Budding Execs Help Local Businesses, Get Volts From GM

By Nathan Bomey Detroit Free Press.

Even sweet potatoes need a business plan.

For Detroit entrepreneur Charice Thomas -- co-owner of Sweet Potato Sensations at Lahser and Grand River across from the Redford Theatre -- products weren't a problem. The shop sells a variety of sweet potato-flavored items, including pies, candies, chicken and waffles.

But Sweet Potato Sensations, a family company founded in 1987, needed a helping hand for some business fundamentals -- such as improved accounting, cost monitoring and customer acquisition.

That's where MBAs Across America stepped in. The nonprofit organization's volunteers are traveling across the country helping businesses like Sweet Potato Sensations refine their business models and identify opportunities.

"They helped us grow," said Thomas, whose company is also part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. "It's just nice having someone from outside look at your business."

The MBAs Across America group on Friday earned plaudits from one of Detroit's most powerful business executives, General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

-- Tom Walsh: GM donates Volts to traveling MBAs assisting young companies

Barra decided to help the group -- by donating 12 Chevrolet Volts for its travels across the country -- after receiving a series of e-mails from MBAs Across America cofounder and Harvard MBA student Michael Baker asking for help.

Barra said the e-mails struck a chord because she was inspired by the organization's willingness to help entrepreneurs -- and especially in Detroit, one of 25 cities eight MBA teams are visiting this summer.

"We believe in this city and we're working hard to make sure we support activities like this because we know what it can be," Barra said.

Mayank Arora, a Babson University MBA student who advised Sweet Potato Sensations this month, said the experience provided something you don't necessarily get in business school: a practical experience assisting a small business.

"We looked at their info and we figured out how to take the business to the next level," Arora said. Barra said it's critical for MBA students to get practical experience.

"As you go to business school, you get a lot of business tools in your toolbox but actually getting the opportunity to put that into practice -- the entrepreneurs clearly benefit from that, but I think it's a two-way street because clearly the students are gaining life experience," Barra said.

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