01 Apr 2001
Rewriting the Script: Social Enterprise Start-ups Expand Business Plan Contest's ParametersRe: Albert Cheng (MBA 1997); Leslie Kenny (MBA 1997); Robin Greiner (MBA 1997)Topics:
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
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.
Class of MBA 1997, Section C