Booth Students Present Winning Idea for Education Entrepreneur

Published on October 24, 2009

Chicago Booth entrepreneurship students presented the winning idea for transforming the nation’s public education system in a case competition October 24, besting teams from Duke, Yale, Stanford, Northwestern, and the University of Texas.

At the Kellogg Education Innovation Case Competition, students were charged with developing a business plan to expand Summer Advantage USA, a summer learning program recently launched in Indianapolis. Ten teams were given two days to draft and present recommendations for a growth strategy for Summer Advantage as it scales in Indianapolis and nationally.

Deep financial analysis and innovative ideas for maintaining quality were among the key consulting “nuggets” provided by the winning Chicago Booth team, said Earl Phalen, founder of Summer Advantage. “Of the nine presentations, a few groups brought a level of analytics, professionalism, presentation skills, and thoughtfulness that generally distinguished themselves,” said Phalen. “Booth was obviously at the top of the top.”

The winning team — first-year student Lindsay Howie and second-year students Ali Junkin, Sara Kaufman, and Vidur Gupta — took home a $2,000 cash prize. But Phalen said the beneficiaries included both Summer Advantage, the 2009 pilot whose 800 scholars showed three months of academic gains in five weeks, and Reach Out and Read, the national literacy nonprofit where he is now CEO. “The students didn’t know it, but the advice they were giving will help both organizations grow.”

The winning Booth team offered “phenomenal” financial modeling and deep analysis of how franchising would work financially, Phalen said. “We got good strategies on how to mitigate risk in franchising with quality control,” he said. “This will help us maintain quality while growing through a lower control structure. There was some out-of-the-box thinking on how to create virtual learning communities.”

Kaufman believes her team distinguished itself by focusing on Phalen’s vision of low cost and high quality for Summer Advantage. “Concentrating on his goals and vision, we introduced new ideas that also aligned with his plan for the organization,” she said.

The team determined a not-for-profit franchising model would work best for scaling Summer Advantage, Kaufman said. “For franchise selection, we showed the pieces we felt were most critical,” she said. “Earl mentioned needing a rubric for quality control, so we provided that.”

Kaufman’s team “really drilled own into how to maintain quality,” Phalen said. The team detailed characteristics to look for in franchise partners to align with Summer Advantage’s mission, and suggested ways to test for those types of characteristics, he said.

“I loved their notion of two things on the issue of talent,” Phalen said. “First, why not enlist organizations investing thousands per teacher already in recruiting? Second, you could be smart and leverage other organizations investing more than we ever will. We could almost be a feeder into a Teach for America-type organization. They also suggested making teaching assistants almost an elite fellowship.”

The competition provided a great opportunity to demonstrate that Booth students can have an impact in the education sector, said Kaufman, who said she and her three teammates came to Booth from education and plan to return after graduating. “More and more education students are interested in business school. These are the things we can highlight to students and to the Chicago community to show Booth is a key player in this sector.”

                                                                                                                        — Phil Rockrohr