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Ross Students Join Food Entrepreneurs in 2016 Impact Challenge

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business has launched its 2016 Impact Challenge, an annual program in which first-year MBA students turn their skills toward making a positive social impact.

This year, Ross students will team up with 20 Detroit food entrepreneurs to design ventures that will increase food access and promote health.

During the challenge, which takes place over the course of four days, students will also visit local businesses, hear presentations, and attend a regional food fair. The experience leads up to a competition in which teams pitch their ventures to a jury consisting of business leaders and Ross faculty.

Ross Students Join Food Entrepreneurs in 2016 Impact Challenge

Winning proposals will receive support from Ross so the entrepreneurs can put the concepts into action. Previous winners have included a back-to-school fair for several thousand Detroit students and a fundraiser that brought in over $65,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

For first-year MBA students, the Impact Challenge provides an intense and immersive start to business school. Ross dean Scott LaRue has likened it to “[throwing] them all into the deep end” and pointed out that not everyone starts B-school by designing a business.

In Ross’s eyes, the fact that first-year MBA students start by creating a venture focused on having a positive social impact also has a certain symbolism.

As Jeff Domagla, associate director of Ross’s Sanger Leadership Center, put it, “Many students come to Michigan Ross because they want to leverage the power of business to become a force for positive change, and the Impact Challenge is the start of that journey.”

Domagla emphasized that this year’s version of the Impact Challenge, which he called a “rite of passage” at Ross, is about not just creating an impact in Detroit but designing “a sustainable, scalable solution that can be applied globally.”

Also new in this year’s contest is that Ross students are joining with entrepreneurs already involved in early-stage food-related projects in Detroit. With this change, Ross hopes that the Impact Challenge will have a real, ongoing impact long after the competition ends.

This new angle is possible partly because the 2016 Impact Challenge is being organized in collaboration with FoodLab Detroit, a non-profit that brings together and supports the city’s food entrepreneurs.

Achsha Jones, one of this year’s entrepeneur participants, said that, thanks in part to FoodLab, “Detroit’s local food system is culminating in one of the most cohesive entrepreneurial ecosystems in the region.”

With this year’s challenge, Ross’s new MBA students hope to kick off their B-school careers by learning from that ecosystem as well as bringing some of their own ideas into it. To find out more about the Impact Challenge, visit its web page.