September 2021 Newsletter



Fourth Annual Business+Impact Showcase Features 35 Impact Organizations

As part of Business+Impact’s mission to make students aware of all the impact opportunities across campus, B+I welcomed incoming and returning students from across campus to its fourth annual Business+Impact Showcase on Sept. 14. Students met with 35 exhibiting organizations from U-M in areas of interest like social justice, equality, sustainability, social entrepreneurship and economic development.

If you weren’t able to make it or would like to learn more, a complete list of exhibitors and descriptions is available in this article, and a photo album is on Flickr.


MBA2 Gordon Impact Scholarship – Apply by Sept. 26

Application due
11:59 pm, Sun, Sept. 26

Are you an MBA2 committed to addressing complex social challenges? This year the Skip and Carrie Gordon Scholarship Fund will award three scholarships to MBA2s who demonstrate a dedication to impact. Applications are open now and due by Sun, Sept. 26.

Claire Babilonia (MBA ’21), Tieranny Baker (MBA ’21) and Kevin Finnegan (MBA ’21) each received $5000 Gordon Scholarships in 2020-21.


A Summer of Impact: Insights from Impact Studio & B+I Summer Interns

In the summer of 2021, Business+Impact supported 55 student interns with multiple regional and global organizations and within our +Impact Studio. In the +Impact Studio  nearly 30 students used design and business to make an impact. Read about the lessons learned developing and prototyping impactful ventures in the Applebaum Impact Design Fellowship and Founders Program, and read about the first +Impact Studio Summer Demo Day. Right here in Detroit, students in the +Impact Studio for Local Business developed consulting products that made a big impact for Detroit’s small business owners. Additionally, learn about how Michigan Ross students are putting design tools to use such as Adobe XD to use as part of the UM Adobe Creative Campus.

Students from Ross and Ford created impact through virtual or onsite internships, where they developed skills in business and policy that expanded their horizons exponentially and created value for numerous impact organizations. Read these snapshots of student experiences from this summer and see photos from their experiences.

Ross Admissions: UpClose Diversity and Women’s Weekend
Thurs, Aug.19 @ 5 pm ET

Inaugural DEI Awards

Wed, Sept. 29 @ 2:30 pm
Robertson Auditorium
Ross School of Business

B+I is proud to be a sponsor of these awards, instituted in 2021, which celebrate and honor research related to diversity, equity and inclusion conducted at the Ross School of Business, at every stage of the academic journey. Also established in 2021, the annual J. Frank Yates Diversity and Inclusion Teaching Excellence Award, honors a member of our teaching faculty who demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion and makes a significant positive impact on the learning and personal growth of our students.

Each award winner, in addition to being recognized for their contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion, will present a short TEDx-style lightning talk.  


Interested in Healthcare and Entrepreneurship? Join Blueprints For Pangaea!

Speed Dating
Thurs, Sept. 16 @ 6 – 8 pm
Ross School of Business

Originally a finalist in the Michigan Business Challenge – Social Impact Track, Blueprints for Pangaea is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that ships excess, unused medical supplies from U.S. hospitals to areas in need overseas. The application for the Fall 2021 cycle can be found HERE, or on their website,, under the “Apply Now” tab. The deadline to apply is Saturday, September 18th at 11:59PM EST.  Interviews will be conducted in person on September 24th and 26th on an invite-only basis.



Donna Harris (MBA ’99)

Donna Harris is an investor, technologist and serial entrepreneur whose work and investments have helped thousands of startups worldwide to grow and scale while solving some of our greatest challenges.   She is currently serving as Founder and CEO of Builders and Backers, but also is a General Partner in 1776 Ventures, a venture capital fund she co-founded, which is investing in more than 30 countries on five continents, and she is also a Venture Partner at Praxis. We caught up with her recently to discuss her thoughts on her work since she graduated from U-M’s Business School.



A Searchable Platform for All Things Impact at Ross and Across Campus

The Business+Impact Gateway provides you with a single location for all things impact. Here you’ll find all of the activities, people and key partners working to use their learning to make a real impact in the world. 


At the University:



Thurs, Sept. 23 @ 10 am – 2 pm
The U-M Diag

Earthfest celebrates sustainability initiatives across U-M and the surrounding communities, while providing an inclusive platform to educate and engage the campus community on opportunities to support sustainability and environmental justice on campus and in our daily lives.  Earthfest is organized by representatives from the Office of Campus Sustainability, School for Environment and Sustainability, Student Life, and Graham Sustainability Institute.

More Info


5th Annual CEW+ Advocacy Symposium: Accessing and Navigating Systems

Tues, Sept. 28 @ 8:30 am – 1 pm ET

Join CEW+ virtually for its annual fall advocacy symposium themed Accessing & Navigating Systems. This event is free and open to all activists, advocates, and allies. This year’s symposium will feature opening remarks on Advocating for Your Financial Future by Christina R. Cutlip, PhD, Senior Managing Director, Head of Client Engagement and National Advocacy at TIAA, and the Mullin Welch Lecture given by C. Nicole Mason, PhD, who currently serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

More Info


Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda: Moving Beyond Failure and Actively Cultivating a More Equitable Academy

Tues, Oct. 5 @ 3 – 4:30 pm ET

Through session activities, participants will reflect on what failures of this kind indicate about the educational environments in which they occur and how such reflection might prime them to reshape the spaces in which they have responsibilities.  This workshop is designed for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. For faculty and staff, please contact to see if we can accommodate your attendance.

Register here


A Breath of Fresh Air

Thurs, Oct. 7 @ 4 pm, Sept. 5 @ 2 – 4:30 pm ET

Pure Michigan is a phrase used to attract visitors to the state. As the industrial hub of Michigan, Detroit isn’t seen to be as pure as the rest of the state. The environmental challenges in Detroit are not just industrial. They range from Climate Action to Green Infrastructure, with a lot in between. Join us as we explore the environmental challenges of Detroit with some of the leaders taking action in the city. 

RSVP Today!

In the Impact Community:

Volunteer with Detroit Youth

Apply by Fri, Oct. 1

Give Merit’s
mentorship program, FATE, is looking for University of Michigan students to become mentors for high school students in Detroit who attend the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. Mentors help facilitate workshop activities where students learn skills in business, marketing, and design-thinking while also supporting their mentees as they develop personally and academically.If you are interested in mentoring for the FATE Program this academic year, email Rachel Mazzaro at for more information!


Centering Justice

“It’s Okay to Not be Okay”
Wed, Sept. 15 @ Noon – 1:30 pm


Wed, Oct. 13 @ Noon – 1:30 pm

From the first wave of COVID-19 to the rekindling of the Black Lives Matter movement, our communities have been in constant flux. Each month, the New Center will think about a theme that we hope will resonate with what’s on your heart and mind. At the core of our sessions are the questions, “What does it look like to live in a just and thriving society? How must we shift to move toward this vision? “

More Info

Net Impact Climate Ambassador Certification

Submit Interest Form Now!

 Net Impact Climate Ambassadors will learn to use data and Climate Interactive’s tools to model scenarios that mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Ambassadors have a 3 part experience: learning cutting edge climate data and tools, building relationships with climate-concerned Net Impact members from around the world, and amplifying impact by leading presentations to communities and climate decision makers worldwide. Submit your interest with the form below to be notified first when the application is live.

More Info

VF Sustainability Case Competition

Register for the competition Fri, Oct. 1
at 5 pm ET

Download the case
Virtual Case Competition: Sat. Oct. 23

This virtual case competition will expose participants to a specific sustainability-related challenge that VF and its brands face and give them the opportunity to develop a plan to address it. The competition judging will consider the strength of the plan and the creative ideas for solving the central issue of the case. $10,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to the top finalists.

See Info and Application

Detroit Month of Design

The entire month of September
Detroit, MI

Today, Detroit designers are focusing on the future, creating solutions to complex problems, and accelerating our transition into a better world. 2020 changed how we live and this year’s festival will be a reflection of that change. This September, Detroit Month of Design is back for its 11th edition. The 2021 festival will offer events and experiences that can be enjoyed outside, indoors, or from the comfort of home.

See Schedule and Register

Nominations for Notable Women in Banking

Nominations due:
Fri, Se
pt. 24

Candidate Applications due:

Fri, Oct. 1

Nominations are now open for Crain’s Detroit Business’ Notable Women in Banking award program, celebrating Michigan women executives who have distinguished themselves by innovating, advancing and impacting banking in our state.  Winners will be profiled in a special section of the Dec.13 issue of Crain’s Detroit Business. Part of the criteria is asking if the nominee has made positive and substantial contributions to her industry and/or community.

More Info

Michigan Angel Summit

Mon, Oct. 4 @ 9 am – 4 pm
Sheraton Ann Arbor
Tickets: $150

The fourth annual Michigan Angel Summit has valuable information for people considering angel investing and those who have been investing in entrepreneurs and startups for years. We’re pleased to welcome our keynote guests, Scott Shane of Comeback Capital and Commissioner Hester M. Peirce of the U. S. Security and Exchanges Commissions.

More Info

D-Prize Global Competition for Poverty Intervention

Application Due:
Sun, Oct. 17 @ Midnight

The world has already invented products and services to end poverty. Yet we have found dozens of proven interventions with large delivery gaps. Millions of people still don’t have access. Can you design a new business or NGO that delivers a proven poverty intervention at scale? Submit your idea to build a new organization and solve one of our Distribution Challenges below. We will award the most promising teams with up to $20,000 USD to launch wherever extreme poverty exists.

More Info

Some images in this newsletter are Pre-COVID.

Fourth Annual Business+Impact Showcase Features 35 Impact Organizations

Ann Arbor, September 15, 2021 – As part of Business+Impact’s mission to make students aware of all the impact opportunities across campus, B+I welcomed incoming and returning students to its fourth annual Business+Impact Showcase on Tues, Sept. 14 from 11 am – 1 pm at Michigan Ross. New and returning students from across campus met with 35 exhibiting organizations from U-M in areas of interest like social justice, diversity,  sustainability, social entrepreneurship and economic development.

Students visited booths for student clubs, Ross centers, and U-M-wide initiatives. A complete list of exhibitors appears at the end of this article. B+I Faculty Director, Jerry Davis thanked the exhibitors for presenting a cross section of the many opportunities to engage in social impact and sustainability across campus.

The event also promoted the Impact Gateway (, basically the online version of this event, available 24-7 throughout the school year.  This gateway lists clubs, colleagues, current events, courses,  and more for all student changemakers across the University of Michigan.

The Business+Impact initiative hosts this event annually in order to provide new students with a roadmap for work in sustainability, social issues, poverty, economic development, human rights, and other important causes. Michigan Ross, as the home of the Erb Institute, the Center for Positive Organizations and the William Davidson Institute,  and others, has already established itself as a school teaching that business can be a force for good in the world; Business+Impact institutionalizes these goals with research, practicum and partnerships.

View a photo album from the event (on Flickr).

Complete list of exhibitors:

CONTACT: Glenn Bugala, Marketing Director of Business+Impact at Michigan Ross


Donna Harris

Donna Harris (MBA 1999) is an investor, technologist and serial entrepreneur whose work and investments have helped thousands of startups worldwide to grow and scale while solving some of our greatest challenges.   She is currently serving as Founder and CEO of Builders and Backers, but also is a General Partner in 1776 Ventures, a venture capital fund she co-founded, which is investing in more than 30 countries on five continents, and she is also a Venture Partner at Praxis.


Ross School of Business believes that business can be a force for good in the world. In what ways are you living out that vision?

Businesses can be powerful constructs for bringing about good in the world. Especially right now as we have the challenge and the opportunity of how to respond to this entirely new digital age. It’s more than just platforms, apps and tools. This is the moment when we are literally creating the products, companies, organizations and structures that will lay foundations for our future. It’s up to us what we want those to look like. Our mantra is this: we can disrupt, or we can disrupt to democratize. More of us need to understand this moment (and that choice) and be taking part in building and creating the future. I get up every day working to make that happen — through inspiring and equipping people, helping them put their ideas into action, and funding the ones that show promise (especially for things that can lead to a more democratic and prosperous society). 

As a venture capitalist and backer, you make entrepreneurs’ dreams come true.  What is the most rewarding part of that work?

It’s a wonderful privilege to work with entrepreneurs, and there is so much I love about being around them and working with them. Nowhere in society will you find a more optimistic and hopeful group of people. But it’s their counter-cultural nature I love the most. They don’t just accept the world the way it is. They question it. And, instead of simply pointing out what’s broken, they take action, they imagine entirely new things — often when the rest of the world doesn’t understand them, agree with them, or see what is in their mind’s-eye. They march forward, day after day, in the face of risk, uncertainty and challenges that would make most of us fold. It’s just an incredible thing to play a small part in helping entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life.

President Obama’s visit to 1776 where he delivered a speech (new jobs report that showed unemployment hit a near six-year low. July 3, 2014)

What is the most important difference between 1776 and Builders and Backers?

Since the great recession, communities have been on a quest to jumpstart their entrepreneurial engines to create jobs. But, after spending billions of dollars building ecosystems and infrastructure to support startups, startup formation rates have barely budged and startup failure rates have not decreased. Outside a handful of powerhouse cities, entrepreneurship isn’t delivering on the hoped-for jobs and economic thriving, and only a tiny fraction of our population is engaging in it.

I wanted to understand why and what we could do about it. Three years (and thousands of hours of conversations, interviews, and small group discussions and reading over 3,500 books, white papers, studies, articles and reports) later, it’s clear that our love affair with venture capital is having some difficult unintended consequences. To be clear, venture capital is an important resource and we need more of it fueling high growth companies across the nation. But, it’s only appropriate for a small sliver of companies and shouldn’t be so inextricably linked to all things entrepreneurial. But it has infused how we talk about entrepreneurship, it’s become the default pathway for taking action on our ideas, it’s what we teach in our incubators and accelerators and university programs, and it’s the primary (and often only) means of funding entrepreneurial ventures in most communities. Today, I have a vastly different viewpoint on how to foster entrepreneurship than I did a decade ago when I was Managing Director of Startup America and the work I did at 1776. 

Donna pictured with Sir Richard Branson, Under Armour Inc. CEO Kevin Plank, Salamander Hotels & Resorts CEO Sheila Johnson (April 26, 2016)

In what way has your time at Ross led to the work you now do?

When I was at Ross, I was also in the middle of building my first company. What was book theory to some would literally be foundational for me the next day in my venture. Talk about putting your learning into action right away!  Building a company is a risky, lonely job, and as CEO you often are executing while you’re still learning. Doing it while being part of the Ross community created a safe zone for me, where I could say “I don’t know how to do this,” and then get help from some of the top thinkers in the world. Over the years, my connection to the faculty and alumni network has remained strong. And as my role has morphed from building a company to helping others build thousands, I continue to find kindred spirits at Ross. 


Do you have any advice for current students aiming to make a career in the social sector?

I’d tell students that they shouldn’t look at this like an either-or decision. Some of the most impactful organizations and roles I’ve seen are inside companies. And some of the least impactful organizations I’ve seen are labeled social impact organizations.

Donna with husband Linwood and son Chase.

Start first with your why. What do you care about and why? Then become a master of the problem — not a specific idea or solution or organization. Ideas will change. What is a solution today might not work tomorrow. Organizations come and go. Seek to understand that problem inside-out and upside-down. Get to know others who care about that problem too — from every sphere of society. Then look for the levers where you can apply your unique gifts and talents to bring about change. Sometimes the best place to do that isn’t where you expect it to be.

A turning point for you was your visit to Haiti. Have you reflected on Haiti after this latest earthquake?

I’ve thought about Haiti nearly every single day in the decades since my first visit. The sheer poverty was overwhelming — just beyond comprehension. But it was meeting that little boy that continues to break me — realizing that my crumbs of goodwill, no matter how well-intentioned, weren’t going to change his life because the roots of the nation’s poverty remained. The nation never recovered from the 2010 quake, and despite billions of dollars pledged to help, little has changed. For me, it’s a stark example of how many of the institutions we traditionally task with driving social change are falling short and why we need orders of magnitude more entrepreneurial initiative around the world. 

How the University of Michigan brings human-centric design to business students

August 23, 2021 – You may be surprised to know that some of the confusion we experience while going about our everyday lives might actually be more a result of poor design, and not a fault of our own. For instance, have you ever walked up to a door and given the handle several hard tugs, only to realize that you need to push? While the mistake might make some people feel foolish, design experts argue that it really reflects on the door’s design, not the person using it.

For a long time, businesses looked at design purely through the lens of aesthetics with the goal of creating visually appealing products or brand images that capture consumers’ attention. Things started changing at the end of the 20th century when cognitive scientists began promoting new views of design.

Continue reading the full Adobe Blog post

Applebaum Impact Design Fellows and Founders Showcase Their Work This Summer During +Impact Studio Summer Demo Day

August 18, 2021 – ANN ARBOR – Michigan Ross +Impact Studio‘s Applebaum Impact Design Fellows and Founders in the newly launched Founders Program shared their venture concepts and summer learnings with key entrepreneurial stakeholders during a demo day co-hosted by +Impact Studio Innovator-in-Residence, Moses Lee and Business+Impact Managing Director, Cat Johnson.

Through the generosity of Applebaum Family Philanthropy, students this summer were able to collaborate in the Founders Program to develop and prototype ideas for impact. Students from the Ross School of Business, School of Social Work, STAMPS School of Art and Design, LSA, U-M School of Information, and Michigan Engineering worked on multidisciplinary teams to move these student impact ventures forward. 

Each impact venture team worked with an Applebaum Impact Design Fellow to identify key stakeholders, conduct interviews, and ultimately move the enterprise forward on its path toward impact. They did this work primarily remotely but had periodic in-person meetings following Covid-19 protocols.

Andrew Echt, Director of Applebaum Family Philanthropy (AFP), congratulated all of the students and shared “Applebaum Family Philanthropy is proud to partner with Business+Impact. By supporting Applebaum Impact Design Fellows and Founders in this program, we are supporting ideas and innovation that can be leveraged from inspiration to creation to ultimately help change the world. This connectivity and focus is core to our DNA at AFP!”

Recap of the Applebaum Founders Presentations

Each Applebaum Founder spent 5 minutes discussing the mission and vision of their enterprise, where they started the summer, goals they set with their partner Applebaum Fellows at the beginning of the summer, work that was performed during the summer, and what they believe their next steps will be as a result of this work. After each presentation, there time for Q&A. Below are summaries of each team presentation:

EQuity – Founder: Justin Woods (MBA/MSW); Fellow: Claire Babilonia, MBA
EQuity is a learning and development platform that focuses on advancing racial justice by developing emotional intelligence. The prototype Justin has developed is a digitally immersive course (15 hours of learning over 8 days) that uses mixed methods like live training, virtual modules, office hours, and a learning community to give people practical skills for building emotional intelligence and advancing racial justice. This summer the team launched a scholarship essay contest with a $5000 prize to support students and raise awareness around these issues. Next steps include developing a new B2B business model to launch and test the course prototype.

Venture Field Guide – Founder & Fellow: Jess Halter, MBA/MS

Jess chose to lead development of this venture because while in the +Impact Studio course BA670, she had the chance to engage with small business owners in Detroit and SE Michigan. They shared their experience facing tremendous stressors as entrepreneurs and leaders. Journalling can help entrepreneurs reflect, be intentional, get important work done, and be less stressed about the rest. This summer Jess worked with the studio to conduct entrepreneur interviews, develop a 36 page print prototype and run 21 user tests. In addition to fine tuning this prototype, Jess will be prototyping a new Sustainability Field Guide using her insights from the summer to help people seeking to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Plucky Comics – Founders: Nathan Alston, MBA, Daniella Gennaro, MBA/MA Education; Fellows: Onyekachi  Ezirike, MBA, Lucy Jiang, MSI

Stories and facts about Black queer historical figures are often not taught, and there are currently very few resources for teaching it. Plucky Comics seeks to develop imaginative, affirming, and informative historical materials for learners of all ages using comics and graphics, teacher editions, and innovative learning approaches. This summer, Plucky released four comic book covers on James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Sylvester, and Marsha P. Johnson and reached 15,000 Instagram accounts. Next steps include a merchandise-focused revenue model to further advance the brand and develop a full print and digital prototype comic book.

Fit with Ayo – Founder: Ayodele Ojo, BBA; Fellow: Claire Babilonia, MBA

Fit with Ayo is focused on inclusive, accessible fitness and overcoming barriers to health for all women, so they can grow into their strongest selves. During the summer, Ayo and Claire looked at their audience and conducted interviews to discover what was most important to them. They discovered that a planner, motivational texts and bi-week community workout classes could help customers, along with a subscription box to help them with accountability and motivation. The next step includes testing a series of boxes with their clearly identified demographic.

Team TBD – Founders: Cindy Gu, LSA, Edward Huang, MBA, Raeed Rasul, BSE, Ronit Tiwary, BE; Fellow: Elizabeth Sofranek, MBA

After a pivot guided by interview insights gleaned this summer, the founders on this team noticed that a lot of athletes are opening up about their mental health experiences, and that these mental health challenges begin in youth. Now that college athletes are allowed by law to earn money from their name, images, and likeness, there is an opportunity for them to partner in a new business where they mentor youth on mental health issues unique to athletes. This team plans to develop a prototype of their app and try it out with college and youth athletes.

Studio X – Founder: Seth St. Pierre, BA; Fellows: Onyekachi Ezirike, MBA, Lucy Jiang, MSI

Studio X founder Seth St. Pierre graduated this month from the STAMPS School of Art and Design. He formerly worked with Marvel and now works at Dreamworks. He asked the question, “What if the entertainment industry used a portion of the billions of dollars a year they make in revenue to teach communities around the world to create and take risks?” This summer, the +Impact Studio was helpful in providing clarity on the direction of Studio X, and the team did countless interviews. Now Studio X will work to develop a few shorts demonstrating its work, and will finish its website.



Toast, Clover, Square – How University of Michigan Students are Using FinTech to Support Detroit Small Businesses

by Simone Turner (UMSI ’22)

The Congregation Detroit is a perfect melding of a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, and community space located in a historic church on the west side of Detroit. When renovating the long-abandoned space, co-owner Betsy Murdoch and partners focused on preserving the integrity, historical detail, and finishes of the place to keep its structure the same as it was in 1924. Pews were repurposed into a bar. The old pipe organ is still in the back. Comfortable antique furniture abounds. The Congregation opened in March of 2020, just before the pandemic. The timing was unfortunate, but they survived the first year of working through glitches. Their point of sale system was one of the initial steps in opening their doors — and that’s where I enter the business’ story.

For the last nine weeks, I have been interning with a team of students from across the University of Michigan to support Detroit small businesses through the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project’s (DNEP’s) +Impact Studio for Local Business. I’m on the point of sale team, which is focused on using financial technology, or “fintech,” to analyze and optimize small business owners’ payment systems and inventory management systems. Most small business owners don’t have the time, knowledge, resources, or staffing to take on the tasks of performing a cost analysis, researching the various payment system platforms, and then making the switch to a new platform. If they do have extra time, most would rather spend it on marketing.

Fortunately for our DNEP clients, my colleagues and I find it fascinating. Fintech sits at the intersection of the skills and knowledge I have gained through my classes at the School of Information. This internship has given me a chance to use my skills to meet an unmet need. 

Point of sale systems are now essential for businesses of every size. While the most-established companies (Square, Toast, Clover, Lightspeed, and Shopify) all offer similar products and services, they each serve different business volumes, have varying billing structures, and offer differing features that best fit assorted sale models. DNEP faculty and staff observed that many business owners were paying high fees for features they were not using, imposing unnecessary costs on small business owners. 

The Congregation Detroit was one such example. It has been using a Clover point of sale system, but was paying for features they were not using. Clover offers an add-on inventory management system, but it was time consuming to set up and master, so like many other small business owners we have worked with this summer, the company was paying for the electronic inventory management subscription–and then managing their inventory manually in an excel spreadsheet. This meant that small business owners were spending lots of time manually tracking and managing their stock, missing the opportunity for advanced inventory data and freed up time that is better spent elsewhere. After analyzing the sales data, our team recommended that the business move its inventory management to the Clover system, and subscribe to a built-in Stock app to fully digitize its inventory management system. The business owners will spend less time on inventory, and should save money through streamlining and standardization of vendor orders. What’s more, The Congregation Detroit will only be paying for features they use.

Detroit Sip is another local business that needed a point of sale system overhaul. This Six Mile coffee shop temporarily closed during the pandemic, and sales revenue has not yet regained pre-COVID rates. What’s worse, however, is that the business was still under contract with Shopkeep, paying high monthly and transaction fee rates for unneeded features that didn’t add value to the business. As a busy entrepreneur and attorney, owner Jevona Watson did not have the resources or time to do research, make phone calls, and then go through a new system set-up on her own. So we did the research for her. My team provided Jevona with a personalized cost analysis spreadsheet for her business so she could compare subscription costs between top companies based on her business’ monthly transactions and average revenue per transaction. While the decision to take a leap and try something new is difficult, especially as a small business owner, Jevona made the decision to switch with the resources we provided. With IOS hardware in place, my team was able to help Detroit Sip make the switch to Square, which should save the business $1000 per year. We also moved over her menu, inventory, and customer data to ease the process. 

Throughout this summer internship with DNEP’s +Impact Studio for Local Business, I have learned project management skills, developed some expertise in the top point of sale systems and related hardware and software, and learned a lot about point of sale integrations. It feels great to be helping businesses use fintech to improve their operations and profitability, and has opened up new career possibilities for me. Overall, this experience has been invaluable and I feel honored to have worked with these inspiring Detroit small business owners. 

Simone Turner is a rising senior at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, majoring in information analytics. She thanks the businesses profiled for allowing her to share information about their operations to benefit others for this story.


Social Enterprise Spotlight: FoodFinder

Earlier this year Business+Impact introduced a new series on U-M alumni who have created social enterprises and continue the work of entrepreneurship after graduation. Our inaugural spotlight was about Thawra; now we focus our spotlight on FoodFinder,  a tech platform making it easier for families in need to find nearby food assistance programs.
In early 2018, Jack Griffin (BBA ’19) was a finalist in the Michigan Business Challenge – Seigle Impact Track, with his phone app, FoodFinder, and won first place in the Elevator Pitch competition. At that time he said, “The heart of FoodFinder’s value comes from our platform’s ability to combine the speed and privacy of an online tool with the care, compassion, and reliability of a human.” At the time, he hoped that eventually, FoodfFinder would become an institution within the food assistance space.
That has come to fruition, as recently Google’s Find Food Support engaged FoodFinder as a key partner in their work.  We caught up with Jack as he increases staff and scope with his “venture-on-the-run.”
Jack Griffin (BBA ’19) presents FoodFinder in the finals of the 2018 Michigan Business Challenge – Seigle Impact Track.
  • Describe your business: FoodFinder is a nonprofit organization and tech platform whose mission is to make it as easy as it should be to find emergency food assistance nearby. Our website (us) and mobile app (FoodFinder – Fighting Hunger) show food insecure families across America exactly when, where, and how to get help from more than 50,000 different food pantries, soup kitchens, and school meal sites nearby in their communities.
  • What is your biggest recent discovery about running a tech nonprofit? Does anything from Ross or MBC come to bear in your work recently? The best thing about running an all-virtual nonprofit is that the efficiency of our operations allows us to have an extraordinary impact with far less investment needed than brick-and-mortar nonprofits. FoodFinder wouldn’t be here without the free food programs on the ground serving those in need, but thankfully we don’t have to worry about shelf space or any physical capacity constraints. Our food pantry map is available 24/7/365 – in every corner of the country – for anyone who may need it. I’d also say that my biggest lesson from my time at Ross and my experience with the Michigan Business Challenge was the emphasis on FoodFinder’s financial sustainability. Even as a nonprofit, the only way for us to help as many people in the long run as possible is to take care of ourselves first and ensure that we live to fight another day. And even with the challenges the pandemic brought, FoodFinder hasn’t just survived but thrived.
  • FoodFinder in action.

    How did the pandemic affect the success of your app, and why? COVID-19 presented an unparalleled hunger crisis, and we rose to meet that challenge. While we could never have anticipated something like this, FoodFinder’s digital tool was perfectly suited to overcome the challenges of a disease-based crisis. Precisely on March 13th, 2020 (the day that the United States declared COVID-19 a national emergency), our platform’s usage immediately quadrupled from 700 people per day to 3,000 people per day. We broke our record single-day user totals constantly throughout March and April of 2020, and our daily traffic remained double our pre-pandemic levels throughout the remainder of 2020. In total, FoodFinder has connected 475,000 users of our platform to free food programs during the pandemic, more than double our cumulative lifetime impact of nearly 6 years pre-COVID. Financially, FoodFinder’s receipts actually grew 20% in 2020 compared to 2019, and we’ve more than tripled the size of our team in the last year. The pandemic has been a massive challenge for absolutely everyone, but we’re grateful to do our small part to guide families in their time of need.

  • Tell us about your new partnership with Google and their nationwide hunger relief program? Glad you asked! FoodFinder’s biggest partnership ever just launched at the end June as we joined forces with Google to help power their new Find Food Support hunger resource site. The website itself is a one-stop-shop for all things hunger relief, including information on SNAP benefits, stories from the community, and the headliner that FoodFinder helps populate: an interactive nationwide map for folks looking for nearby food pantries, food banks, or summer meal sites. Their team shared with us how Google wanted to lend their support to the fight against hunger in the wake of the pandemic, and Find Food Support with Google is the end result of that. Their team has been a joy to work with, and we can’t wait to see how many more people we can serve in the coming years!
  • What new ideas are you looking toward, or what connections are you looking to make? I’m always looking forward to hearing new ways that technology can make even bigger strides in hunger relief – Feeding America’s MealConnect and MEANS Database for instance do a great job with exactly that. But at least for how I currently look at FoodFinder’s future, I can’t stop thinking more and more about the ultimate goals we’re striving for. First and foremost, I’m most excited to see how FoodFinder can not just be the best emergency resource for food insecure people but also be a force for eliminating the root causes of hunger (i.e. a transition from only treatment to both treatment and prevention). When food is a prerequisite for a healthy life, people should never have to choose between paying for food, medicine, or utilities. Going forward, FoodFinder’s intent is to help Americans through our help locator while also using the data and policymaking levers at our disposal to address the deeply systemic root causes of food insecurity.
  • In May 2019, Jack went to Washington D.C. to speak at a hunger alleviation roundtable with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

    Do you still volunteer these days? As you might imagine, the safety constraints of COVID and the intense workload of leading FoodFinder have prevented me from (physically at least) volunteering at a food pantry for a while. However, I loved volunteering for several years at Maize and Blue Cupboard, the by-students for-students food pantry on campus. Back in my day, we just had our once a month grocery distributions on some tables in the basement of the Trotter Multicultural Center. I can’t wait to check out the fantastic new permanent location of Maize and Blue Cupboard on State St. the next chance I get!

  • What do you wish more people knew about hunger in America? Food insecurity in America skyrocketed last year as a result of the pandemic. News coverage (and rightfully so) highlighted how dire the need was, but it’s worth remembering that 35 million Americans were still struggling with hunger before the virus ever hit our shores. And if you’ll also recall, that’s when the economy was doing great, the stock market was surging, and we were at near full employment in the U.S.. Is that really the best we can do with all the resources at our disposal? FoodFinder’s number one goal right now is to help move the needle on hunger back to pre-pandemic levels, but as I just described, we weren’t doing that great beforehand either. We’ve come such a long way in the fight against hunger, but we’re not satisfied. Over the next decade, I hope that FoodFinder will help lift millions of Americans back into lasting, sustainable food security.

Read another Social Enterprise Spotlight:

Andrew Hoffman’s interview with award-winning author J.B. MacKinnon

MacKinnon (left) was interviewed by Andrew Hoffman (right) on June 16, 2021.
On June 16, 2021, Professor Andrew Hoffman interviewed award-winning author J.B. MacKinnon on his new book: The Day the World Stops Shopping: How Ending Consumerism Saves the Environment and Ourselves (HarperCollins, 2021). This book is asking, and answering, some very important questions for the future of our society and our world.  

What would really happen if we simply stopped shopping? Is “sustainable consumption” possible?

The economy says we must always consume more: even the slightest drop in spending leads to widespread unemployment, bankruptcy, and home foreclosure. Yet, the planet says we consume too much: in America, we burn the earth’s resources at a rate five times faster than it can regenerate. And despite efforts to “green” our consumption—by recycling, increasing energy efficiency, or using solar power—we have yet to see a decline in global carbon emissions. 

Is there a way to reduce our consumption to earth-saving levels without triggering economic collapse? 

At first this question took J.B. around the world, seeking answers from America’s big-box stores to the hunter-gatherer cultures of Namibia to communities in Ecuador that consume at an exactly sustainable rate. Then the thought experiment came shockingly true: the coronavirus brought shopping to a halt, and MacKinnon’s ideas were tested in real time.

Drawing from experts in fields ranging from climate change to economics, MacKinnon investigates how living with less would change our planet, our society, and ourselves. Along the way, he reveals just how much we stand to gain: An investment in our physical and emotional wellness. The pleasure of caring for our possessions. Closer relationships with our natural world and one another. 

B+I shared the one-hour interview between video between June 17 and July 8, 2021