HomeEducationAcaraGlobal Venture Design course offered fall 2016

Global Venture Design course offered fall 2016

What if you could create a business to make lives better?

Next fall semester, students enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s Global Venture Design (GCC 5005) course will get a chance to find out. The course is part of the U’s Grand Challenge Curriculum, developed to immerse graduate and undergraduate students in complex problems facing the world.

Global Venture Design is unique in that students develop a business plan to meet an existing environmental or social need abroad or at home.

“Unlike most classes where the professors lead the students, in this class students define an on-the-ground problem they want to work on in India, Uganda or Nicaragua,” says Fred Rose, program director for IonE’s Acara program, which developed the course. “They collaborate with students from across the University and with people in another country to design a financially sustainable venture that implements a possible solution.” The course is co-taught by Steve Kelley, senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Tom Fisher, director of the Metropolitan Design Center and professor in the College of Design.

Last year, the inaugural year of the course, student teams developed business plans to provide loans and education to small-plot Indian farmers to ease the transition to organic farming; and to produce a chai-flavored nutritional supplement to combat Indian child malnutrition. A venture that would distribute water filtration technology to combat waterborne illness, Pure Paani, went on to win the international gold division of the 2016 Acara Challenge, a competition for start-up seed funding.

Kristin Carlson, a civil engineering student in the College of Science and Engineering, worked with a team that created a small and affordable task light that runs off a cellphone battery. She says she was impressed with the balance between competition and camaraderie in the classroom. “The course connected me with many like-minded individuals at the University of Minnesota and exposed me to the local entrepreneurial scene, both of which I continue to be involved with outside of my regular civil engineering classes.”

Third- and fourth-year undergraduates or graduate students from all disciplines are encouraged to enroll, says Rose.

“Certainly the class appeals to students interested in international development, but students from any discipline will learn skills they can take with them to tackle any endeavor. Students interested in entrepreneurship, nonprofit management, design, public policy, multicultural issues, sustainability, environmental issues and public health will all find something of value in this course.”

Still, the greatest benefit of taking Global Venture Design may come not from the skills students will take away, but what affect those skills might have on the world.

“My biggest revelation came half-way through the class,” says Carlson, whose team continues to test the feasibility of its product. “I started feeling like I could actually create a business that makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Photo by Geber86 (iStock)

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