Applying Booth Thinking to the Social Sector

HachikianBooth aims to expand research on the social sector and to educate students and alumni interested in social good as well as leaders in the nonprofit community through the recently launched Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI).

The school intends to extend the rigorous thought and practices that applies to business to the nonprofit sector, according to Robert Gertner, Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance and deputy dean. SEI also will support faculty research on social issues and, perhaps, additional inquiry into the operational efficiency of the social sector itself.

SEI was established in response to growing interest in social issues among faculty, students, and alumni, evident in the success of a class on social entrepreneurship that was first offered by Gertner in 2005. In addition, the success of the two-year-old Social New Venture Challenge underscored the demand for academic preparation by students interested in the social sector (see "New Venture Challenge Comes of Age"). Gertner will serve as faculty codirector of SEI with Marianne Bertrand, Chris P. Dialynas Professor of Economics.

Christina Hachikian, AB '02, MBA '07, who recently joined Booth as SEI director, said expanded programming will include guest speakers and workshops, as well as additional support on career opportunities in coordination with Career Services. SEI expects to help alumni find opportunities to serve on nonprofit boards, and encourage board participation among graduating students. Booth's Executive Education programs could offer classes targeted to managers of nonprofit organizations.

"Today, the line between the private sector and the social sector increasingly is blurred; and, today's business leaders in both sectors are seeking to understand how to engage across the line. We want to encourage this engagement in the Booth community," said Hachikian, who previously served as vice president and head of investor relations and corporate development for Cole Taylor Bank in Chicago. She also was vice president and senior project manager for ShoreBank (now Urban Partnership Bank), an institution known for community development financing.

Booth faculty already conduct extensive research on social issues such as financial decision making by the poor, the impact of health and education reforms on economic development, and the social psychology foundations of altruism and volunteerism. Hachikian said future research could provide insights to make nonprofits function better. For instance, "Why don't dollars go to the most efficient organizations?" she asked. "Why don't inefficient nonprofits fail? How can we get the market to work better?" - Judith Crown

Photo by Michael Rezac



Collaboration with Nielsen Opens Research Possibilities

Chicago Booth's partnership with research giant The Nielsen Company paves the way for a new generation of academic research on consumer purchasing.

Booth and New York-based Nielsen in April announced an agreement to make several of the company's datasets available to tenure-track faculty members and PhD students from accredited US colleges and universities. Nielsen is a global leader in tracking consumer media viewing and product purchasing.

Data from a consumer panel - 40,000 to 60,000 representative households that report on their purchases to Nielsen - already are available. Booth expects to make available later this year the Nielsen retail scanner data, which report weekly product purchase and pricing information from more than 30,000 grocery stores, drugstores, and mass merchants, according to Art Middlebrooks, clinical professor of marketing and executive director of the Kilts Center for Marketing.

These extensive datasets will enable researchers to investigate topics that previously couldn't be studied. "This will start a revolution in terms of the research we do as marketers and the insight we gain into consumer behavior," said Sanjay Dhar, James H. Lorie Professor of Marketing and director of the Kilts Center.

One area of interest to Booth professors is the question of first mover advantage - whether brands that are first to the market have a long-term competitive advantage. Booth professors also are interested in how the recession has influenced spending - whether, for example, consumers are purchasing more private-label goods and which product categories shift the most from branded to private label. - Judith Crown



New Venture Challenge Comes of Age


First-year Full-Time student Imran Ahmad, AB '06, often heard his friend Umar Khokhar, a University of Chicago medical and PhD student, complain about the extensive paperwork involved in managing the research mice in his laboratory. The time and money required to keep track of the animals was eating away at the resources Khokhar had for research.

There should be an app that helps solve that problem, Ahmad thought. So he and Khokhar, who are friends from their University of Chicago undergraduate years, created an iPad and web application, MouseHouse. The app "makes the process of managing mice more efficient" so that labs can work only with the type of mice they need to produce the outcomes they want, Ahmad said.

Judges at Booth's 2012 New Venture Challenge (NVC) competition awarded MouseHouse the top prize of $30,000, and Chicago venture capital firms started calling soon after. "There's a lot of cachet involved in winning the New Venture Challenge," Ahmad said. "It helps open doors to get in front of investors."

With the exposure it has received already, MouseHouse is well on its way to joining the illustrious ranks of other NVC winners, which include GrubHub, the internet food delivery service; Bump Technologies, a smartphone app that enables users to touch phones to transfer information and photos; and Braintree, a web service that simplifies credit card payments for online businesses. Since the first NVC competition was held in 1996, more than 85 companies have been launched. Those companies have gone on to raise more than $242 million in capital and create more than 1,000 jobs, the majority of them in the Chicago area.

"We're now at the point where winning teams are almost certainly fundable," said Steven Kaplan, Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, faculty director of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, which hosts the New Venture Challenge, and an NVC judge.

It already has expanded in scope. In 2008, the Global New Venture  Challenge (GNVC) opened the competition to Booth Executive MBA Program students and alumni around the world. In 2011, the  Social New  Venture Challenge (SNVC) started for students who want to address social problems. The idea for the SNVC came from a Booth social entrepreneurship class that was generating good ideas that would have had difficulty developing under the NVC format, said Ellen Rudnick, clinical professor of entrepreneurship, executive director of the Polsky Center, and an NVC judge.

"The students were willing to sacrifice profits to achieve a social mission," Rudnick explained. "But they can't have a donor model as their business model. They are providing a good or service that will serve mankind but organizations have to be willing to pay for it. It has to have a revenue model."

This year's winner of the SNVC was LuminAID Lab, whose members designed an inflatable, lightweight solar-powered lantern. The lights, which were developed by first-year Full-Time student Andrea Sreshta and her business partner, Anna Stork, are primarily being marketed to disaster relief and government agencies, but the lanterns also work well for recreational campers. 

Winning the competition and its $25,000 award will enable Sreshta and her partner to outsource some of the more mundane tasks so that they can focus on higher-level issues. The connections to the Polsky Center has helped them meet with business advisers who provide strategic guidance. As Sreshta explained: "Polsky's network gives us a fast start." - Susan Chandler

Photos by Anne Ryan

Last Updated 10/15/12