01 Jun 2013


MBA students road trip across the U.S. to gain entreprenuerial insight and conduct pro bono consulting



On or about Independence Day, July 4, four HBS students will pile into a rented RV and set out to discover America. No, this is not a case of Kerouac-inspired wanderlust or a partymobile. Dubbed MBAxAmerica by the students, it's more like a rolling summer job, with an entrepreneurial focus and a dash of pro bono consulting, built around visits to several high-potential small businesses in the American heartland.

"Globalization puts a spotlight on what's happening overseas, and rightly so," says Casey Gerald (HBS 2014). "But our goal is to help MBAs better understand the challenges of being an entrepreneur here in the 'other' United States, far from the two coasts." At summer's end, Gerald and fellow students Hicham Mhammedi Alaoui, Michael Baker, and Amaris Singer (all HBS 2014) will report on their insights about grassroots entrepreneurship to America's larger entrepreneurial community. Two stops on the itinerary:

1. Red Ants Pants (White Sulphur Springs, MT)

RAP sells USA-made work clothes designed for women, including 70 sizes of pants. Founded in 2006 by entrepreneur Sarah Calhoun, RAP also hosts a July music festival (Emmy Lou Harris, Merle Haggard, et al) to support its charitable foundation. "Unlike a start-up in a larger city, RAP, based in a community of 900 people, makes everything work without the advantage of incubators, or a large local peer group, or access to many local customers," says Mike Baker. "Sarah and her team are tenacious, and we think we'll learn a lot from them."

2. Highland Brewing Company (Asheville, NC)

Cofounder and owner Oscar Wong has been brewing in Asheville since 2006. Today, Highland's staff of more than 30 employees produces a dozen brews sold in seven Southeast states. (Fans recommend the Cold Mountain Winter Ale and award-winning Black Mocha Stout.) "Highland is well-known for its support of the Asheville community," notes Baker. "This is an especially interesting business because it's a growing family-owned entrepreneurial brand going up against large competitors in a highly competitive industry."


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