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U-M Ross Business + Impact
U-M Ross Business + Impact
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Open Road at Ross Allows MBAs to Consult with Detroit Social Entrepreneurs

by Glenn Bugala, Business+Impact

June 14, 2021, Ann Arbor, MI – Three teams of Ross MBAs spent the month of May helping three major social entrepreneurs in Detroit, MI with the business challenges they face.

Working remotely this year, the intrepid “travelers” of Open Road at Ross were focused on addressing business challenges for Coton Clothiers, Detroit is the New Black, and Shelby + Coffee Down Under in Detroit, MI. Business+Impact and Zell Lurie Institute are proud to partners on this program, funded by Ford Motor Company.

Coton Clothiers
The team at Coton Clothiers (Chris Gradone, MBA; Rachel Ing, MBA; Natasha Suddhi, MBA) completed a full-week engagement with an up-and-coming boutique fashion company co-founded by classmate Alyssa Blankenship! Coton is unique in that they source materials that would have likely been wasted. The student team enjoyed the fast pace of the work and Alyssa’s energy for her young business.

In the end, they were able to help on two separate fronts: First, Coton products are made-to-order, reducing waste and bringing unique fabrics to the market. However, tracking inventory and communicating stock-outs had been a challenge. The student team was able to recommend a software solution called MyMaterials and built a process to manage these operations and help the founders remain focused on their mission.

Second, they worked with Coton to recommend another software solution called PageFly to customize the online shopping experience for their unique value proposition. Although it wasn’t built out, Alyssa is comfortable with the tool recommended and is really excited about the potential.

Shelby + Coffee Down Under
At Shelby + Coffee Down Under, the team (Chris Gradone, MBA; Rachel Ing, MBA; Chris Nguyen, MBA; Natasha Suddhi, MBA; Allison Winstel, MBA, MPP) worked closely with Tarun Kajeepta, an entrepreneur and UM grad, to support his growing speakeasy concept. Conceived pre-pandemic but launched this spring, Shelby offers a unique experience in an even more unique setting located in a retrofitted Bank Vault in the resurgent Financial District of Detroit. Tarun sought support for Shelby and its coffee house front-end called “Coffee Down Under” on two fronts – managing the operations of a 3-headed monster (restaurant, bar, and coffee house) in a small underground space, as well as driving visit volume on off-peak times.

First, the team addressed operational challenges. Through interviews with key staff, the student team designed and implemented an inventory storage plan for all of the business’s consumable products, covering a multitude of ingredients and supplies. Though simple, Tarun and the staff noted immediate benefits from the improved organization.

The second focus area was much longer-term and strategic. The key questions were: “how do we authentically get the word out?” and “outside of weekend night service, what experience do we envision for customers?” Brainstorming sessions, frequent check-ins with Tarun, and staff interviews led the combined team to recommend a suite of options, several of which are under further refinement or are being implemented today!

Detroit Is the New Black
The team at Detroit Is the New Black (Dustin Huibregtse, MBA; Alex Johnson, MBA; Briana Jones, MBA; Sasha Kapur, MBA) assisted owner Roslyn Karamoko by providing her with strategic recommendations on how to grow her business and brand over the next few years. Over the course of a month, the students developed insights based on over 20 interviews with her ecosystem and customers, a deep dive into her financial data, and analysis of best practices in high-street brands and fashion retail. Overall, the team gave her recommendations about how to grow an authentic brand in an omnichannel world, and how to think critically about creating capacity for herself as she builds a successful brand of Detroit and for the World.

Although this year’s program was remote and focused on Detroit alone, Open Road hopes to put students in vans again traveling the country to help social entrepreneurs in May of 2022.