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Notre Dame MBA team wins BYU Social Entrepreneurship Competition

by Carol Elliott

March 30, 2012

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A team of four Notre Dame MBA students took first place in the Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship Case Competition, an event that challenged graduate students from top b-schools to solve a live strategic issue faced by innovative social organizations.

The second annual event, held March 21-23, was hosted by Brigham Young University and the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance. Participating schools included BYU, Cornell University, George Washington University, University of Colorado and William & Mary.

“The case exposed us to a common problem facing nonprofits, which is how to increase the impact they are having with the limited resources that they have available,” said Andrea Caldwell, who along with fellow first-year MBA students Charles Florance, Patrick Murphy and James Falbe, made up the University of Notre Dame team. “We gained insight into the fact that the entrepreneurial spirit still exists in both developed and developing countries, even when traditional entrepreneurial models aren’t successful because there is less access to capital and less tolerance for risk.”

The Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship at the Mendoza College sponsored the Notre Dame team and helped the students prepare for the case. Caldwell said each team member devoted 20-plus hours to research and preparation in the week leading up to the competition.

“We all have an interest in entrepreneurship, social responsibility and international development,” she said. “Before coming to business school, we were in various fields – military, consulting, non-profit and education. But we all recognized the opportunity to use our careers in business to contribute to social progress. In the words of the Mendoza College, we all Ask More of Business."

“We are delighted with the students’ success in this competition,” said Melissa Paulsen, program manager at the Gigot Center. “But even more significant was the enthusiasm of our MBA students for social entrepreneurship. They are a great example of how business can impact societal problems for the better.”

The teams were asked to generate new strategies to expand innovative social models and to present the most effective way for organizations to employ those models. The MBA student teams had one week to review the case, based on a real problem within Community Enterprise Solutions (CES), a company that educates local entrepreneurs by operating according to the MicroConsignment Model (MCM).  

MCM operates differently than microcredit or microfranchising in that CES "consigns" products to entrepreneurs (mostly women), who then travel to remote villages to sell the goods, which include life-changing products such as eyeglasses, stoves and water filtration systems. The entrepreneurs do not pay for the products until they sell them, which removes a major barrier that could keep them from pursuing the opportunity.   

The Notre Dame team proposed a framework for approaching growth that included a fellowship program to bring in both graduate level and corporate talent, and building a toolkit through which any company can learn how to implement the model.  

"Hats off to the team from Notre Dame,” said Greg Van Kirk, CES co-founder and one of the competition judges. “Their contributions far exceeded my expectations. They provided me and our team with both insightful analysis on our current strategy as well as practical, creative and actionable next steps to scale up the impact of the MicroConsignment Model globally.”