MBAx Descends on Detroit, Connects MBA Students with Local Entrepreneurs


Nearly 25 MBA students from Michigan and other states are in Detroit this week to offer their business expertise to local entrepreneurs as part of an inaugural summer program.

Called MBAs Across America, or MBAx, the program was developed by four students at Harvard Business School and offers business students an alternative to the traditional summer internship by breaking them into groups that take on six challenges in six cities over a period of six weeks.

In Detroit, participating organizations include Detroit Empowerment Plan, EliTea, Social Club Grooming Co., Sweet Potato Sensations, and Oakland Living.

Stefanie Thomas, a student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, is one of four people working with Ellis Island Tropical Tea, which recently opened a production facility on Clay Street, near the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit.

“We’re helping the owner, Nailah Ellis, cost out the production of her tea so she can better determine what the pricing should be,” says Thomas. “We’re looking at everything from the ingredients she sources to the boxes she uses to ship the product. Once we factor all of that in, we can give her a cost per unit produced, which is based on bottles.”

The team — which has also made stops in Montana, Oregon, and Colorado this summer — is also collecting data on customer segments so Ellis can better market to her target audience. “We’ve been able to leverage some of what we’ve learned in school and apply it to real business issues, but at the same time, we come in with an open mind. You never know exactly what the challenge is until you speak with the entrepreneur and understand their story,” Thomas says.

She adds that it’s the story that first attracted the Ross/Haas Team to Ellis’s business, which brews tropical tea based on a recipe developed by her great-grandfather Cyril Byron, a Jamaican immigrant who was master chef for the Black Star Line cruise line.

“We had to do a lot of leg work before we ever hit the road,” Thomas says. “We had to map out what cities we wanted to target, which entrepreneurs we wanted to work with — our guiding light was about the stories these entrepreneurs could tell and what it was that inspired them to launch.”

IN RELATED NEWS, Chevrolet announced today that it is providing 12 extended-range electric Volts to help expand the MBAx program. More details will be announced on Friday.

To learn more about the program, visit