Five Ross Students Make ‘Women to Watch’ in 2016 List


In the Innovate Blue Wolverine Women to Watch in 2016 list, more than 26 female entrepreneurs from the University of Michigan were highlighted for their work in creating ventures that have a high potential to make a positive difference in the world.

The list highlights University of Michigan students who are “creators, change agents, entrepreneurs, and problem-solvers dedicated to making a lasting and impactful difference in the lives of others.”

Five Michigan Ross MBA women were included in the list. And in a crowd like that, these Ross students not only feel at home, they shine through.

Included on the list, are:

Holly Price, MBA ‘17 - Founder of Sage & Grace

From Innovate Blue: After reading about how manipulative and expensive funeral planning can be, and about emerging trends to make funerals more affordable, environmentally friendly, and less stressful, Ross School of Business student Holly Price became intrigued by the industry. “When my mom got really sick last summer, I realized I had no idea how to plan her funeral and the idea of planning one sounded so overwhelming I was not sure how we would get through it,” she says.

Read more about Holly

Thankfully, her mom recovered and shortly after Holly decided to start Sage & Grace, a concierge service for those who are addressing or will need to address end of life issues. With this venture Holly hopes to empower consumers and peel back the curtain on what goes into a funeral so that planning can be done more effectively and affordably. “There are a lot of disparaging practices that are commonplace and I believe a little bit of consumer education and some well-designed planning tools could go a long way towards quashing predatory methods,” says Holly.

Holly recently participated in the Zell Lurie Institute’s Michigan Business Challenge, and was awarded the second Outstanding Presentation award for $2,000.

“Grieving for a loved one who has recently died is one of the hardest periods of our lives. I believe Sage & Grace has the potential to reduce the stress of funeral planning during an immensely stressful period and, at scale, fundamentally shift how the funeral industry communicates with consumers and raise the standards on how funerals are planned,” says Holly.

Christine Priori, MBA/MPH ‘18 and Mikaela Rodkin, MBA/MS ‘18 - Cofounders of CARt

From Innovate Blue: CARt was formed when an all-female team came together a year and a half ago because of a passion for solving food insecurity. “We were sick of our neighbors eating canned beans for dinner. We were sick of kids only getting two meals a day. We were sick of reading about malnutrition and its impact on obesity and health,” says the team.

Christine Priori, along with teammates Ali Jensen, Mikaela Rodkin, and Stacey Matlen then channeled that anger and despair to fuel an innovative approach to increase access to healthy, affordable food.

Read more about Christine and Mikaela

Through the School of Public Health’s Innovation in Action program the team formed CARt, a transportation and ridesharing service subsidized by supermarkets that provides more shoppers access to healthy, affordable foods at grocery stores often out of reach for those without access to reliable transportation. By getting people to the supermarket, says the team, CARt gives people the choice to purchase healthier foods without the burden of premium prices.

Grocery stores subsidize the rides, and in return can expand their customer base, allow for more frequent grocery trips from current consumers, have an alternative creative method to market their store, and positively impact their community.

A transportation-limited individual had a few options of getting to the grocery store, such as busing and walking, but no method afforded them the freedom or convenience a personal vehicle would. We decided to tap into rideshare companies, such as Uber, who were not reaching our target population. With CARt, we coordinate rideshare rides to get people out of food-insecure neighborhoods and into fully-stocked supermarkets, with the intent of getting them to healthier, more affordable food.

In March 2015, CART formed an LLC and last summer completed a month-long pilot with a major Midwest regional grocery store chain. And the team recently returned from SXSW in Austin, Texas, where they were pitching the company as part of the University of Michigan’s presence there.

The CARt team has been active in several entrepreneurship programs at U-M, including CFE Jump Start grants and advising, the Michigan Business Challenge – Social Impact Track, Women Who Launch activities, and more.

Kristin Steiner, MBA/MS ‘18 - Co-founder of fulFill

From Innovate Blue: On average, each American generates 4.4 pounds of daily waste, and a large portion comes from packaging materials like soap containers and shampoo bottles. “As a country, we desperately need to rethink the way we consume products, and that begins with reusing our resources,” say Steiner and co-founder Brittany Szczepanik. “Our vision, years from now, is to see a complete shift in how American consumers purchase their products. This nation can make the necessary shift in behavior and it starts with reusing our resources.”

Recognizing this need, in 2015 the women teamed up to start fulFill, a social enterprise that delivers household products like shampoos, soaps, and lotions to your door in reusable containers. Their model borrows “from the milkman service and adds a modern twist: allowing customers to order their products online, leave their empty containers outside their door, and have them refilled. “We’re offering our customers a simple but revolutionary solution to packaging waste that’s sustainable, affordable, and convenient,” says the pair.

Read more about Kristin

“When we throw away a container,” we’re not only throwing away the materials, we’re also throwing away our hard-earned cash,” says Erb Institute dual degree student Kristin Steiner. “While recycling is an improvement from trash disposal,” the recycling process is still energy, time, and capital intensive. Currently the consumption of household goods is a linear process and we want to close this loop. The clearest way is by refilling our reusable bottles.”

The all-female fulFill team brings together knowledge and experiences from diverse backgrounds.  Kristin was a civil engineer prior to graduate school and Brittany a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) coordinator. The two also brought on Billie Lee, an alumna from the School of Information, for her expertise in web development and Damien Biel, an associate professor at the Ross School of Business, as an advisor.

“The University of Michigan has been a tremendous supply of resources,” note Kristin and Brittany. “We have utilized the Zell Lurie Institute for advice, the [Zell] Entrepreneurship and Law Clinic for legal advice from law students, and the Ross School of Business for an advisor.

We also were fortunate to win a Cool Project Award from the Erb Institute and a Dow Interdisciplinary Sustainability Award.”

Their hope is that customers will not only enjoy their products, but feel proud of the service they are providing to both our community, and to our planet.

Lily Hamburger, MBA ‘16 - Co-founder of Skillet

From Innovate Blue: While working for a non-governmental organization in India, MBA candidate Lily Hamburger got up close and personal with the consequences of malnutrition. “The kinds of foods available to rich communities are not necessarily the same foods available to poor communities,” she says. “Essentially, I see nutrition as a human right.”

Last year, Lily and her current partners from the School of Public Health, Margaret Dowling and Abigail Schachter, came together through the SPH’s Innovation in Action program over a common interest in addressing food insecurity and making healthy eating more accessible for all income levels. “We were all motivated by this social mission for a variety of reasons,” says Abigail. “For me, it was the interest in using nutrition as a disease prevention and wellness tool. We considered several solutions during Innovation in Action, and Skillet was the most viable idea to come out of that process.”

Read more about Lily

Their venture Skillet aims to bring unique recipes and local ingredients right to daily commutes, taking planning and shopping out of the equation to let customers enjoy preparing and eating healthy, delicious food. Skillet creates and sells grab-and-go dinner kits that contain a recipe and all the fresh ingredients needed to cook dinner.

After their experience with Innovation in Action, the Skillet team was keyed in to U-M’s entrepreneurial offerings across campus, including the Startup at the Center for Entrepreneurship, Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Clinic, and TechArb Student Incubator.

The idea is that one day Skillet kits will be sold in smart self-service kiosks in convenient locations that customers pass by every day, like workplaces, gyms, schools, and apartment buildings.

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