Each year, Business Impact co-sponsors the campus-wide Michigan Business Challenge – Social Impact Track with the Zell Lurie and Erb Institutes. The competition awards a prize to the most compelling business plan that delivers social impact. This year’s student start-up winner was Kulisha, a sustainable aquafeed company co-founded by Eric Katz (BBA ’17).
Eric is also one of the recipients of the Center’s Summer Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship, which awards U-M entrepreneurs with monetary and coaching support when they take an active role in ramping up their social enterprise.
Now that Eric is actually on the ground in Kenya this summer, we thought we would check in with him to find out how it is to actually create a start-up in another continent. The Center’s Marketing Manager Glenn Bugala asked him a few questions about his experience this summer.
Since winning the MBC-SIT award, you won the 2016 Thought for Food Global Summit award. We saw the video of the announcement in Switzerland. How did that feel when you took home the top prize?
Taking home the top prize was pretty unbelievable. It was an incredible learning experience getting to be around some of the world’s leading youth ag entrepreneurs and just being exposed to their creativity and intelligence. Although taking that prize meant a lot, this venture started off really just as an idea and a way for me to stay in touch with a close friend. Winning that really validated all the work and research that we had put in. It helped us realize that we could really make something out of it and now we had global network to get that done.
In what way has the MBC-SIT award and the Thought for Food award aided your start-up?
It has aided a ton. We’ve been able to make out first hire, Lunalo Cletus of the University of Nairobi. He’s a really sharp, young Kenyan guy who has already contributed so much just in a week. We’ve also been able to build pilot facility to test how we can best scale our business. Both awards have also provided us with a huge support network that has allowed us to excel.
Implementation: What things have gone according to plan or have surprised you?
Things have been rolling very smoothly, nothing majorly bad has happened. Our pilot facility is now operating with the bugs in all life cycles and we’ve been growing them and scaling our production according to plan. Something that surprised me is just doing business in Kenya is a stark difference from business in the US and that took me a bit by surprise, but I’ve since adjusted and learned how to adapt my expectations.
On Twitter you said you’re a data-heavy company. In what ways have your classes and skills learned at Ross prepared you to ramp up your enterprise?
All have really made an impact and it really makes me grateful for the multidisciplinary learning environment that Ross puts you through. The quantitative classes like operations, accounting, and data analysis have really enabled us to measure and identify in what areas we’re doing well and what areas we need to improve. But also classes like MO and business law have been incredibly helpful in giving a sort of framework to develop our company from an organizational perspective.
What is it like being on the ground and meeting with the people who will be positively impacted by your idea?
It’s really interesting visiting fish farmers who are struggling with the issues we’ve been reading about and seeing how our product can really change their business. However, for us a huge part of our impact isn’t completely visual because a major goal of ours is to replace unsustainable ocean based protein with insect protein.