A team of four sophomores from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business have won this year’s Kelley Impact Competition, a case competition challenging students to find actionable solutions to social issues in the community.
The team, Spades Consulting, won $15,000 in prize money as well as $10,000 in seed money to implement their idea after finalist judging early this month. In their campaign, called “B is Belonging,” the team created revenue-generating coupon books and a DEI certification process for businesses belonging to the Greater Bloomington, Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Winning members Kayla Oxley of Newburgh, Ind.; Katie Cole of Austin, Texas; Naina Prabhakar of Bloomington, Ind.; and Ashwin Ramesh of Aurora, Ill.
“The fact that we now get to work with the community and see our solution better the lives of people in this town is really exciting,” says Cole, a marketing and business analytics major at Kelley. “We want to graduate and become the next leaders in business and the fact that we’ve had these opportunities to learn how to lead with DEI, with social impact in mind is really profound.”
COMPOUNDING THE GOOD FROM SOCIAL IMPACT
The annual case competition was founded by Kelley alum Lance Breitstein, who graduated with a bachelor’s in finance in 2011. After a decade working as a top trader at Trillium Management, he was looking for a way to give back that had more long-lasting impact than simply writing checks to causes he believed in. He thought about lessons he learned at Kelley Business School in compounding assets, the act of reinvesting earnings to earn more over time.
Applying the same concepts to social impact could “exponentially amplify” the good that one does, he realized.
Breitstein partnered with the Kelley Institute for Social Impact (KISI) to create the Kelley Case Competition in 2019. KISI offers both programs and courses to amplify student social impact in Bloomington and around the world. For the case competition, students are introduced to a community public service organization and presented with a key challenge it faces. All Kelley undergraduates are welcome to enter, and then present their cases before a panel of judges.
The case competition framework has also been incorporated into Business Presentations, a core prerequisite course for all Kelley undergraduates. In that course, students use the same model to present cases for Global Mamas, a fair-trade nonprofit working with female entrepreneurs in Ghana.
Having social impact experiences built into her business education has been “incredibly fulfilling for me, because I’ve always looked for opportunities that are fulfilling, that are always giving back,” says Oxley, a marketing and business analytics major. “It’s really hard to get experience like this anywhere else.”
Since the inception of the case competition, students have tackled housing insecurity in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, mental health issues with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and social justice with the Community Justice and Mediation Center in Bloomington.
“What really struck a chord with me with the impact competition is that you’re able to get right out in front of these socially minded college students, who truly care about these issues, and you are empowering them and showing them that they can make a difference and tackle these issues in the community around them,” Breitstein says in an article on Kelley’s website.
TACKLING DEI INEQUITIES IN BLOOMINGTON
This year’s competition focused on DEI inequities in Bloomington through the work of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Eric Spoonmore, Bloomington’s chamber president and CEO, invited all three finalist teams to continue to consult and work on their ideas with chamber members.
“The Kelley Impact Competition highlights how business has the power to drive positive change within communities,” writes George Vlahakis, Kelley’s associate director of communications and media relations. “Unlike other case competitions, it is popular because it is not just theoretical. Students are thrilled to have an opportunity to implement their ideas and see they can create change in Monroe County.”
Prabkahar, one of the winning students majoring in marketing and international business, tells Kelley that KISI’s collaboration with students and community partners is special. “We very much look forward to actually working alongside this chamber of commerce that we’ve been so in tune with these past few months.”
A NATIONAL MOVEMENT IN IMPACTFUL CASE COMPETITIONS
After the success of the Kelley Case Competition, Breitstein launched The Impact Competition Foundation, a nonprofit working to expand the social-impact centered case competitions across the country.
“Most case competitions offer a theoretical proposal that students are tasked with solving. However, the Impact Competition aims to solve local, real-world issues facing the wider community, and provides the funding for the students to see their solution in action,” the nonprofit says on its website.
The nonprofit is so far working with the University of Maryland and University in Chicago and is in talks with Penn State and John Hopkins University.
“We’re finding the issues that are going to be relevant to students and we’re tackling them in a local way so that students are empowered to make these changes,” Breitstein says. “It’s not necessarily about a competition or the non-profit we’re partnering with. The big picture mission of the impact competition is that we’re turning these students into long-term, lifetime volunteers, philanthropists, or just socially minded individuals in their life and career.”