Social Impact Days (SID) is an annual event that brings together impact-interested incoming students to engage and learn about social impact at Kellogg. The event culminates in a student pitch competition.
Hear from this year’s winning team as they reflect on the pitch journey from start to finish: (from left) Can Sulu (2Y, 2023), Amna Mahmud (MBAi, 2023), Christina Allen (2Y, 2023) and Ben Hackner (2Y, 2023)
Tell us about your team. What type of backgrounds and experiences do you all bring?
Christina: Our team was a diverse bunch — we had Can from Turkey, Amna from Pakistan, Ben from SoCal, and me from a small suburb of Philadelphia. All of us were ex-consultants, so we spent a lot of time in the beginning framing up the problem and encouraging one another to consider the economics of our venture. We wanted to make sure that our idea not only had the social benefits but was also grounded in a viable financial model.
At the same time, we all had these unique life experiences that shaped our brainstorming discussions and ultimately inspired our idea. Can, for instance, had experience launching an education technology social impact venture, and his perspective on the challenges in this space was instrumental in our development of a well-rounded solution. As a Muslim woman of color, Amna had first-hand experience going through the complicated and grueling process of obtaining an American visa and a green card post-college. With personal experience in understanding how difficult it is for immigrants to adjust to a new country, Amna helped bring these insights to our idea, NurseConnect.
Tell us about your startup and the pitch process.
Ben: At SID, each team was assigned to one of four tracks: (1) Healthcare, (2) Education, (3) Energy and Sustainability or (4) Corporate Social Responsibility. While we received guidance to focus on the Education track, the brainstorming process was tough!
We cycled through at least four or five ideas before we landed on our final idea, a non-profit that would address the nursing shortage by recertifying immigrants and refugees with nursing backgrounds. We were excited about our startup idea because of the intersectional impact it could have. Not only could we create an opportunity for upskilling and educating former nurses, but we could also address immigrant underemployment and the stark need for nurses across the US.
After we had our idea, we jumped into pitch creation. Each team member had a different skill to bring to the table. Can dove into the financial modeling, Amna built out a customer vignette and Christina sized the market and exploring regulations in this space. I took on the customer journey and explained the impact Nurse Connect would have from start to finish. After that, we practiced a few times, and we were ready to go!
What did you learn from the pitch process?
Amna: The pitch process taught us how to take bold risks and innovate. Even though we received a high-level outline of developing and presenting our pitch, we decided to use a storytelling lens instead. We told our story through the lens of Dana, an immigrant nurse from Bulgaria who was under-employed in America but did not have the knowledge or network to help her become a registered nurse in America. By using personas and customer journey maps, we built a compelling business case for our social enterprise.
The pitch process also taught us how to work in teams more effectively and leverage our strengths. Before SID, the four of us had never met each other. Yet very quickly, we all found our niche. As a PowerPoint wiz, Christina helped draft a strong business case for our social enterprise. Can, with his finance background, naturally gravitated towards building the financial viability model for our enterprise. Ben and I leveraged our technology and product management backgrounds to add human-centered design elements to our social enterprise. By trusting and relying on each other, we pitched a compelling vision of our social enterprise, NurseConnect.
How did Social Impact Days and the pitch competition inform your interest in social impact?
Can: The whole process resembled a two-day masterclass. Those with no previous experience became fully immersed in the social impact space. Prior to the event, we also received readings that were helpful in understanding the scope of work being done in the area.
We had a very compact schedule in two days; our guest speakers provided frameworks and rules of thumb for approaching social impact topics, which proved very useful during the pitch competition. The social impact team also shared Kellogg resources to keep us connected on social impact initiatives during our MBA journey. Getting to know Kellogg’s immense variety and depth of resources in this area was encouraging for all the participants.
As for the pitch competition, while I was used to pitching as an aspiring entrepreneur, I found it to be a good exercise for future engagements with various social impact stakeholders. I was amazed by the quality of decks our classmates presented. The teams were all very deliberate and well-articulated the problem they wanted to solve and how they planned to approach it — evidence of Social Impact Days’ big success.