Social entrepreneurship will benefit South Bend community

Author: Gene Stowe

Seven graduates of the ESTEEM Program—the one-year Engineering, Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Masters Program offered through the colleges of Engineering and Science and the Mendoza College of Business—will stay in South Bend for a year under a new program established by ESTEEM director David Murphy and community leaders.

The students, called Michiana Venture Fellows, will apply their education to collaborate on projects for government, business and medical institutions as well as enhance town-campus relations and the city’s quality of life, from restaurants and bars to not-for-profits and art.

A nonprofit organization called enFocus—for Entrepreneurship Focus—was established earlier this year to raise money and make plans for the initiative, which leaders hope to expand each year. Twelve ESTEEM students—half the class—applied for the program, although the stipends are less than half what they could earn on the job market.

“It was too good to pass up,” says Dan Lewis, who left a promising career track in Manhattan to join the ESTEEM program last year. “I look at it as a sort of practicum of what I went to school for. I think it’s going to be a very dynamic situation.

“ESTEEM is really focused on social entrepreneurship, and that’s exactly what this is. We can do the work on some different projects and put together some business plans.”

The program calls for students to spend 70 percent of their time working on sponsoring institutions’ projects and 30 percent seeking creative ways to improve the city’s culture. They will work as a collaborative team with each one taking leadership of a particular project.

“We need youth, we need new ideas, we need ideas that maybe none of us would come up with,” Murphy told a crowd at a reception for the Fellows at Union Station near downtown South Bend, where they have an office. “They’re going to be in the community pretty much all the time—live together, work together, tackle problems almost 24/7.”

The students lobbied for the opportunity after Murphy, the associate dean of entrepreneurship, took the class to tour Union Station to hear about Kevin Smith’s Renaissance District plans for the derelict million-square-foot Studebaker plant next door, then took them to Durham, N.C., in the Research Triangle Park area, where they saw a Lucky Strike tobacco factory transformed into a beehive of entrepreneurial and collaborative activity.

The potential to participate in triggering such a transformation proved irresistible. Students offered to stay, and Murphy gathered community leaders to form enFocus. Participating students, who finished their ESTEEM program in August, are Lewis, Alan Barrett, Brendan Daly, Santiago Garcés, Marco
Magallon, Andrew Wiand
and Khoa Huynh.

“I’m personally invested in this project beyond just what we’re going to do,” said Huynh, who like Wiand is from South Bend. “My family lives here. This is home for me. Anything and everything that comes out of this fellowship will only make this city better for myself, my family and all my friends.”

Organizers expect enFocus to become self-sustaining as institutions return a percentage of their resulting profits and savings to underwrite fellows in succeeding years. They hope the year of connections will encourage some of the participants to stay and start businesses in the city.

“My vision is we elevate the status of this fellowship so that it becomes a sought-after thing,” said Murphy, a member of the seven-person board of directors. “They’re going to develop an unbelievable network. A lot of that network will be people who could fund you in your own entrepreneurial venture eventually. The power of the fellowship program is the multiplier effect. We have to make this work in the first year.”