From the mountains of Peru to business school in Colombia, students work with large corporation, entrepreneurs and social enterprises – helping them tackle challenges, take advantage of opportunities and grow.


Twenty-three undergraduate students and five professors huddled into teams in the glass-enclosed meeting room at the School of Business on a Saturday afternoon in January at a meeting of participants in the Innovators for the Americas program. Six students and one faculty member came from the University of Miami, while the rest had traveled to Miami from Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (Monterrey, Mexico), Universidad Icesi (Cali, Colombia), Universidad del Pacifico (Lima, Peru) and Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (Santiago, Chile). Their goal was to develop startup ideas and business plans to address market needs in the four participating countries, and the meeting was one of three in-person and many virtual meetings throughout the semester.


The Innovators for the Americas program, funded by a grant from U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI, is an undergraduate-level experiential learning course organized by the University’s Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), which is housed at the School of Business. The participants work together in search of innovative solutions to some of the most pressing problems faced by under represented populations in Latin America. This was the School’s second year participating in the program.

The student teams also met twice in Latin America. During a mid-term trip, they met in the country in which their startup idea was focused to validate their business assumptions. Once the business plans were developed, students pitched their solutions to a panel of potential investors, entrepreneurs and academic advisors from each country during the final event in late April at the Universidad ICESI in Cali.

“The Innovators for the Americas program gave me the opportunity to conduct in-country market research for our project that put me and my team in front of top Peruvian airline executives,” says Altaïr Larbi Dahrouch, a School of Business entrepreneurship and marketing major who participated in the program. “This type of exposure to market research provides globally minded students firsthand experience on what it takes to gather data in countries that don’t have similar databases to the U.S.,” added Dahrouch, who is from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Greg Smogard, director of the University of Miami program, noted that the course also helps students develop a global mindset, practice cross-cultural collaboration and learn to work in virtual teams. “By partnering with these top academic institutions in Latin America, students from different backgrounds can leverage their cultural and academic expertise to develop and present comprehensive business plans,” Smogard says.

One team created a business plan to develop an alliance for low-cost Peruvian airlines to help improve their operations, marketing and customer relationships. Another developed an online, e-commerce platform to help local and indigenous Chilean artisans access greater markets and sell more products. A third team developed a business plan to utilize drone technology and software to help Peruvian agricultural cooperatives improve their members’ production and income. A fourth created a business plan that featured the development of a comprehensive, online information platform to assist the Colombian eco-tourism industry and international ecotourists planning their trips to Colombia. The fifth team’s business proposal showcased collaboration with local haciendas and hotels in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to provide luxury camping/eco-tourism experiences to international and local travelers.

The students’ final presentations were “thorough and innovative business plans addressing various issues in select Latin American countries,” says Smogard, who accompanied the students.

“The class calls for students to become proactive learners,” Dahrouch says. “It is a program for the student who wants to think beyond the classroom, using all available resources – from your own knowledge, to your professors’.”



kyle.jpgRising junior Kyle Kingma stood on top of a mountain in Lima, Peru, looking down at an impoverished neighborhood. Next to him was a towering 10-foot wall, built by the town’s destitute residents. On the other side of the wall, a high-end residential neighborhood and busy city center beckoned. Kingma, up on the mountain with 14 other undergraduate students from the School of Business to consult with Peruvian micro enterprises with a social mission, had a realization. “Seeing the physical divide between the two income classes was really powerful,” says the finance and economics major. “It showed the problems in the country with being able to scale the social ladder, and we saw that the work we were doing to help these people climb that social ladder is really needed.”

The students, half from the school’s Hyperion Council (an undergraduate honor and service organization) and half from a pilot class on social entrepreneurship (called Scaling the Social Enterprise), were consulting for the social-minded businesses. Their assignment: help them figure out how to grow or scale. The students had already spent the spring semester brainstorming ideas to help their assigned business clients, and then they made the one-week journey to Peru in mid-May to conduct in-country research and present their recommendations. “The Hyperion Council has never had the opportunity to work with a class in its social enterprise activities,” says EllenMarie McPhillip, assistant dean of undergraduate business education. “This was really a unique way to be mentored by faculty in a formal way.”

Kingma and his Hyperion Council team worked with Spray Wash, a company that uses a novel solution to wash cars with very little water and then donates profits to a waterbottling company. That company, in turn, distributes clean water to those who need it most. There are 8 million people in the area without access to clean water. Though Kingma’s group spent the semester drawing up a marketing plan after a Skype meeting with Spray Wash’s founders, once they arrived in Peru, they quickly realized that the company had more urgent needs. “They needed a viable pricing model, a business plan, everything under the sun,” McPhillip says. “Our students did some in-country surveys to see whether they were targeting the right market, and they revamped their pricing structure. They showed them an alternative way to create some different revenue streams so they could be more efficient.”

Kingma says, “Creating a financial model taught me how to go about solving these problems. I also learned about giving a consulting pitch to a company without being too direct, [and] using our skills to really assist them.” Robert Hacker, the instructor for the class, couldn’t be more pleased with how the semester and the week abroad unfolded. “They formed hypotheses in the classroom in Miami, and when they got there, they did fact-finding and realized their hypotheses had to be modified,” he says. “That’s a high-quality learning experience, and in a place like Peru, there’s definitely a shortage of consultants to social organizations, so the students were filling a market need.”

Spring 2017
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