Patricia Chin-Sweeney didn’t know she wanted to be an entrepreneur when she got to business school, but today she is a recognized social entrepreneur and one of two Stern MBAs who helped to launch and grow I-DEV International.
MBAsocial spent some time talking with Patricia about I-DEV, how she turned her MBA into a business development mission, and why even the harshest feedback is critical to success.
What is I-DEV International?
I-DEV International is a management strategy and innovation firm focused on the base of the pyramid (BoP).
We work with three core groups to build viable, competitive small-to-medium sized enterprises and supply chains in the developing world: international development NGOS; social venture capital firms; and multinational corporations. For social venture capital firms, we advise on portfolio company improvement and on sourcing deals, as our field teams constantly see strong investment opportunities. For corporations and NGOs, we build market-based strategies to target social issues more efficiently as well as strategic CSR opportunities with maximum benefit to BoP communities and corporations.
For example, we helped Aramark to reduce costs by employing local subsistence farmers in Northern Peru. In Cajamarca (Peru), Aramark provides over 5,000 meals per day to local mines, sourcing the fresh produce for their kitchens from the coast near Lima – a costly, 20-hour drive. I-DEV developed the strategy and implementation plan by which Aramark could source the nine key products demanded in its kitchens from local farmers’ cooperatives without compromising on quality standards or risking getting miners sick.
We also do a lot of Fair Trade, Organic supply chain work. Our recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review highlights what we see as an unfortunate disconnect between Fair Trade’s strong social brand and the actual social impact they are having on the lives of their BoP farmers.
I-DEV is also acting as project manager of several large-scale projects including a business incubator and education system revamp in Northern Peru. And, we have plans for the launch of our own social venture fund, and pilots of several “missing middle” capital finance schemes we’ve developed.
How did you get started?
I met Jason Spindler — I-DEV’s founder and an NYU law alum — at a meet-and-greet for the Stern Social Venture Competition. We went on to compete and won the People’s Choice Award. We are still incubated by the Stern Berkley Center today, and maintain a strong relationship with them.
I-DEV had a huge effect on my business school experience- mostly for the better, though I may have missed out on some of the social aspects. I studied abroad during my 2nd year at INCAE in Costa Rica, essentially to conduct business development for the company and build relationships with my professors, who were all former/current ministers of government and top consultants in the region. Back at NYU, I missed a few weeks of school to be on consulting assignments abroad. But, these experiences were critical to my learning!
What’s your best advice for other MBA entrepreneurs?
Grad school is a great time to launch a business. You have a wealth of industry experts and resources at your fingertips- from professors to guest speakers to databases of information. Take every class relevant to your business. Set up meetings with relevant guest speakers. That’s actually how I met Eileen Fisher’s head of social consciousness, who then connected us with Indigenous Designs, a fabulous company that works with organic farmers and women’s cooperatives in Peru to produce high-end clothing.
Business plan competitions are another great resource. Partake in as many as you can! They force you to be disciplined in your business strategy. While the cash prize is rarely enough to support your business for long, the true value lies in the expert advice and feedback from industry leaders who judge, and the connections you’ll make.
Ask for constant feedback, but know which of it to listen to, and internalize. One of my favorite professors from Stern (with a traditional VC background) essentially tore I-DEV’s business plan apart and told me to go into consulting for a big name firm instead. He wasn’t entirely misguided- a big name can add credibility to one’s resume- but he also had clear biases against social businesses and consulting models. In many ways, you can learn the most from harsh feedback- and in the case of social enterprise, from those outside of that world who look for the business case, not just the ‘feel good’ story.
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