Peek Inside the Community Coworking Fridays in the +Impact Studio at Michigan Ross
This fall, the Business+Impact initiative at the Ross School of Business kicked off Community Friday Coworking sessions inside the +Impact Studio.
These sessions bring together students in its new Founders Program with its Applebaum Impact Design Fellows and others to help accelerate the students’ entrepreneurial ventures and serve as a launchpad for others.
The Community Coworking Fridays are aimed at being an incubator of innovative ideas and projects related to social impact — from framing issues to ideation and prototyping of business ventures. Each week, student founders meet in the +Impact Studio to work on their ventures; collaborate on ideas; consult with fellows, faculty, staff, and special guests; and support one another.
The power of collaboration and connection
Every Community Coworking Friday session in the +Impact Studio allows for students to collaborate and connect, but each one has its own informal programming to spur creativity and design thinking. For example, on a recent Friday, Applebaum Ventures Director of Investments Gabriel Scharg and Applebaum Family Philanthropy Director of Communications Suzanne McEachern joined the seven student teams in the +Impact Studio’s Founders Program to brainstorm ways to tackle their business challenges.
The students there shared how the collaborative model of Community Coworking Friday sessions has been extremely beneficial to their entrepreneurial teams, making a positive impact on their social venture journey and even helping them unlock new insights. Many students also said the sessions have assisted them in overcoming challenges that solo entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial teams can face.
“Community Fridays are so energizing,” said Joi James, MBA ’23, founder of finding joi. “They have helped keep me accountable. Coming from a nonprofit background, these Fridays have helped me re-center and construct my ideas. We have fun here on Fridays while also doing valuable work.”
Fellow Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA student Daniella Gennaro, MBA ’22, and co-founder of Plucky Comics, agreed with James. “To me, Community Fridays serve as a way to hold us accountable as well as support each other on our unique endeavors,” she said.
Ronit Tiwary, BS ’22, co-founder of Dualete, also emphasized the value of the collaborative atmosphere and with bringing together individuals who have diverse backgrounds and experiences.
“Magic comes from community, not from individuals,” said Tiwary. “During Community Fridays you are not being evaluated, but rather supporting and helping each other, and leveraging each other’s unique knowledge and skills.”
“The organic time enables the flow of ideas and allows you to see what other teams need, which reinforces the community aspect,” added Tiwary’s Dualete teammate Cindy Gu, BS ’22.
An opportunity for Ross students to help their peers
As an Applebaum Impact Design Fellow, Allison Winstel, MBA/MPP ‘22, works on prototypes developed through the +Impact Studio BA670 course and supports student social innovators in shaping their ideas to change the world. Winstel said one aspect of being an Applebaum Impact Design Fellow that she has enjoyed is assisting her peers’ social impact ventures to achieve their long-term goals.
“This opportunity has opened up doors for me to support others' visions, and has allowed me to help teams with their challenges and problems,” said Winstel. “It has allowed me to work with the most unique individuals who are passionate about making a difference.”
Winstel said that as a fellow she also helped teams stay on track and contributed to their problem solving, while at the same time being able to learn from them.
“Being a fellow for me is such a rewarding experience by being able to help further empower the ventures,” she said. “I am constantly learning because I get to touch all of the different groups.”
Meet the student ventures in the +Impact Studio this year
Plucky Comics, founded by Gennaro and Nathan Alston, MBA ’22, is a website application that tells the story of Black queer historical figures through the use of comics.
Alston said he was inspired to start their venture because of the underrepresentation of minority groups in the media and comics. “I could not name 10 Black or LGBTQ+ characters,” he said.
The series of sequential art will be packaged as an interactive web app that students, teachers, parents, and comic book fans of all ages can use to explore these stories and journal their own ideas.
Finding joi aims to support Black women in centering their well-being in their professional and academic success through access to physical and digital mental-health resources. James was inspired to start her venture after her own experience in the workplace made her realize that there are limited mental-health resources available to Black women.
“I was three years into my dream job and I became extremely burnt out,” she said. “It led me to the realization that other Black women want to find joy in their work again, and that there are no curated resources for Black women center success.”
James has plans to start with workshops or a digital platform, and to create a crisis text line for the Black community.
Dualete, founded by Tiwary, Gu, and Edward Huang, BS ’22, is a marketplace to connect youth athletes to collegiate athletes who can earn money by leading group and individual sessions on topics such as mental fitness, proper nutrition and sleep, and mastering the college sport recruiting process.
The students shared that Dualete will help bridge the knowledge gap for youth athletes, teaching them crucial off-the-field skills that many don’t currently have access to.
EQuity, founded by Justin Woods, MBA/MS ’21, is a digital learning and development venture committed to advancing racial justice by developing emotional intelligence.
EQuity facilitates digital courses, virtual webinars, and leader coaching programs using a rigorously evaluated framework of social-emotional learning housed on its online platform.
Racial Equity Pledge
The Racial Equity Pledge founded by James; Shayon Donaldson, MBA ’22; and Lucy Jiang, MS ’21, is a venture aimed at educating and empowering business students across the U.S. during their recruitment for internships and full-time positions, and then support their commitment to learning and action throughout their careers to become change agents for racial equity in the workplace.
The team plans to have a completely asynchronous model to solve the problem of low barrier access to educational tools and racial justice resources.
Venture Field Guide
Venture Field Guide, founded by Jess Halter MBA/MS ’23, is a journal built to help entrepreneurs be more productive, less stressed, and manage the challenges of being an entrepreneur.
The journal offers monthly big-picture reflections, weekly orienteering, daily reflections, and blank space to archive create throughs, with a goal of helping students and entrepreneurs organize and prioritize long-term goals.