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KINChallengeIn our time at Kellogg, there have been no shortage of engaging and unique experiences, but among all the trips across the globe and thought-provoking coursework, one opportunity stands out among the rest. Being selected to participate in the first Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN) challenge was truly distinctive because it allowed us to draw on some of our coursework and personal experiences to work directly with the Governor of Colorado on a real issue facing his state.

The KIN can be described as a community of thought and growth leaders from around the world. In 2014, the KIN launched a new program called the KIN Challenge that was designed to offer Kellogg students the opportunity to solve complex problems facing the Challenge sponsors.

The 2014 KIN challengers included Esther Dyson, Ann Hand and Governor John Hickenlooper. The challenge initially proposed by Governor Hickenlooper’s office focused on developing an innovative public-private partnership model (PPP or P3) to harness private sector investment for large capital works projects (infrastructure, public housing, energy-related projects etc.). Governor Hickenlooper’s team was specifically looking for recommendations on how to create an institutional entity/legislative body that could develop PPP proposals and attract capital for such projects.

We (Natalie Bookey-Baker, Devi Raja, Mukul Sharma and Sandeep Satish) were quickly drawn to Governor Hickenlooper’s prompt regarding public-private partnerships because of our passion and experience with the issue. Though we come from diverse backgrounds (consulting, public policy, non-profit and investment banking), we all believe that this intersection of public and private enterprises is essential to a thriving community and country.

After making it past the first round of application screenings and semi-finalist interviews, our team was chosen for Governor Hickenlooper’s challenge on March 14th.

Once we were selected, our team utilized experience from our backgrounds, first-hand market research through our travels, and interviews with Kellogg administration and faculty to craft a strategic plan for the Governor. We attended several “Innovation Sessions” on and off campus, including a visit to Leo Burnett to help develop our final project.

We had the privilege of visiting Governor Hickenlooper in his offices at the Colorado State Capital Building in Denver to share our initial findings and hear about his interests and goals regarding this project. He gave us great feedback on what we had done and we were happy to learn they were already moving toward some of the recommendations we had put in our initial drafts! Even though our visit was short, we learned the Governor was not only concerned about the financing structure, but also with gaining buy-in from constituents who lacked confidence in the P3 model.

Upon returning from Colorado with renewed energy in the project, we pivoted slightly to include additional marketing frameworks and unique partnership ideas that could address the Governor’s concerns. Ultimately, we crafted a final solution around creating a Center of Excellence focused on becoming the main hub of all PPP innovation through incremental public engagement, global learnings from other PPP centers and synergies between key public and private stakeholders.

We were truly honored to work with the Governor and his team, and especially thrilled to hear back from the team that they planned to explore implementation of some of our findings!

Alan Salazar, the chief strategy officer for the Governor, said after the project: “For states like Colorado that have constitutional constraints on public revenue and spending, private-public partnerships (P3s) are an important tool for financing critical infrastructure needs. The KIN student team that won helped us identify barriers, refine issues and helped us understand the broader policy landscape and potential for P3s. We intend to build on the KIN team’s work on this topic to pursue P3 governance legislation next year.”

This would have been a valuable experience even if the Governor and his team had not looked at our work, but receiving this feedback made it all the more meaningful. We are so proud to have been a part of the first set of KIN Challengers.

Related reading: Colorado Governor talks business and politics at Kellogg

Natalie Bookey Baker is a second-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year MBA Program. Prior to Kellogg she was the Associate Deputy Director in the Office of the Social Secretary at the White House, where she helped plan all events hosted by the President and First Lady.

Sandeep Satish is a second-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year Program. Prior to moving to Evanston, he worked in investment banking at Citigroup in New York City. This summer, he interned with Major League Baseball at the Commissioner’s Office and hopes to stay in sports business after graduation.