U-M Impact Challenge Students Collaborate with Detroit Entrepreneurs

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is a proponent of action-based learning, and of business being a force for positive change in the world. Those two philosophies combine this week for U-M’s annual Impact Challenge, where all 422 incoming graduate students spend four days in Detroit collaborating with local entrepreneurs.

Organized by U-M’s Sanger Center, the Impact Challenge is designed to offer students an immersive opportunity to put their business training to work while helping Detroit startups create more sustainable, profitable ventures. The students work in groups without formal supervision.

“It’s an intense and rewarding leadership experience,” says Jeff Domagala, associate director of the Sanger Center. “It gives students the chance to think creatively and come up with big, audacious goals.” Part of the fun, he adds, is the high-pressure, real-world environment in which the student teams help develop “high-impact” solutions to the current challenges the partner entrepreneurs are experiencing.

“The students are working with companies that already exist,” he explains. “They’ll look at how to innovate the current business model to bring value. It gives them the chance to engage and influence real-life situations.”

On Monday, the Impact Challenge students arrived in Detroit. They’ve spent the week working with 15 startups from the FoodLab Detroit incubator along with FoodPlus Detroit, an organization dedicated to establishing affordable, accessible urban food distribution systems while increasing resource conservation and access to locally grown and produced food.

Today, the Impact Challenge participants will showcase their efforts at a free, public event held at the Ross School from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Attendees will learn more about the work done during the Impact Challenge; there will also be food, music, and stations where people can learn more about sustainable food production in Detroit as well as the 15 food startups in this year’s challenge. There will be a pitch competition happening simultaneously, where event attendees can vote on the best student ideas.

Domagala says U-M’s engagement with the project doesn’t end this week. A student-run club at Ross called the Detroit Revitalization and Business Initiative will work with FoodLab and FoodPlus between October and January to “push the project forward.” The club will host an impact conference in Detroit called Innovation in the City on Sept. 22 that will offer more opportunities for the students to follow up.

“At Ross, we really do believe business can be a positive force for change,” Domagala says. “We’re developing the next generation of leaders that will create economic value and help communities thrive.”

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