By Kristine Hojnicki
McIntire CIO Enactus has a motto: “Entrepreneurial action for others creates a better world for us all.” The entirely student-run organization brings together undergraduate students from across Grounds interested in making a difference in the Charlottesville community.
Affiliated with the international nonprofit of the same name and with a mission to spark social enterprise, ignite business innovation, and experience social action in a collaborative environment fueled by integrity, the UVA chapter of Enactus unites students who are passionate about entrepreneurship. The group differs from other UVA clubs because, while members do gain valuable real-world professional business skills, it is a byproduct of their work with local startups as they develop impactful, innovative, and sustainable solutions for socially responsible businesses.
“Enactus is built on the foundations of social entrepreneurship and the principle that students today can make a difference in the world tomorrow,” says Dalianna Vaysman (McIntire ’20), former President of the UVA chapter. “The organization empowers students to believe that change can begin with them. By working with businesses and startups whose strong missions are deeply ingrained into the way they operate, members are exposed to various causes and learn how to become better allies, be vocal about social issues such as injustice and inequity, and tackle these issues.”
A Student-Run Endeavor
Holistically speaking, Enactus is composed of the student organization, which is McIntire-affiliated but is not a part of or an agency of the University; business owners; the Business Advisory Board; and other community sponsors. The student portion of the org includes an executive board, typically helmed by third- and fourth-years, project teams, and general membership. Though membership is predominantly driven by Commerce students, the group actively recruits and welcomes undergrads from across the University.
“We have members across different areas of study, and getting that diverse perspective is really important to us. We welcome anyone to apply, because the more diverse talent we can get, the better,” says current Enactus President Claire Duffy (McIntire ’22).
The organization researches and contacts Charlottesville-based business owners who share an entrepreneurial, growth-based mindset and then offers them pro bono services tailored to each enterprise, with the aim of creating a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.
“What drew me to Enactus was this idea that you might not always see the impact of the contributions you make, but the thought that you could potentially change someone’s life makes all the effort worthwhile,” says Grant Mantooth (A&S ’21), current VP of Communication for the student org.
Enactus offers businesses practical, customized services such as strategy development, industry research, advertising and marketing, website redesign, social media analytics, content creation, product placement, and funding sources, to name a few. Companies who work with Enactus benefit from the undergraduates’ ingenuity and creativity, as well as their ability to create a natural segue into untapped corners of the UVA market.
Emma Xu (McIntire ’22), incoming President and current VP of Member Development, says one such example is their work with past client Breadworks, in need a new website. Using every single free trial feature on Wix, Squarespace, and Photoshop, the Enactus project team reduced costs to deliver a finished site that met the business’s needs.
“Our organization is composed of a group of students who really care. We may not be equipped with marketing Ph.D.s and 20+ years of experience, but our members make up for it by being unusually resourceful and versatile,” Xu says.
Kickstarting the Effort
Enactus at UVA was originally founded in 2009 under its previous umbrella organization SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise). Paola Castillo (McIntire ’13), a Federal Consultant at Deloitte, served as an executive board member of Enactus in the early days and currently serves on the group’s Business Advisory Board. When she joined, there were six other members, and the organization had not seen much traction or growth.
“I was coming from Montgomery College, a community college in Maryland, which had an active and successful SIFE chapter, and I wanted to continue to be involved in the organization at my new school. I remember quickly becoming the Business Development Director to allow my previous experience and knowledge help shape the chapter at UVA,” she says.
Over the next several years, membership grew to 90 active members with eight ongoing projects. Teams even entered national competitions such as the Enactus National Exposition and UniGAME: The Unilever Innovation Game, earning top accolades among their peers and placing in the top 12-16.
“All the sleepless nights preparing, memorizing, and working hard to show what Enactus at UVA was here to do were worth it,” recalls Castillo.
Every spring, a new executive board is selected from current members to lead Enactus for the following academic year. Recruitment is primarily conducted during the fall activities fair, a process that yields new members to fill general membership and project team positions. New members must apply not just to the organization itself, but also explicitly indicate which project team and corresponding business they would like to work on for the following year and for what reasons.
Enactus undergoes iterative improvements with each new executive board that assumes leadership of the club. During Castillo’s tenure, priorities included growing membership and establishing a strong portfolio of socially responsible business partners. More recently, Vaysman set up biweekly meetings that focused on building a community among the member base.
“Each project team met separately as a group, but we wanted there to be more interaction between the groups as well. Each team had a different experience from the next, and I believed it was important for groups to learn from one another to gain insight into how different the world of consulting can be depending on the situation,” she says. “There are many different disciplines that feed into consulting and entrepreneurship. We wanted to allow students to showcase the skills they gained from various majors and learn how these different areas come together when growing a business.”
Despite facing unpredictable challenges amid the pandemic, the current executive board found creative ways to engage their business partners and members. The project teams met with business owners virtually and in person, depending on the task and comfort level of those participating, and general body meetings adapted to a virtual environment, opening up the opportunity to host guest speakers who would typically be limited by geographic barriers. This year, students heard from Jason Becton, who co-founded of MarieBette Café and Bakery; Batten School Professor and Richmond City Council Representative Andreas Addison; Jomaree Pinkard (McIntire ’01), CEO and Co-Founder of cocktail company Hella Cocktail; and Virginia Taborda (McIntire ’02), Sales & Marketing Director for Peregrine Technologies and the former Commercial Director for a Berlin-based sustainable battery company.
The executive board also looked to current events and member feedback to drive the types of businesses they brought into the portfolio of projects.
“With the Black Lives Matter movement [gaining exposure] over the summer, we decided to focus on minority-owned businesses that are consumer-based and tangible to the average student,” says Duffy.
Building Partnerships with Local Businesses
Outreach to potential partners begins each summer with the VP of Projects. Becky Madigan (McIntire ’22) sought business owners in need of pro bono work, established communication, and decided whether Enactus would be a good fit for the organization.
“I knew immediately I wanted to take on this position because this role is about establishing professional relationships, which was a skill set I wanted to gain,” Madigan says.
The org’s current portfolio includes Northshea, a Black-owned online shea butter retailer founded by Charity Malia Dinko (A&S ’18) that uses product sales to provide a living wage to women in Northern Ghana who source the shea butter; Sombrero’s, a family-owned-and-operated Mexican restaurant and food truck that opened in March 2020 at the height of COVID; Pearl Island Catering, a Black-owned catering business and café specializing in Caribbean cuisine looking to market more directly to the UVA student community; Sheamango, a Black-owned husband-and-wife operation looking to augment its marketing and social media strategy around its shea butter business; and a local high school case competition.
“Enactus exposed me to the hardworking ecosystem of local entrepreneurs whose influence extends even beyond Charlottesville. Working with Northshea, for example, increased my awareness of the critical impact that businesses infused with compassion and creativity can have in the broader world in which we live,” says Mantooth.
Though Enactus does not advertise itself as a professional development organization, members benefit significantly from the work they do for their partners.
“It helps adjust your mindset to the team-oriented environment you’re going to face in the workplace. The experience I gained from it was instrumental in helping me decide on the career path I decided to pursue, and sharing those experiences in the interview process was a testament to the fact that I have the ability to work in teams on long-term projects that accomplish something,” says Duffy.
The project teams—which consist of a project leader, lead consultant, and six to eight team members—replicate the professional environment of how consulting teams are organized in the real world.
“It provides a sense of responsibility, because as a student, you are the point of contact for the business. There is no professional or adult in the sense of a McIntire faculty or staff member who works directly with the business owners,” says Madigan. “This is just us; this is Enactus. The students run the organization. We have to establish credibility and learn firsthand how to establish professional relationships. It has helped me as I navigate internship opportunities and my McIntire classes.”
Indeed, Castillo says that her time in the org prepared her for professional success by helping her hone her presentation and memorization skills: “Being able to tell a story and know it inside out to answer questions in front of judges is pretty much step one of working at a consulting firm. What made the experience so valuable were the people: Our desire to help others and better our community brought me energy and gave me the motivation to lead.”
An Enhanced Academic Experience
In addition to professional preparation and learning about the value of accountability, ownership, and effectively communicating and managing teams, Enactus members also benefit from an enhanced McIntire experience, due to the hands-on experience of working with real businesses and the transferable skills they gain from their participation in the student org.
“Working in a group over the long term was helpful in preparing for the McIntire curriculum, which is predicated upon group work,” says Duffy. “I think Enactus prepared me well to be able to handle situations like managing tight deadlines and navigating conflict.”
“I was pursuing the Technology Entrepreneurship Minor,” Vaysman adds. “Working with startups through Enactus complemented my studies, and I was able to personally experience what we were learning about in class.”
The Future of Enactus at UVA
As the 2020-2021 projects come to an end, the future looks bright for Enactus. The work done by the project teams was overwhelmingly well-received by their business partners and gained considerable positive attention from the Charlottesville community. Most notable, perhaps, was Sombrero’s Mexican Restaurant, which went from losing approximately $300 per day in revenue when it opened in March 2020 to gaining a place on the Elevate meal plan and being featured on the cover of a local business magazine after working with their Enactus project team.
“The projects we worked on are becoming increasingly more high profile. I’m hoping to see more projects gain this traction, which helps bring awareness to our mission,” says Duffy.
Xu, who will serve as the group’s next President, is looking to build on the momentum of this year’s team.
“I’m looking to promote equitable admission into Enactus and self-sufficiency for the businesses in our project portfolio by revamping our transition processes, so the businesses we work with can carry on successfully without much need for external aid,” she says.
Xu is also exploring the possibility of offering workshops through partnerships with other McIntire CIOs to help applicants with their resumes and the interview process, and training sessions to help project leaders recruit and retain the best students for their teams.
“The great thing about Enactus is it continues to improve,” says Vaysman. “Each year, past members continue to be a part of the organization and enact change based on what they experienced, and new members join and bring a fresh perspective.”