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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Social service agencies profit from URI MBA students’ business plans

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. -- June 9, 2005 -- For two years, the Corliss Center, a non-profit agency in Warren that serves adults with deafness and other profound hearing disorders, has been mulling the idea of a beverage and snack shop along the East Bay Bike Path.

Since the bike path runs right by the center, administrators and staff thought it would be a good way to raise some revenue and provide center members with training that can lead to enhanced independence.

Thanks to a joint venture involving the center and a group of University of Rhode Island students pursuing their masters’ degrees in business administration, the concept is now becoming a reality.

The Corliss Center project was one of five organized by URI Business Professor Deborah Rosen, who wanted to give her MBA students a chance to apply their business skills to non-profit organizations. For the past two years, Rosen has linked teams of students to small, high-tech startup companies in Rhode Island, but this year, she wanted them to experience the non-profit world. So she contacted Deborah Schimberg, executive director of Social Venture Partners, a collaborative of professionals focused on advancing the non-profit sector and advancing social change.

The other groups of MBA students assisted the South Side Community Land Trust of Providence and its community garden; Saving Sight Rhode Island of Warwick, which provides screenings and treatment for vision disorders; Groundwork Providence, which is involved with improving Providence’s physical environment; and Fantasy Works of Saunderstown, an educational theater company that partially supports itself through costume and equipment rentals to other theater groups and schools. Each student group recently presented their business plans during a Social Ventures Partners meeting in Providence.

“I would have to say that we were very excited about the collaboration with the MBA program,” Schimberg said. “It's a wonderful way for the students to get real-world experience supplying hugely needed practical research and advice. Interest in social enterprise is growing daily in Rhode Island, and we only wish that more agencies could benefit to the extent that these five did.”

“The URI students blew us away. We loved it,” said Mary Ellen Breen, executive director of the Corliss Center. “They came to us, worked many hours, made numerous trips to our agency and they listened to what our people wanted.”

The URI students who worked on the Corliss Center team are Ingvild Bakke of Narragansett, Joe Barry of Portsmouth, Romain Dusan of Narragansett, Katrin Avenhaus of Kingston and James Mangiamelli of East Greenwich.

The URI students conducted extensive research on the viability of such a business by analyzing potential competition, the center’s advantageous location and spending patterns for users of the bike path. Like their fellow students, they made a full oral and Power Point presentation to the Social Venture Partners.

“For two years, this was a dream, but now I think we are ready to start selling beverages on July 4th,” Breen said. “They helped us bring our plan to the next level.

She praised the URI students for fully immersing themselves in the work on the beverage and snack shop. “They worked closely with the interpreter from the beginning, and with the people who are going to make this a success. It was a mutual learning experience. Our community learned from them and they learned about the challenges of deafness and the drive toward independence.”

Breen said she hopes to expand on collaborations with URI because the University has resources and talents the center can use.

“The URI students had pride in what they were doing and they felt they had an immediate impact. They walked the bike path, and they talked with other businesses.”

She said the center is sorry to see them leave. “The community wants to feed them, thank them, and dance with them.”

Professor Rosen said she was proud of all of the student teams. “What the students did was translate their analyses into usable business strategies,” Rosen said. “They really synthesized the information they received from the agencies with information they collected as part of their research process and developed effective business plans for social enterprise. One agency asked if any of the students are available over the summer. The plan is to continue this collaboration next near.”
The other agencies and their URI teams were:

• Groundwork Providence—Henk Horstmann, Christie Jones, Viviane Martins, Matthew Miller and Jose Paganessi G.

• Saving Sight Rhode Island—Allen Avery, Deborah Lafen, James McCurdy and Robert Sceding.

• Fantasy Works—Lauren Cugini, Marie Laure Holler, Stephen Rehder, Patrick Lahyani, and Nick Cristofori.

• Southside Community Land Trust—Paul Anderson, Marco Becker, Amber Bouchard, Stephane Coulibaly and Robert Zeuge.

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POWERFUL PRESENTATION: Joe Barry of Portsmouth, a student in the full-time University of Rhode Island master of business administration program, gives his portion of a presentation of a plan to help the Corliss Center generate revenues from a beverage and snack shop on the East Bay Bike Path. Other team members from URI looking on are Ingvild Bakke, left of Narragansett, and Romain Dusan of Narragansett. URI News Bureau photo by Michael Salerno photography.