Looking for the next great innovationUM-Flint hosts competition with cash prize for students to develop—and implement—plans to boost Flint entrepreneurship

FLINT, Michigan—This University of Michigan program isn’t just about learning: It’s about doing.

The best and brightest from the University of Michigan all came together in Flint to learn more about the community, develop proposals designed to spark entrepreneurship, compete for a cash prize, and—ultimately—make their vision a reality through a summer internship.

Called the Social Impact Challenge, this year’s event partnered with the University of Michigan-Flint and Skypoint Ventures to focus solely on developing plans to help local entrepreneurs overcome business hurdles. 

The challenge is hosted annually by U-M’s Center for Social Impact as an opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students from all three U-M campuses to collaborate and develop solutions to complex social issues in a competitive environment with real-world implications.

“By participating in the Social Impact Challenge, our team was able to apply the critical thinking skills we learn in the classroom to a real-world challenge,” said Martha Fedorowicz, a member of the winning team, Innovation to Impact.

Fedorowicz partnered with students Emily Futcher and Dean-Mark Clemente.
Their plan highlighted downtown training and neighborhood outreach and won a $2,500 prize. 

Plus, all proposals were given to Skypoint Ventures’ Ferris Wheel Innovation Hub and [IN] On the Road, which is operated by UM-Flint University Outreach, to be used for entrepreneurship training programs for Flint neighborhoods. And, work will continue to implement their proposal through a summer internship offered through the Center for Social Impact. 

Paula Nas, Interim Director of University Outreach at UM-Flint, said the collaborative effort created a powerful experience for students and opportunities for the community.

“Not only did our students have the experience of connecting with students from the Ann Arbor campus, but the Flint community benefited from the creative new ideas and approaches that the student teams envisioned to support our local entrepreneurs and small business owners,” Nas said. “We are optimistic that we will be able to continue this partnership in the future."

The Center for Social Impact has hosted previous challenges in Detroit, partnering with civic, community and nonprofit organizations to tackle pressing strategic issues in the urban environment. In 2016, students tackled strategic and operational questions to help launch Detroit PAL's Kids At the Corner Campaign in partnership with the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, which involved the redevelopment of the historic field.

This year, 18 teams comprised of about 70 students were challenged to develop a sustainable plan for Flint entrepreneurs during the competition which started in January. They worked with UM-Flint University Outreach, Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, the city of Flint, and SkyPoint Ventures—a Flint-based company founded by Phil and Jocelyn Hagerman to create space and provide resources for innovators.
The first round of judging in February left four teams competing. The winner was announced March 15, 2017, at the Flint Institute of Arts.

“The Flint and Ann Arbor campuses of the University of Michigan are rife with talent and a spirit of innovation,” said Raquel Thueme, one of four program judges and vice president of programs at the Ruth Mott Foundation. “It’s rewarding to see students applying their classroom learning and creativity to the goal of engaging neighborhoods and entrepreneurs in Flint’s revitalization.”

Additional awards went to the following teams:
• A.K.A.K.A.: $1,000 second prize, $250 co-campus Prize, $250 arts focus prize. The team included Kate Blessing, Aisha Changezi (UM-Flint), Ashlyee Freeman, Ashrita Shetty, and Karen Cuenca.
• Social Enrichment Whizzes: $500 third prize. The team included Nara Subramanian, Ammar Muhammad (UM-Flint), Megan Graham, Jorge Sandoval, and Jon Nas.
• Diversiteam: $250 fourth prize. The team included Corinne Wong, Sheila Xu, Alexandria Swift, Zijia Cai, and Galaad Preau 
The judges of the 2017 Social Impact Challenge were Amy Gresock, assistant professor in the School of Management at UM-Flint; Jessica Judson, program coordinator of Corporate Social Responsibility for Diplomat Pharmacy; Kevin Schronce, planner in the City of Flint Planning/Zoning Office; and Raquel Thueme, vice president of programs for the Ruth Mott Foundation. 
“We believe the best way to learn about delivering meaningful social impact is to actually work on the ground with community leaders on projects that have a lasting impact,” said Matt Kelterborn, program director for the Center for Social Impact. “Our students are engaged across sectors and disciplines on real challenges, and we look forward to assisting our new Flint partners in this next stage.” 
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