Casey Gerald and Michael Baker’s new venture, MBAs Across America, sounds a bit like the Amazing Race meets non-profit business consulting. The organization will be sending eight teams (each made up of four MBA students) on cross-country road trips this summer. Over the course of six weeks, the teams will provide free business consulting to six entrepreneurs in six locations.
Gerald and Baker are both second-year Harvard MBA students, but if you’re picturing stodgy, suit-clad men sitting in corporate corner offices, think again. They’re more like business adventurers, changing the face of business education while speeding down the highway.
The idea for the venture came from a road trip the two took last summer with fellow Harvard MBA students Amaris Singer and Hicham Mhammedi Alaoui. In eight weeks, the students drove 8,000 miles and visited eight cities, including New Orleans, Detroit, and Albuquerque. They worked closely with six entrepreneurs, each of whom, despite having an innovative business idea, needed help.
In Asheville, North Carolina, they partnered with the Highland Brewing Company, a family-owned craft brewery that wanted to learn more about engaging with local customers. In White Sulphur Springs, Montana, they teamed with Red Ants Pants, a rural company that makes workwear for women. The partnerships paid off, for both the entrepreneurs and the MBA students, reported Business Education.
Gerald believes that the program adds something essential to business education. “Our classroom becomes cities. Our professors become entrepreneurs. Our tests become the impact we can make, not just over the course of the summer, but over the course of our lives.”
This summer, Gerald and Baker hope to see that impact grow. Eight teams — from Stanford, Columbia, Babson, Michigan Ross, Haas, and Harvard — have been chosen to participate in the cross-country road trips. The teams can pick where they travel, though they must visit at least one rural city.
Currently, Gerald and Baker are choosing entrepreneurs to participate in the program. To be selected, they must be located in a place that has an interesting story, and they must have a compelling vision for the future of their business. Additionally, they must have a positive impact on their communities.
As for its own business model, MBAs Across America is a non-profit, funded by business schools (Stanford and Harvard are each sponsoring their teams this summer), corporations, and individual donors. Gerald says sponsors have been eager to support local businesses while helping to train the next generation of business leaders.
Though the road trip will undoubtedly be full of adventure, Gerald and Baker emphasize that MBAs Across America uses the summer as a launch for continued collaboration between business students and entrepreneurs across the country. Of the newly selected teams of entrepreneurs, Gerald says,“They’re engaged, and we’re engaged, for a lifetime.”