01 Apr 2001
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Rewriting the Script: Social Enterprise Start-ups Expand Business Plan Contest's Parameters

Re: Albert Cheng (MBA 1997); Leslie Kenny (MBA 1997); Robin Greiner (MBA 1997)

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The story of how nonprofit start-up Montage Entertainment came about would be familiar to many past participants in the HBS Business Plan Contest. “Some friends and I were sitting in the café at Shad, discussing film and the way women and minorities are represented by Hollywood,” recalls  Joanna E. Stone (MBA 1997), now president of Montage. “It was an issue that touched us all personally, so we decided to start a com-pany that would promote more positive portrayals of women and minorities and provide more employment opportunities for them within the industry.”

Stone and classmates Albert H. Cheng (current chairman of Montage) and Leslie A. Kenny (now CEO of Hong Kong–based DotMedia Studio) approached the School’s Initiative on Social Enterprise in order to learn more about the details of launching a nonprofit. Their ideas attracted another classmate, Robin Lee Greiner (a current board member), and developed into a business plan from which Montage emerged shortly after graduation in 1997.

Although other business plans took the top prizes that year, Stone was more than satisfied with Montage’s results. “One of the people who evaluated our plan in its early stages was Bill Warner, founder of Avid Technologies. He’s still on our advisory board, and he has also put us in touch with a contact at Lifetime Television. Since then we’ve produced two films for them.” Montage, with offices in New York and Los Angeles, sponsors Diversity in Screenwriting workshops and a Diversity in Production internship program that provides women and minorities with hands-on training in film production, while also offering a support network of industry contacts.

This year, opportunities for students with nonprofit business plans were enhanced by the creation of a social enterprise track within the HBS Business Plan Contest. “A commitment to social enterprise is embedded in the fabric of HBS,” notes Professor of Management Practice  Allen Grossman, the track’s faculty organizer. Despite tacit recognition of the different goals set by nonprofit and for-profit plans, Grossman says that it gradually became clear that the contest needed a different set of criteria for evaluating plans with socially oriented agendas.

Entries in the new track will submit to the same timetable and demands as traditional plans but will compete for their own first prize of $10,000 and in-kind services. Grossman notes that judging criteria will be essentially the same, with one primary difference: determining the social value contributed to society. Judging will be conducted by panels composed of venture philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists who have had past involvement in social enterprise.

Grossman grants that quantifying a plan’s potential social value will not be an easy task for judges. But four years later, the impact of nonprofit ventures such as Montage are easy to observe, particularly when Stone tells the story of Angel, a high-school student from inner-city New York whose full potential never emerged in the classroom. Angel excelled as an intern in Montage’s Diversity in Production program, where he trained to be a gaffer. “He had so much desire to learn,” Stone remembers. “It was wonderful to see him confidently tell Entertainment Tonight that he plans to go to film school.”

At press time, eleven plans had been submitted for the Social Enterprise Track, a number that exceeded organizers’ expectations. Perhaps the future will yield more stories like Angel’s now that the Business Plan Contest offers an official track for socially oriented business endeavors.

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Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1997, Section C
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