Edesia Nutrition development officer to visit URI to discuss company’s mission to end malnutrition

April 2 lecture organized by College of Business social entrepreneurship class

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 1, 2024 – The University of Rhode Island College of Business will host Monica Colman, development officer for the non-profit, social enterprise Edesia Nutrition, on Tuesday, April 2, at 2 p.m. in Edwards Hall, 64 Upper College Road, Kingston.

Colman, who joined Edesia in 2023 with a background in strategy and partnership development in food manufacturing, will discuss the company’s mission to end malnutrition. Her talk is open to the University community and public.

Founded in 2010 by Navyn Salem, Edesia produces life-saving, nutrient-packed foods to feed malnourished children in partnership with humanitarian agencies working in emergency zones. The North Kingstown-based company has grown to a staff of about 150 employees around the globe that has helped millions of children in more than 65 countries.

Colman’s talk has been organized by Dhvani Badwaik, assistant professor of innovation, entrepreneurship and strategy at URI, as part of her class on social entrepreneurship and innovation.

“The class focuses on the United Nations’ sustainable development goals and I try to bring it to a local level. These are problems that can be addressed globally, nationally or locally,” said Badwaik, who joined URI last fall. “Edesia is a cool example because it’s a Rhode Island company started by one person that has grown and scaled.

“Also, it’s an example where the person who started it didn’t have experience in manufacturing but she learned it. I try to impress upon my students that it’s always good to embrace a growth mindset—just because you don’t know how to do something, it only means you don’t know how to do it yet.”

INE304G Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation offers students a foundational understanding of social ventures from the ground up and includes Badwaik bringing in a couple of speakers each semester. The class gives students a chance to analyze a social challenge or problem they are passionate about, develop a solution and design a business plan around an idea for their own social venture. The course, which has about 150 students this semester across four sections, is required of business students and offered as a general education elective to others.

“For a business student, the course adds a holistic understanding of business,” said Badwaik, who teaches two of the sections. “You’re looking at business in terms of the opportunities available to solve a real social problem.”

Whether or not students plan to become entrepreneurs, Badwaik hopes they leave the class with an understanding of how to analyze a problem, form a business plan and pitch their idea. That starts with students separating into teams and choosing a social challenge they want to try to solve, and can translate into something they can highlight about themselves in future job interviews.

The teams analyze the problem they choose, answering such questions as its effect on society, why it persists, and what competing ventures are focused on. They assess existing and past efforts’ success in addressing the challenge and develop their own solution, creating a thorough business plan, which they to pitch to fellow students as if they were would-be investors.

“What I want more than anything is for students to see it as an opportunity to explore and test their ideas and pursue their entrepreneurial interests in a safe environment,” said Badwaik, “but that they can walk away from the class and start a side hustle if they want.”

Problems students have chosen to focus on run the gamut, she said. Business plans have addressed challenges such as beach erosion and pollution, health and wellness issues for college students, mobile scams affecting vulnerable communities, and access to technology in classrooms overseas. One team of students found common ground when they realized they each collected used cell phones from friends and family in Rhode Island and distributed them to community members when they visited family in Cape Verde and Armenia. They formalized their distribution strategy by devising an impressive business plan for a rental service that would provide devices to students in need.

“Those are the kinds of problems that you wouldn’t necessarily explore in your cookie-cutter business class,” she said.

In the fall, Jack Duggan’s team proposed a nonprofit organization that would raise awareness of pollution on local beaches and other Rhode Island waters. The nonprofit would raise revenue through fundraising, hosting sporting events and selling jewelry made from discarded debris. The jewelry would come with a photo and information about where the pollution was found.

“My team chose to focus on pollution because we are tired of seeing plastics, along with other pollution, in the sand and water,” said Duggan ’25, an innovation and entrepreneurship major from Marblehead, Massachusetts. “The profits the company would generate would largely be spent on hiring employees to help clean up beaches and spread awareness, along with lobbying for laws and ordinances to prevent and treat pollution.”

Leah Kagan and Haley Auslander’s team last semester focused on the lack of educational resources for children with behavioral issues. The team proposed an afterschool tutoring and mentorship program that would pair a child with a local college student. Their business plan went so far as to include a testimonial from an elementary school teacher on how the program would benefit her students, along with a marketing plan, information on competing ventures, and educational statistics.

“We realized that some students require extra attention and guidance in the classroom,” said Auslander ’25, a marketing major from Hopkinton, Massachusetts. “But some schools do not have the funding or staff to accommodate this need.”

“I learned so much from this class and I’ve been inspired to want to start my own nonprofit in the future,” said Kagan ’25, an accounting major from Wilbraham, Massachusetts. “What I enjoyed about the class is how we learned that business can do good, and as a business major, it showed me the impact we can make.”