The enFocus initiative, a collaboration between the University of Notre Dame and South Bend business and civic leaders launched in 2012 with seven ESTEEM graduates, has expanded its participant and sponsor base while establishing a sustainable, replicable business model. Four of the original participants stayed for the program’s second year, and one was hired by the City of South Bend.
The Lilly Endowment Inc. in December gave $3 million to Notre Dame to support the program, whose participants saved $3.2 million for local sponsoring institutions in its first year devoting 30 percent of their time to enriching the community’s quality of life. EnFocus was featured in a “Fighting For” video last fall, with ESTEEM graduate Andrew Wiand, a South Bend native.
Wiand, who will stay as director of operations for one more year while enFocus seeks an executive director, says the grant opened more opportunities for internships and workforce development with more ESTEEM students and others from Notre Dame and institutions in the community.
The program was initiated by 2012 graduates in ESTEEM director David Murphy’s class who had visited South Bend business leader Kevin Smith’s Union Station and heard his plans for transforming a million-square-foot former Studebaker building next door into a Renaissance Center. Murphy took them to Durham, N.C., during spring break to visit a onetime Lucky Strike cigarette factory that was transformed into an energetic hub of innovation and entrepreneurship.
When they returned, the students, with Murphy’s support, asked South Bend leaders for an opportunity to make such an impact on the city. The leaders organized the nonprofit enFocus – for Entrepreneur Focus – to support the work of the graduates called Michiana Venture Fellows, and Smith provided office space in Union Station.
“These are kids that could go anywhere, and they want to stay in our town,” Smith told the South Bend Tribune. “These are people from all over the world and the country. They see what we sometimes don’t see ourselves. They’re willing to donate a year of their time. They’re willing to take a subpar job to be part of something special. We’re more special than we think we are. Their enthusiasm is just contagious.”
The participants worked more than 14,000 hours for eight clients, including the City of South Bend, Transpo, and Memorial Hospital, and 1,200 hours of volunteer service in more than 25 projects, events and programs.
Wiand and Khoa Huynh remained in the program for the second year, along with Dan Lewis and Alan Barrett. New participants include two people with Ph.D.s and one with a bachelor’s degree in addition to ESTEEM graduates.
“We thought, No. 1, we’re going to keep some fellows; No. 2, we’re going to have to install a management culture,” Wiand said. “You have to retain some intellectual capital in the organization from year to year. There’s not a huge learning curve for the new fellows. They can just go out and use their ideas and provide value for the community.
“The challenge on our side is to see how effectively we can scale. We’ve touched so many different projects and had such impact. There’s been a lot of community partners come out, a lot more organizations come and say ‘we’ve heard about you, as well as a growing number of students. There’s a lot of folks interested in both sides. It’s really innovative. We want to bring in fresh talent and keep pushing through ideas.”