Each year, the Center for Social Impact awards funding to students pursuing internships with social impact organizations through its Summer Internship Funding Program. The Center’s Program Director, Tanya Upthegrove, spoke with Juan Pablo Garcia Romero (MBA/MS’16) about his internship experience at the impact investing organization, New Ventures, in Mexico City, Mexico over the summer of 2015.
Describe your internship this summer. How will the work you did this summer support impact investing and the entrepreneurial environment in Mexico?
First, some context:
New Ventures is a nonprofit that started as an incubator for green tech companies, …[but has evolved]…to an accelerator of larger social enterprises… In Mexico, the startup entrepreneurial scene is not well-developed. Although there were a couple of incubators or SEED accelerators, they were mostly for profit in tech or focused in health care.
NEW VENTURES START-UP PROGRAM
One of my responsibilities this past summer was to develop a methodology for an impact start up seed accelerator program. It was a very fun project, a lot of accelerators and incubators that exist are in the US, and some are in Chile. I needed to talk to them and understand how they develop entrepreneurs. To do this, I just started networking with people to understand their programs. The most interesting part was talking to entrepreneurs that completed the programs and actually understand what was valuable to them.
(How long since they had been participating in the program?)
About 2 years out. So they had a very clear sense of the benefit. The idea of this program was to help an entrepreneur that has either an idea or prototype go to market in 5 months. There are examples of entrepreneurs able to do that in other accelerator programs around the world. The whole objective is now that you’ve given the entrepreneur such an ambitious goal, develop and execute strategies to help them actually achieve it. The program has been running since early November, and is called New Ventures Start Ups. It started with 6 participants, allowing time to devote to each entrepreneur, instead of trying to run a class with 20. Three companies are focused on environmental impact, 3 focused on social impact all are for profit. They are all very promising. Of the social impact companies, most are focused on education and health, which are very important areas of need in Mexico, because there isn’t a big market for such services.
INVESTMENT READINESS PROGRAM
The other project I worked on this summer was more in a consulting role with the Investment Readiness Program where a social enterprise that has an interesting business model to make more efficient and very comfortable with users. The idea of the project was to take a company that was growing very fast look at where they wanted to go in 5 years, develop strategy as well as a financial model that would make sure they got there adequately, as well as having a road map for the corporate governance to make sure they check the boxes on key tasks such as (establishing) an advisory board.
How did the funds through Give-A-Day and our self directed intern process help you this summer?
It is a pretty difficult choice to make when you’re looking at traditional internships and impact-focused organizations for internships, particularly the difference in salary. Thanks to the funding, I would have never completed this internship, which would have been unpaid. The funding really helped me chase the career that interests me, and also learn a few things about entrepreneurship and my overall career goals. I’m very grateful for the support and I hope the funding will continue to help students in that way. Ross is continuing to attract more and more students that are interested in impact investing & social impact, and it’s an area that we should be embracing more.
How does this internship experience fit into your broader career goals? How has it shaped your path?
I came to B-school wanting to do Impact Investing. I didn’t really know where. When I heard about impact investing, it sounded great. As I got to know the space, I realized it is very large. There are many different ways to do impact investing and it becomes difficult to find a job if you aren’t targeted in your search. This summer internship helped me decide 2 things:
- I would rather look for opportunities in the US where the ecosystem is more developed
- I also learned that I like working with entrepreneurs and social enterprises. That may limit my preferred job types to working within an accelerator, impact investing firm, or foundation in the portfolio management side to help them get better.
When I first came to Ross, I thought I wanted to be more on the investment side, looking at business plans all day long. While that is interesting, being able to work with the entrepreneurs in relationship management plus consulting, applying the business skills I’ve been developing. By doing so, my impact will be more direct.
Do you think these kinds of experiences make you more competitive than your peers, and if so, how?
A lot of my classmates that are interested in impact investing are more focused in one area such as specifically on the investment side of impact investing. I don’t think a lot of them have that much experience of working with entrepreneurs in capacity building. Through my dual degree program, I’ve been able to work in impact investing for two summers. I’ve been able to work on the investment side as well as on the capacity building portfolio management side through the accelerator experience. I think that gives me a well-rounded experience. Because now when I look at business plans, I get to think about what an entrepreneur is doing in their day to day operations. If you see their road map and their milestones, you think “maybe that is a bit aggressive”. But if you change these little things, maybe it is doable. Instead of just saying ‘that’s too aggressive, that’s too risky.’ Once you’ve seen how that path is walked, you can definitely have a better insight to what is really happening.
How can Michigan Ross contribute to the growth of impact investing and social enterprises?
Including topics regarding impact investing and social enterprises in the MBA curriculum would be a good start. While we have the Social Venture fund, which is a very good model to learn more about the ecosystem and getting involved, it doesn’t allow every person that is interested in the space to gain knowledge. If there were another avenue for those that were interested but aren’t accepted into the Social Venture Fund, or don’t have the time to devote to SVF, because it is a pretty big time commitment. But they can meet regularly and talk about the space, or funds managers or social entrepreneurs from Detroit can serve as guest speakers. It is a sector that is growing and you shouldn’t leave business school without some exposure to the space.
Could you share a moment that made you proud or a highlight of your experience?
When I saw the actual newspaper article after the New Ventures Start Up program was launched. The author talked about the positive impact of each of the participating companies. It was great to see because in grad school especially, you don’t always get to see any project that you work on come into fruition.
During one of the investment readiness meetings held with the Social Enterprise, I was helping the entrepreneur think about his value proposition. The entrepreneur was going through one of the exercises from the Value Proposition Design book, and he suddenly realized the actual business proposition of his business model. Believe it or not, he had been developing his business for 2 years, and he has grown a lot. But he didn’t really know what was valuable about his company. It was an exciting moment for him, as he realized he needed to focus on this, instead of so many random things on the tangential side of the business. During the consulting project, I didn’t want to tell him what to do, but rather help him explore and figure out what he should do, while laying out all the tools that could lead him to various answers.
What is important for young professionals as they look for work in Impact Investing?
Network as much as possible. Go to events in the area where you might meet entrepreneurs and others that are working In the space. As you start growing your network, you will also be able to leverage those connections to try and get internships or informational interviews to learn more about what is happening with certain funds. You can also look at the Ross Alum database. Also, find a way to do a volunteer job for a couple of months, just to show how much you want to work for them for free or a low salary and help them reach their goals and get to know you and your capabilities.