Michigan Ross Kicks Off Annual Impact Challenge

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business today unveiled details of its annual Impact Challenge. Organized by the Ross Leadership Initiative (RLI), the 2014 Impact Challenge will harness the creativity of business school students to develop, launch, and fund a business within a week’s time.

The program has been expanded this year to also engage Weekend/Evening MBA, Global MBA, Master of Management, and BBA students. In the end, approximately 1,500 Ross students will have participated in the venture creation process. The Impact Challenge aims to make a positive difference in the Detroit community, and this year’s start-up venture will focus on increasing the odds that Detroit-area children grow up to become successful entrepreneurs.

“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,” says 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,” DeRue explains. “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 first-hand the power of business to make a positive impact.”

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 Detroit TechTown.

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.

On Thursday, August 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,” says 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.”

Elizabeth Ferguson, MBA ’15 who participated in the 2013 Challenge, says her section became deeply invested in the project and the community they 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,” Ferguson says. “It drove home that our Ross education would prepare us to be engaged citizens of the world as well as exemplary business people.”

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