Introducing this year's Venture Founders!

Author: Emily Tyson

Last year saw the launching of ESTEEM's Venture Founders Program with six students from the Class of 2017 participating.  Dustin Mix and Maria Gibbs will once again organize and lead this unique program offered to ESTEEM graduate students.

As Dustin previously described here, "the Program is built on the belief that talented people will start impactful ventures in South Bend if:

  • they believe they can be entrepreneurs before they have an idea;
  • they understand great ventures are built around solving problems for people;
  • they have early access to tools and support to recognize an opportunity within a problem landscape, create a solution, and build a viable and impactful venture."

This year, the program has accepted five current ESTEEM graduate students who are aspiring to be entrepreneurs and might be passionate about a particular problem set, but have yet to become passionate about a specific idea. Through workshops, toolsets, mentoring, and resources the program will take these fivestudents through a process that has already begun with problem exploration in South Bend-- and hopefully result in early-stage ventures ready to launch in 2018.

Meet this year's Venture Founders:

Alison Hennessy

Alison Hennessey applied to VFP as she is a passionate person and really wanted to do something meaningful, tackling a real-life issue while learning how to launch a venture. The idea to really get deep into a problem, truly understand how it works, and then building a solution around it really excites her!

Right now Alison is working with Claire and Natalie around the problems within the Autism Community. There seems to be a lot going on here and it's been really fascinating so far trying to understand it.

Arielle Gannon

Arielle Gannon applied to VFP because it was a chance for her to work on a venture that she believed would have a real impact in the community.

The problem or issue she will be working on is lack of affordable childcare.

Claire Kleinschmidt

Claire Kleinschmidt applied to VFP to further explore social issues and create solutions that drive both impact and profit. She wants to learn more about how businesses can ultimately be designed to do things that matter, and she would love to start a venture at the end of the program.

Claire will be working with Alison and Natalie to look into providing more opportunity for the disability community, especially after they phase out of school and the majority of  support programs.

Natalie May

Natalie May applied to VFP because she wants to give back to the community in a way that can align her passion for service with social entrepreneurship.

Natalie will be joining Claire and Alison in an effort too enhance the lives of those within the disability community.  They plan to nvestigate the promotion of life-long learning, encouraging social inclusion, ensuring an optimal use of funding and providing appropriate resources for all of those affected, including families, friends, teachers, aides, counselors, etc.

Thomas Cotter

Thomas Cotter applied to VFP because he is greatly interested in both entrepreneurship and service. The VFP program offers one the ability to align the impact of a non-profit with the commercial capabilities of a successfully functioning business. Additionally, he wants to continue to work with and learn from both Dustin and Maria as they launch INVANTI and act as advisors to the VFP members. 

The problem he will be investigating is food and nutrition insecurity in the United States. Over 42 million Americans are food insecure and even more than that are forced to consume lower quality foods based on their societal position. Through a rigorous investigation of the problem and understanding of the major stakeholders, he hopes to launch a business that will be both profitable and helpful to those that are suffer from food insecurity.