Net Impact Conference

By Christina Ridella, BBA 2018

November 15, 2017

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Net Impact Conference in Georgia. I have been involved in the Net Impact Undergraduate chapter at the Ross School of Business since my Freshman year, and the conference was a great experience to meet students from other chapters. The organizations strives to connect students with opportunities and avenues to link business, sustainability, and social impact. At the University of Michigan, our chapter participates many different activities, including case discussions, guest speakers, campus and community projects, and career treks.

I was attending the Net Impact Conference because I was selected as a 2017-2018 Net Impact Food Fellow. At the conference, I met my fellow cohort, which includes students from across the world. We had conversations about the current food industry and gaps that our projects could fill in our respective communities. I was able to share my interest in the Detroit food landscape and promote the incredible organization that I am developing a partnership with (FoodLab Detroit - check them out here!: https://foodlabdetroit.com/) Visit this site is you are interested in more information about the fellowship program: https://www.netimpact.org/programs/food-fellowship

I also had the opportunity to attend great speaker series from business leaders, environmentalists, and social advocates from across the world. For example, Seth Goldman shared his experience in founding HonestTea and the company's commitment to responsible business practices.

One talk that that was exciting to attend was with Paul Hawken, a leading climate researcher and environmentalist, who I’ve actually had the chance to read about through some of my PitE classes. During his talk, he presented his Project Drawdown - extensively researched proposals of the steps that we as a society (collaboration of all stakeholders including government, businesses, NGOs..) must take to draw down the level of CO2 from the atmosphere. One important thing he stressed is that drawdown is different and more necessary than just climate mitigation. The CO2 levels are already too high, and we must engage in reversal, not just implement preventative actions. It was significant that he led a team of highly qualified researchers to map, measure, and model 100 most substantive ways to drawdown GHG emissions. (List here: http://www.drawdown.org/). Although many of the top-ranked clean energy and infrastructural proposals made sense one that struck me was ithe #6 action: Empower women and girls. (http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/women-and-girls/educating-girls). The group research showed that allowing women and girls in developing countries more access to education will provide much economic opportunities as well as have an impact on population trends. His explanation depicted a clear example of the interconnectedness between social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

At the conference, I also had the opportunity to attend workshops that involved cross-sector panelists from business, local governments, social entrepreneurships, nonprofits, foundations, and NGOs. One workshop involved a case study of coordinating operations between a business and nonprofit to fill the gap between food waste and food access. Another workshop that I enjoyed attending included a panel and case study on the importance of public-private partnerships pertaining to urban planning and city waste management.

I can’t explain everything that I learned in one post, so if you want to talk more about the conference or in general any of these topics, please feel free to reach out to me!

Why Business Students Should Attend Tech Conferences

By Michael Zhang, BBA 2019

November 13, 2017

A few weeks ago, I performed surgery on my first patient, threw fireballs, conjured up ice shields, and toured the International Space Station.

Unfortunately, those were just virtual reality (VR) demos I tried. In reality, I was attending Oculus Connect 4, the annual virtual reality developer conference held in San Jose, California.

Over the course of two days, I networked with developers working with Oculus (a VR company owned by Facebook), and attended sessions on topics such as VR in healthcare, in education, and opportunities for social VR. Industry leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg and Oculus CTO John Carmack also detailed their visions for the future of the platform. In addition, they introduced new developments at Oculus, and a new wireless standalone headset called the Oculus Go.

Virtual reality is currently at a point where many major tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung, HTC, and more have released their own version of a VR headset. The biggest problems in the industry are a lack of quality content and a price point many consumers find to be too high.

Developers are scrambling to create “the killer app” that brings virtual reality into the mainstream, but in the meantime, there are several opportunities that are open to pursuing.

I am passionate about virtual reality. And, as a business major, I find myself increasingly concerned that business students don’t always see the benefit of having a more technically savvy background.

We’re not majoring in engineering or computer science, but we should still be literate in these areas. There is a gap between business and technology that creates the stereotype of business people saying “I can handle the business side.”

Technology will only become more integrated into our lives. Learning basic skills such as programming can help us bridge this gap and enable more effective communication between teams. Also, it provides more opportunities for people to identify new business opportunities in emerging technologies.

Attending Oculus Connect 4 was an opportunity for me to better understand how I can play a role in the VR industry. It motivated me to work more on a VR foreign language idea I have, but also made me realize that I need to take advantage of my current resources, embrace the grind, and focus on developing something quickly rather than brainstorming to find the best idea.

The best piece of advice I received at Oculus Connect 4 was “Keep questioning why your project or solution needs VR.”

In creating any innovative solution, we should focus on what value we can provide customers with new technologies, rather than overcomplicating something for the sake of it. One can say that their idea is a new virtual reality app that runs on blockchain and uses machine learning and artificial intelligence, but buzzwords don’t solve problems in the long run. Hard work does.

Blockchain Conference

By Briana Feng, BBA 2018

November 8, 2017

Over fall break, I attended a blockchain conference in Santa Monica, California. BlockCon 2017 was a week-long conference where reputable people in the blockchain community spoke, new crypto trends were discussed, and people within the community networked. I attended BlockCon’s one-day workshop called “How to do an ICO”.

So what’s an ICO?

This year, ICOs, or Initial Coin Offerings, have been all the hype in the blockchain community. One of the biggest appeals for a startup to launch an ICO is that they can bypass the traditional venture capital financing route and fundraise through the general public. Startups previously had to endure multiple pitching rounds and give away ownership in their company just to get a measly $50K from some venture capitalist. Now, they are able to write a white paper (which is pretty much a business plan), set an ICO timeline, align on a fundraising target (e.g., $10M), and just watch the investments (through some cryptocurrency) roll in. Ideally.

When investors pour money into an ongoing ICO, they receive some sort of token in exchange. However, this area is still highly unregulated (even though the SEC has been stepping in and getting more involved recently). So, a big topic of concern is this idea around the token exchange. This “token” idea seems sort of like a security if you ask me. Well, possibly. There are several variations of tokens (e.g., security tokens, utility tokens, etc.). As you can imagine, security tokens undergo much more scrutiny and have to comply with various SEC laws and regulations. However, if the target investor audience for the startup is accredited investors, pursuing this route may make more sense.

All of these topics were discussed at the BlockCon workshop, which was led by organizer Kurt Kumar. After we all got a better understanding of the current ICO landscape, Kurt funneled us through the critical components needed for an ICO. Our focus then remained on identifying key ICO stakeholders, including a legal team, tax advisor, code auditor, community engagement manager, PR team, internal startup team, launch page developer, and website designers. A recurring idea throughout the workshop was embodying the mindset of “outsourcing” everything. Want to write your own ERC20 code? No, outsource it. Want to do all the marketing in-house to save costs? No, find a PR manager. Need to take time to decide on your token allocation amount? Copy someone else’s – no need to reinvent the process. By the end of the day, I was so motivated to take action that I almost wanted to launch an ICO right then and there (which everyone can, by the way- there is a very low barrier to launch an ICO).

Overall, I currently see ICOs as the best way for me to enter the blockchain space given my background and strengths. There is a high probability that the ICO hype fizzles out, especially as the SEC regulates it more and more. But in the time being, it’s still exciting, so why not pursue it?

Net Impact Conference

By Charlene Franke, BBA 2019

November 2, 2017

As a business student passionate about social impact and sustainability, I attended the Net Impact 2017 Path to Purpose conference to find more opportunities in my dream career fields, microfinance and community economic development. The speakers, workshops and networking opportunities gave me the inspiration and connections to further my career path through resources I wouldn’t have been able to find at Ross.

The keynote speakers at the conference were phenomenal. My first day, Friday, began with none other than Shannon Schuyler, PwC’s Chief Purpose Officer and a UM alumna. Schuyler spoke about the importance of letting purpose lead your life and career path, and how significant it is that the student attendees had the opportunity to develop their purpose earlier in life than most. Afterwards, my fellow Michigan attendees and I rushed up and told her that we had come from UM. Schuyler was super excited to see us, and we all got a photo with her!

Another keynote speaker who stood out was Kathryn Finney of digitalundivided, which focuses on supporting Black and Latina entrepreneurs, who receive disproportionately low access to start-up services and funding. Sharing her own story of discrimination while pursuing her small business, Finney showed me why my career goals of empowering underserved entrepreneurs mattered.

Some of my favorite sessions revolved around purpose and industry transformation. I attended a workshop on crafting purpose statements, led by Patrice Tanaka of Joyful Planet LLC. Her story of finding joy in her life as a New Yorker after the 9/11 attacks was an inspiring story of resilience, and motivated me to find greater purpose in my life through writing my statement.

Another fantastic session explored companies who are making the impact investing industry more accessible. One such organization, the Micro Village Fund, provides people in low-income neighborhoods with the ability to invest in the businesses around them. The Micro Village Fund incorporated small business development, community engagement and a strategy focusing on long-term impact. I actually ran into the founder, Nathan Jones, at a panel the following day. From our conversation, I learned about cultural competency and how to use investing and small business development to authentically empower low-income neighborhoods in Atlanta. The conversation left me inspired, and gave me a new potential dream company to work at.

Overall, the Net Impact conference taught me how to align my social impact career objectives with my newly-defined purpose: to empower disadvantaged communities through entrepreneurship, inclusive economic growth, and opportunity finance, leading to their greater happiness and agency. I learned what leading businesses are doing in this industry, and made amazing connections that I hope will last through the years. I am grateful to the Ross BBA Council for helping me attend the conference and gain inspiration for my remaining time at Ross.