship, MBA, ’21, Coton Clothiers is an up-and-coming, luxury sustainable clothing brand that uses materials that would have otherwise gone to waste. 

The team (Gradone, Ing, Suddhi) was able to utilize their Michigan Ross MBA acumen to help cultivate innovative strategies on two separate fronts for Coton. Coton products are made-to-order, reducing waste and bringing unique fabrics to the market. However, tracking inventory and communicating stock-outs had been a challenge. The student team was able to recommend a software solution to manage these operations, and they also proposed another software solution to customize the online shopping experience. 

By implementing the team’s strategy, Coton will be better able to showcase their unique value proposition. Although the website is still in its renovation phase, Blankenship sees great potential for the students’ proposals and the tools they recommended.

Shelby + Coffee Down Under

Shelby + Coffee Down Under is a restaurant, bar, and coffeehouse owned by Michigan Ross alum Tarun Kajeepeta, BBA ’10, which was conceived pre-pandemic but re-launched this spring. Kajeepeta sought support managing the operations of his growing speakeasy concept, as well as attracting customers in off-peak times.

To create their recommendations, the MBA team (Gradone, Ing, Nguyen, Suddhi, Winstel) conducted interviews with key staff and had frequent brainstorming sessions with Kajeepeta. They were able to address immediate challenges by designing and implementing an inventory storage plan for all of the business’s consumable products, covering a multitude of ingredients and supplies. Though the recommendations were simple, Kajeepeta and the staff noted instantaneous benefits from the improved organization.

The team also focused on areas that were more long-term and strategic. The key questions were: “How do we authentically get the word out?” and “Outside of weekend night service, what experience do we envision for customers?” Through their research, the team recommended a suite of options, several of which are under further refinement or are being implemented today.

Detroit Is the New Black

Detroit is the New Black is a luxury clothing brand that aims to highlight the culture and community of Detroit. The Open Road team (Huibregtse, Johnson, Jones, Kapur) assisted owner Roslyn Karamoko by providing her with strategic recommendations on how to grow her business and brand over the next few years. 

Over the course of a month, the students developed insights based on more than 20 interviews with internal and external stakeholders and customers, a deep dive into the company’s financial data, and analysis of best practices in high-street brands and fashion retail. The team gave Karamoko recommendations about how to grow an authentic brand in an omnichannel world, and how to think critically about creating capacity for herself as she builds a successful brand.

The positive impact of Open Road at Ross 

Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic this year, Open Road at Ross was a success, providing students with an impactful  learning experience and the Detroit entrepreneurs with valuable recommendations on how to move their businesses forward. . 

Learn more about Open Road at Ross