Innovating Detroit

Ross School of Business + General Motors

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business annual Impact Challenge is considered one of the most ambitious and immersive leadership development programs of its kind for business school students. Organized by the Ross Leadership Initiative, the 2014 Impact Challenge focused 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.

The Impact Challenge, a fast-paced, week-long program for Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA students, was recently expanded to also engage Weekend/Evening MBA, Global MBA, Master of Management, and BBA students. General Motors sponsored this year’s Challenge with a $50,000 investment in the educational experience. Local partner organizations included the Detroit Parent Network and Detroit TechTown.

The 450 first-year MBAs worked in six teams to engage community leaders, business owners, parents and youth in five neighborhoods to generate a set of new venture concepts. The MBAs were 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 pitched concepts to a panel of judges. The judges selected 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.

A team called Mo’Tech was awarded the first-place prize of $50,000 to turn their idea into a reality. They plan to gather used computers from large companies like GM, wipe their memories clean, and sell them to local businesses at affordable prices. For every fourth or fifth computer sold, one would be sold at a price of around $25 to $50 to youth groups, schools or individuals.

The following day, 500 first-year BBA students had 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.

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.

“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.”
– Scott DeRue, Ross Associate Dean and Faculty Director of the Ross Leadership Initiative

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