Top MBA students skip spring break to lend brainpower to New Orleans Entrepreneurs

Between all the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week and NOLAbound buzz, I have had the privilege of speaking to several people from around the country who are looking for ways to get back to New Orleans.  Everyone wants to come in and get involved.

One of the programs that is enabling such access to the entrepreneurial community is Idea Village’s IDEAcorps initiative. The competitive program recruits teams of MBA students from some of the country’s most prestigious business schools to work closely with six Idea Village Entrepreneurs. During New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, the teams of eight students will be traveling to New Orleans to carry out their work, and engage with some of New Orleans’ most promising innovators.

ChapterSpot founder Brendan Finke and Joe McMenemon meet with Dartmouth MBAs in Hanover

This year, the impressive roster includes Columbia, Dartmouth, Yale, Loyola, Duke, and Harvard. As the entrepreneur’s executive management team for the week, each team will be responsible for producing actionable plans their client can implement. At the end of the week, each MBA team will present its plan to a panel of business executives that includes Entergy CAO and Executive Vice President Rod West, Harrah’s Central Division President John Payne, and TPG cofounder Jim Coulter among others.

Even more compelling is that the 48 students are not participating in IDEAcorps to fulfill a class requirement or extra credit.  This is their Spring Break.

Dan Ettinger, one of the leaders from the Dartmouth team explains that he was drawn to the strong community that was evident during his visit to New Orleans when the Saints won the Superbowl.

“There is a collective identity that fuels the city,” said Ettinger on what compelled him to get involved with the entrepreneurial movement in New Orleans. “It just makes sense to create a community of entrepreneurs there, and build the city through entrepreneurship and economic development.  That’s what makes the community unique and I am really looking forward to tapping into that.”

Ettinger, his seven teammates, and faculty advisor Joaquin Villareal will be arriving this weekend with the start of NOEW to work alongside entrepreneurs Joe McMenemon and Brendan Finke of ChapterSpot, a web-based group management platform.

Dan Ettinger, one of the team leaders from Tuck Business School at Dartmouth

The Dartmouth team was paired up with McMenemon and Finke about a month ago in Hanover, and since then, there has been a rapid launch of intensive engagement that has included weekly phone calls with ChapterSpot, internal meetings, and appointments with prospective clients.  However, their program will culminate next week as they work intensively together to create viable solutions that the budding entrepreneurs can implement in the near future, as well as pitch their suggested plan to a panel of esteemed business leaders at the end of the week.

According to the enthusiastic team, they won’t finish their mission when entrepreneur week ends. They have long term plans to take their experience back to school and share it with the Dartmouth community.

“The program is not confined to the eight of us, or the week alone,” says team member Divya Mani. “We have bigger goals besides the project to learn more about The Idea Village and continue the ongoing relationship between The Idea Village and Tuck Business School.”

And, while their involvement in IDEAcorps won’t gain them college credit, Dartmouth has been supportive and fully engaged in the experience as well.  Although financial assistance from the school was not a criteria of the program, the Entrepreneurship Initiative and Allwin Initiative at Tuck Business School at Dartmouth have contributed a generous portion of funding to the team for their trip.

Upon speaking to both the Dartmouth team members and ChapterSpot founders, I notice a mutual feeling of excitement and appreciation from both ends.

“We have an MBA team, who has experience within different spectrums, advising us on our next strategic move as a company,” explains Finke. “They will be helping us identify our next target market, as well as ways we can improve our current platform. This is something we don’t take lightly, and we are very appreciative of the team and their time.”

And on the other end, the MBA students, who each have three to seven years of work experience within finance, non-profits, and consulting prior to entering graduate school, are just as eager to use their collective experiences to help ChapterSpot accomplish its next goal.

The team members add that working with ChapterSpot has been a great change of pace after working for larger corporations, and they are humbled that the two innovators have been so open and responsive to their ideas and suggestions.

With the excitement and appreciation, of course, comes the pressure – for the Dartmouth students to make viable strategies that ChapterSpot can implement, and the responsibility that McMenemon and Finke have to make the best decisions for their company while ensuring that their IDEAcorps team makes the best of their trip. However, the group has built a strong sense of camaraderie and enthusiasm that should help them toward their goals.

While the program does not promise new jobs for the visiting MBAs nor do they have plans to call New Orleans home (yet), the weeklong program provides long-term effects and proves the impact that the entrepreneurial movement in New Orleans has made on a nation-wide level.

“The program speaks to a national audience of what is happening in New Orleans,” explains IDEAcorps coordinator Brent Godfrey, who has been involved with the program for the past three years. “It shows the breadth and depth of our network, and how even the top business school are eager to get engaged. It proves that what is happening here is real.”

Parul Shah, a New Orleans native, is eager to show her team her hometown and participate in all the entrepreneurial action for the week.

And what the initiative has done has been to reach out to a group of young professionals who were born and raised in New Orleans, but  fled after college due to the lack of jobs within their fields – particularly within media, technology, and, as in Parul Shah’s case, finance.  After living away from New Orleans for nearly 10 years, she is joining her team to get involved in the new business surge.

She adds, “My main goal is to do a great job for ChapterSpot, but I also want to put New Orleans on a map as being a city that is known for more than Mardi Gras and Katrina.”

With that same enthusiasm as a New Orleans native, first time visitor Kellie Ciofalo is coming to NOEW with the same goals.  She adds that after years of wanting to come down to the city to help with rebuilding efforts, this is the best opportunity to get involved and connect with other passionate, like-minded people.

Spring Break festivities for the IDEAcorps participants may not include endless Pina Coladas, midnight pizza on a cruise ship or happy hour at Senor Frog’s in CanCun, but what they are in for is an experience of a lifetime and perhaps even a New Orleans style outdoor concert.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Stay tuned for daily updates from New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, including the IDEAcorps MBA pitch next week.


Adriana Lopez writes about the entrepreneurial community for NolaVie and Silicon Bayou News. She also showcases local start-ups through her non-profit organization GenNOLA. For more information on NolaVie, go to