Can entrepreneurs create jobs to help combat Chicago's gun violence? That was the aim of the CRED Challenge: Creating Economic Opportunity in Chicago, a new competition that encouraged MBA students in Chicago to develop ideas for enterprises designed to employ the city’s youth at highest risk of gun violence.  

New in 2017, this competition was a collaboration between the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny), an initiative founded and supported by the Emerson Collective.   CRED Challenge 2

Chicago CRED awarded funding to the finalist teams, who recently presented their ideas to a panel of judges including Arne Duncan, Chicago CRED managing director and former U.S. Secretary of Education; Sonny Garg, AB ’89, MBA ’00, energy solutions lead at Uptake; Tasha Seitz, partner and chief investment officer of Impact Engine; Michael Strautmanis, vice president for civic engagement of the Obama Foundation; and Susana Vasquez, associate vice president of the Office of Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago.  

Winners of the 2017 CRED Challenge are:  

  • First place ($5,000): Block Club is a digitally native, socially conscious apparel company that transforms lives, stops bullets, and is committed to changing the Chicago narrative. Team members include Connie Fan, Meredith Estelle Greenberg, Sarah Hyde McGraw, Scott Malcolm, Scott Monsky, and Malik Nabulsi (Booth)
  • Second place ($2,500): Guild enables local micro entrepreneurs to grow their businesses by providing the services they need most. Team members include Charles Cole, Melody Johnson, Kelly Murphy, and Juliana Suarez (Booth)
  • Tied for third place ($1,000 each):
    • SkyTown Produce is a green roof and urban farming enterprise that creates gainful employment opportunities in a variety of roles in Chicago. Team members include Sam Abbott, Arnab Hazra, Janice Hu, Aimee Lorenz, and Jason Zukus (Kellogg, Booth)
    • First Harvest is an enterprise that combats food waste by taking imperfect produce and turning it into a line of soups and juices. Team members include Connor Blankenship, Liana Bran, Ashray Reddy, and Alexander Quince (Booth)  

The CRED Challenge tasked MBA students from across Chicago with creating meaningful job opportunities for African-American men between the ages of 16 and 26 on the south and west sides of Chicago. New enterprises were formed to provide both transitional and permanent career opportunities for this population, harness the unique advantages and talents of this employee demographic, and achieve financial scale and sustainability (either cost-neutral or profit-generating enterprises).  

As part of the competition, MBA students participated in a learning session with young men in the CRED program to get feedback on their ideas and to gain a deeper understanding of the social problems the CRED Challenge is trying to address, the community for which they are proposing businesses, and the individuals who would be employed by these enterprises.

“You have no idea how much your personal investment of time means to us,” Arne Duncan said to student participants. “That uplifts us and inspires us. You’re helping us get started.”

Winners of the CRED Challenge will have the opportunity to advance their business ideas in conjunction with Chicago CRED and/or through the university’s John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC).  

“The Rustandy Center is the hub for people tackling social and environmental problems, and some of the world’s most pressing problems are right here in our backyard,” said Caroline Grossman, ’03, director of programs at the Rustandy Center and adjunct assistant professor of strategy at Booth. “Chicago CRED is addressing those problems day in and day out, and this competition has been a chance to direct Chicago MBA student energy into tackling the same issue – Chicago’s gun violence – in a way that channels their entrepreneurial spirit. As a Booth alumna, it’s especially rewarding to me to see our students devote so much of their extra-curricular energy in this way.”  

About the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation

The Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation is the destination for people committed to helping solve complex social and environmental problems. As Chicago Booth’s social impact hub, we build on the school’s grounding in business fundamentals with experiential learning and research-based insights. Then, through programs, including the John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge and training for nonprofit board members, we equip our community with the knowledge and tools to positively impact humanity.  

About Chicago CRED

Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny) was created in 2016 by former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Emerson Collective, a social impact organization founded and run by Laurene Powell. We believe the best solution for ending gun violence is recruiting men most likely to be perpetrators or victims of shootings and transitioning them to jobs in the legal economy that pay as much or more than what they earn in the violence-plagued illegal economy. We provide them with intensive, trauma-informed life coaching, cognitive behavioral therapy, workforce skills, supervised transitional jobs, and placement into market-driven permanent jobs.  

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