Notre Dame's brightest entrepreneurs will put their heads together
There is a lot of talk about "brain drain" here -- talented students who leave the area after they graduate. This new organization, called enFocus -- for Entrepreneur Focus -- was created by a group of city and business leaders to combat that. enFocus will support graduates of Notre Dame's ESTEEM program who will be working on innovation projects using their skills and entrepreneurial solutions.
"These are people that have these great skills and great talents and they are willing to roll up their sleeves and go solve problems and just go into a community and be apart of something bigger than themselves," says David Murphy, the director of the ESTEEM program at Notre Dame.
The Michiana Venture Fellows, as they are being called, will graduate in August from Notre Dame's ESTEEM (Engineering, Science, and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Masters) program. The group of 7 fellows are tasked with solving some of the area's challenges. Each Fellow will have a business industry sponsor. The fellows will work together, using their varying expertise, on projects proposed by their sponsors -- high impact, high return on investment projects that will also benefit the South Bend community.
"For South Bend, I think there are a lot of interesting things that are going to happen in South Bend in the future and I want to be a part of that," says Fellow, Santiago Garces, "I was a boy scout so I like leaving a place better than when I found it."
Much of the projects will use technology to help boost profits and help the sponsors save money. But part of the fellow's focus will be on improving the South Bend community.
"We said it has got to be more than coming in and working for a bunch of folks who want to pay you to be consultants -- it is how do we really make this community come alive," says Murphy.
South Bend's city government is like a giant corporation: 11hundred employees -- a $265 million a year business. So, a lot can get lost in the shuffle.
"Frankly, city government can use a little more entrepreneurial energy," says Gary Gilot, a sponsor and president of South Bend's Board of Public Works.
Say, for example, the water is shut off at a vacant home. The water utility knows about it -- but because there are so many other departments with so much data of their own in the city -- no one else notices.
"Some days we feel like we are swimming in data without enough useful information to make smarter strategic decisions on how to run the city," says Gilot.
The hope is, the Michiana Venture Fellows can help use their innovation and entrepreneurial skills to help fix that.
"If we knew who had their water shut off for a while, wouldn't that be a nice early indicator of some of the problems we have with neighborhoods with blighted homes-- vacant and abandoned homes," says Gilot. "It would be an early indicator for code enforcement crews for issues of illegal dumping. It would be an early warning for the parks department graffiti cleanup crew. It would certainly be an early warning system to proactively allocate police department resources for safer neighborhoods. Instead of waiting for projects to snowball and become bigger and more expensive to handle."
Gilot says the fellows will help create and implement a new online, interactive dashboard of sorts that will help city departments communicate better. The city will spend $40,000 to sponsor a fellow. But Gilot says he expects a $400,000 return on investment in cost savings, improved efficiency and new revenue.
"They could be working anywhere, but they could work on some of our challenges in local government and help us do what we do better," says Gilot.