The University of Virginia Darden School of Business supports entrepreneurs at every level and helps to build businesses, big and small, through education and mentoring. Accordingly, some of Darden's programs and partnerships support less advantaged populations and help would-be entrepreneurs achieve their goals of owning businesses, locally and abroad. Whether it's research on micro-lending in emerging economies, or partnerships with programs that finance small businesses, Darden's reach, which is both global and local, improves the lives of people. Last spring, 70 First Year Darden MBA students were paired with entrepreneurs training in the Charlottesville, Virginia-based Community Investment Collaborative (CIC) to help them determine the viability of their business ideas.
Six months later, the experience has paid off for all involved.
Now in their Second Year at Darden, the MBA students have consulting experience on which to build as they advance their careers. The CIC entrepreneurs, who graduated from their program in August, have enhanced business goals to pursue. Some have since won awards. Others will soon launch companies.
"The Darden students went out, conducted surveys and gathered market research to help us learn whether our ideas could be successful," said Yolunda Armstrong, one of the CIC graduates. "They helped us cover a lot more ground than we would have been able to cover alone."
Armstrong will cover lots of ground this fall in her new food truck. Her catering service and mobile canteen is called A Taste of Home Southern Cuisine.
Second Year Darden MBA student Sarah Washabaugh coached CIC graduate Susan Chambers. A native of Jamaica who has lived in Charlottesville for more than 10 years, Chambers wants to open a Jamaican food restaurant to bring the flavors of her first home to her new home.
For Washabaugh, the experience was both personally and professionally enriching.
"Susan often brought her mother and kids to our sessions, and it was great to hear their thoughts on topics. For Susan's restaurant to succeed, it would need to be a family affair, and we could tell that she had the support system behind her to succeed," Washabaugh said.
Chambers and fellow CIC graduate Erin Davis entered the Charlottesville Chamber Minority Business Conference elevator pitch competition and presented their business ideas in September. The audience chose Davis' venture, a new roller-skating rink for the Charlottesville community. Davis won the first place prize - a marketing package - that will help her promote her company, K&B Skate Park Central.
"This is a story about results," said Darden Professor Kathryn Sharpe. "My students were excited to learn that their efforts helped change lives and create new entrepreneurs." She added, "While they gained important professional experience, they also made an impact on efforts to grow entrepreneurship in Charlottesville."
Sharpe teaches the First Year MBA course "Marketing Intelligence." She collaborated with Darden alumnus Toan Nguyen (MBA '94), owner of C'ville Coffee and co-founder of the CIC, so that students in her course could provide counsel while learning the ins and outs of marketing analysis.
Nguyen created the CIC to provide business education and micro-loans, a type of short-term, small business loan, to individuals with limited access to startup funding. His role as a business owner and the opportunity to meet people from all occupations fueled his desire to help others start their own companies.
Nguyen is pleased to have Darden students share in his dream.
"The breadth and depth of knowledge that Darden students brought to the process was absolutely amazing," said Nguyen. "They helped the entrepreneurs consider new markets. The student to entrepreneur ratio was 5-to-15, and they all enjoyed the whole interaction."
This month, the CIC will disburse micro-loans to qualifying graduates of the CIC training workshop. The next training workshop will begin on 8 January 2013. For 16 weeks, participants will tackle lessons in pricing strategy, human resources, and record keeping and taxes, among other topics.
Sharpe's "Marketing Intelligence" class will continue to offer student expertise to CIC participants.
"There are so many people like Susan in Charlottesville who have great ideas but need help with the business basics of how to get started. Kathryn Sharpe's class provides a vital service," said Washabaugh.
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About the Darden School of Business
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business is one of the world's leading business schools, offering MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. The unique Darden experience combines the case study method, the highest-ranked faculty whose research advances global managerial practice and business education, and a tight-knit learning environment to develop principled and complete leaders who are ready to make an impact.