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Inside the Michigan Ross 2017 Impact Challenge

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Earlier this month, more than 400 first-year full-time MBA students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business embarked on a four-day journey working with 15 Detroit-based food entrepreneurs. It was all part of the 2017 Impact Challenge organized by the Sanger Leadership Center.

The Impact Challenge is a yearly immersive, collaborative program that provides first-year MBA students with the opportunity to practice complex problem solving, innovative business development, and social impact. This year, the MBA students were tasked with co-creating business solutions and providing insights for their assigned food-based ventures. Participating entrepreneurs included Nathan Hannon of Pizza Plex, Melissa Heath of Radical Plants, and Lateisha Dowell of Flaky Bakes.

At the end of the four-day challenge, the MBA students gathered together for the Impact Challenge Showcase, a fun event with free food, live music, educational stations, and an opportunity for the students to present their work. In previous years, the presentations have been Shark Tank–style pitch competitions where attendees vote on the best ideas. To win, students must show how they lead and collaborate to create viable and impactful solutions and deliverables.

In a press release from the university, Jeff Domagala, associate director at the Sanger Leadership Center, talked about the focus of the Impact Challenge. “Ambiguity, complexity, and intensity are key focus areas in the Impact Challenge,” he said. “Every student will play a different role associated with a quadrant of the Michigan Model of Leadership. The most successful teams from this year’s challenge will be the ones that have best demonstrated working together and mastered leading without formal authority. Communication will be a key ingredient to the students’ success.”

Deloitte, General Motors, and PNC Bank sponsored the 2017 Impact Challenge, which is in its seventh year. In previous years, students developed a crowdfunding campaign to support the launch of the Brightmoor Maker Space, created a back-to-school fair to help more than 3,000 Detroit students and parents, and raised more than $65,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“The challenge is a leadership launching point for every student who takes the time to reflect on what they learned about themselves and any insights they gained by working with others,” said Domagala.

To get a better idea of what it actually looks like, watch this brief six-minute video of the Impact Challenge in action from 2014.

Kelly Vo
Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and topics related to personal development. She has been working in the MBA space for the past four years in research, interview, and writing roles.