This past spring, 12 graduate students from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business spent the end of their first year gaining hands-on business experience through the school’s Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) program. This mandatory experiential learning program is a hallmark of Ross’ curriculum, which allows students to engage in live cases by working with a small team inside a company for the last seven weeks of their first year. About half of the projects are domestic and half international, with the common goal of exposing students to real life business problems and giving them the opportunity to devise solutions.
This year, MAP partnered with Endeavor to connect students with three companies run by Endeavor-supported companies, including TOP Systems (Uruguay), Aguamarina (Chile) and PIWorks (Turkey). Student teams of four worked with these businesses providing consulting skills—and immersing themselves in the countries’ cultures, languages, and professional customs.
For the first of a two-part series on the MAP Program, I spoke with MBAs who worked at Top Systems, founded by Endeavor Entrepreneur Alvaro Domínguez. The following post features students who worked with Aguamarina. Students from the PI Works team could not be reached, but look out for future news on this rising mobile network optimization company.
Check out some of the photos from the various MAP trips on Facebook!
What drew you to Top Systems?
Santiago: I chose this project because it involved entrepreneurship and venture capital. Interested in information technology, and also interested in Uruguay, this was a great option for me. Based in Montevideo, Top Systems develops office software for banks. Our project involved a new initiative to leverage cloud-computing technology to develop back-office software solutions for microfinance organizations.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
Rytas: One of the issues we ran into was that we initially had to do a lot of research on microfinance and cloud-computing in South America, which was not as easy as we thought it would be. Resources were not readily available due to the lack of transparent governement regulations and reported data within those industries and countries. If we were to have taken the same project on in the U.S., it would have been much easier.
Also, we had to deal with the language barrier, which was challenging at some points. Fortunately, CEO and Endeavor Entrepreneur Alvaro Dominguez spoke English very well, as did some of the staff. I think this is one of the inherent challenges you face when dealing with international companies. That said, we were fortunate to have Santiago, a native Spanish speaker, to help us!
What role did Endeavor play in your experience?
Rytas: What Endeavor offered us was not only a place where entrepreneurs would provide an institutionalized business experience, but it also gave us experience determining a specific project and how that project was going to be accomplished. It was a very symbiotic relationship in that it paired us—students looking to apply our skills—with a company in need of those skills. Endeavor put us together in what was really a perfect partnership.
Santiago: I love how Rytas phrased it—a perfect partnership. I was actually familiar with Endeavor before we got into this project, having worked with them in Argentina. Knowing about the mentorship and coaching that Endeavor does and the resources they provide to their affiliate companies, I had high esteem for Endeavor, which is one of the reasons I chose this project.
Santiago: Our team thrived on the program because we had the drive to excel and because we wanted to make sure we provided quite a bit of value-add to the project. Ultimately, this is why Endeavor initially engaged with the MAP office: we are part of the overall resources that Endeavor offers these exciting companies.
Rytas: I think the project went very well overall, and we’re keeping in touch with TOP Systems to follow the progress. We left them with a framework to launch the program, and though they weren’t ready to launch it while we were there, they’re hoping to implement it shortly. In addition to the business work, the people we met were very accommodating, which made our stay enjoyable and an overall fantastic experience.
About the MBA students
Santiago Garcia-Balcarce: Before coming to Ross, Santiago worked in the Bay Area leading a high-tech business incubator that supported U.S. and foreign start-ups and entrepreneurs. Prior to that, he was part of the investment team of a top-tier venture capital fund also based in the Bay Area.
Rytas Vygantas: Prior to getting his MBA at Ross, Rytas worked in investment banking covering financial institutions. After completing his MBA, he hopes to pursue a career in venture capital and says he looks forward to having a chance to work with driven and successful entrepreneurs like Top Systems.