How Research is Sparking Innovation in Incubators, Accelerators

How Research is Sparking Innovation in Incubators, Accelerators and the Entrepreneurs They Serve

WDI Hosts a Panel of Industry Leaders for “How Research is Sparking innovation in Incubators, Accelerators and the Entrepreneurs They Serve”

Time: 9 AM EDT / 4 PM EAT

Date: Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Location: Zoom, click here to register or above.

Incubators and accelerators play a critical role in the startup ecosystem by helping entrepreneurs become investment-ready and develop viable businesses. In this must-attend session for accelerators, incubators, entrepreneurs and their funders operating in the Global South, join us to discover how rigorous research fuels innovation in program design, supercharges operational improvements, and attracts more funding to this sector. 

In this dynamic session, representatives from IKEA Foundation (Netherlands), William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI, USA) in collaboration with Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC, Kenya) and African Management Institute (AMI, Kenya) will share the following insights:

  • IKEA Foundation’s approach: Learn how evidence-based, stage-gated grantmaking unlocks innovation for accelerators like KCIC.
  • Real-world impact: WDI, KCIC, and AMI demonstrate how targeted research drives continuous program enhancement, transforming entrepreneur outcomes.
  • Dismantling barriers by WDI and KCIC: Discover how we break down colonial research structures, empower local voices, and foster true collaboration and inclusivity for groundbreaking impact measurement.
  • The AMI advantage: See how AMI’s skilled M&E team partners with external researchers to boost program effectiveness using a blend of established methods and cutting-edge insights.

Please submit your questions in advance.


Yaquta Fatehi
Yaquta Fatehi
Program Manager,
William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan
Stephen Musyoka, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Kenya Climate Innovation Center
Stephen Musyoka
Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Kenya Climate Innovation Center
Nic van der Jagt, Ikea Foundation
Nic van der Jagt
Monitoring, Learning, and Evaluation Manager – Employment & Entrepreneurship, IKEA Foundation
Jonathan Cook, Chairman, African Management Institute
Jonathan Cook
African Management Institute

Student Opportunities

Patrice Gopo (left) and Minah Koela (right), who served as an interpreter in Cape Town for a WDI-funded project, with handbags made by local women business owners in South Africa.

A life-changing grant from WDI sent this student toward a new career, a family, and a renewed sense of global connection.

Patrice Gopo knows better than most how deeply we’re all connected. Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, the child of Jamaican immigrants, she spent a lifetime navigating the tensions of that experience. She lived for years in the Alaskan cold, surrounded by people who could never quite understand what it meant to be different in the way she was. She vacationed in Jamaica, playing with family who would never manage the complex social dynamics she did. She belonged in both places — and in neither. On top of that, her life “didn’t always align with the typical experience that Black Americans are handed in the U.S.,” she explained. This multiplicity formed her foundation and brought unavoidable questions of belonging, place and home — ones she’s been grappling with all her life.

She’s carried these questions through her Master’s degrees in business and public policy from the University of Michigan, through a global internship and an MBA project supported by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI), and into her current career as an author.

Gopo grew accustomed to feeling like she belonged nowhere and everywhere all at once. Eventually, instead of seeing division in the differences, she started to find connection. She sewed these complicated layers into the fabric of her life, personally and professionally. She built a career across borders, joining cultures and communities to form her foundation. She wove together a family whose arms reach around oceans. She spent years finding ways to bring people together, lending the skills she learned as a student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business to South African business women and giving voice to the experiences of cross-culture children through her writing.

With her childhood as her guide, her education at U-M as a bedrock and her passion for service as her North Star, Gopo has grown into an accomplished author. Her books cover global communities, racial identity and compassionate growth — and a fortuitous internship supported by WDI helped get her there.

A Career Rooted in Connection and Identity

Becoming a writer wasn’t a path Patrice envisioned for herself at the start of her career. She focused her first collegiate experience in science and earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. She spent a few years working as a development engineer at Eastman Kodak Company, working on some of the company’s technology products. Although she was in a creative occupation, Gopo (then Harduar) did not feel connected to the work.

She’d inherited a need to “add something beautiful to the world,” and she was still searching for her addition. Her father was a teacher and a principal; her mother was a school nurse. Both dedicated their lives to helping others thrive, and it was important to Gopo to find a path that did the same. “There was always this tug. How does this matter to others in the world?” she said. She didn’t feel it in the engineering world, though she sees how it’s possible now. “At the time, all I felt was this beating in my heart. I wanted to be doing more than just technical problem solving, and that’s what drew me to graduate school.”

She enrolled in the Master’s in Business Administration program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in 2004. While there, she added on a Master’s in Public Policy, set on using her degrees and skills to improve the lives of those struggling in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). “I was intent on working in microfinance and micro-entrepreneurship,” she said. “I was interested in the ways we could use business to alleviate issues of material poverty in the world.”

She was determined to make a difference in a substantial, lasting and thoughtful way, and she understood that this change wouldn’t come out of solutions placed on communities by outsiders. “In the past, we’ve approached addressing some of these issues in ways that didn’t empower people to take over their own destiny,” she explained.

At the time, WDI was providing student grants to support socially focused business endeavors in LMICs. Gopo was searching for a way to contribute to self-determined development, and she discovered it in South Africa — and then applied for WDI funding.

While still completing her studies, Gopo took the initiative to propose a WDI-sponsored internship with the nonprofit organization ServLife in 2007. Her assignment explored what women-owned small businesses needed as they grew their enterprises. She was asked to share her newfound MBA skills to help the group improve gender equity and economic development in the region.

In what felt like a powerful vote of confidence to Gopo, the Institute approved her request. She flew to Cape Town after graduation to join the effort and spent eight weeks meeting with women to build out their business plans. Together, they considered revenue plans, laid out expenses and navigated the critical business-building requirements of entrepreneurship in LMICs. “I was part of something larger,” she said. “It was something that was already organically happening within this country and this community. I was invited to come and take these skills I had in running a small business and help empower these women.” 

I think the people who show up in business school, particularly those doing projects with WDI, have a desire to make a difference in the world, and that desire is going to follow people. It doesn’t always mean you have to stay in one space doing the same thing.

A Life-Changing Event

That moment, when Gopo was awarded funding from WDI, changed the trajectory of her entire life. It was more than a two-month internship. In South Africa, she saw what real impact efforts look like. She experienced, yet again, how deeply the world is intertwined. In a country far from where she was born, Gopo found a passion, a husband and, eventually, a career.

When she officially moved to South Africa to live with her husband, a Zimbabwean who was studying in the country at the time, she couldn’t work in business.

“I had all these skills. I had an MBA. I had a Master’s of Public Policy. What I didn’t have was a work permit. I wasn’t able to do any of the work I was trained to do at the time, and that’s when I started writing,” Gopo said.

It was a slow grind at first, finding spaces where she could lend her words. Eventually, she started to lean into the topics she knew best: identity, community and global connection.

Her first published work, All the Colors We Will See, dives into questions of intersecting heritages, race relations and complex identities through conversations about marriage, divorce, beauty and faith. Her second, Autumn Song: Essays on Absence, includes personal stories of loss, from dreams left to the wayside to older versions of ourselves who have disappeared. In it, she explores how she’s navigated grief, healing and change. Both compilations are deeply informed by her experience as a woman with intimate global ties.

Her children’s book, All the Places We Call Home, is a story about connection across borders, told through the universal topic of naps. It’s rooted in her own life — and now in the lives of her daughters. In it, a little girl is getting ready for bed with her mother and thinking about all the places around the world where she’s laid down her head to sleep. “I love this book because it’s telling a story that so many people have experienced, but it’s a story that has often been relegated to the margins,” Gopo said. “We don’t necessarily hear about families who have multiple ties to multiple parts of the world — or about the idea that home can feel fluid at times.”

Gopo’s writing is an exercise in togetherness, and it’s the next iteration of a long-held passion for uniting people toward a better future. In telling these stories, she says, “There’s power. There’s legacy. There’s identity. These things make us more confident and content in who we are and in our stories.”

The Breadth of a Business Education

Though her path may have diverted from those typically taken by business students, Gopo doesn’t believe there’s only one way to use the MBA degree. “I think the people who show up in business school, particularly those doing projects with WDI, have a desire to make a difference in the world, and that desire is going to follow people. It doesn’t always mean you have to stay in one space doing the same thing.”

Besides driving her toward her current career and family, Gopo’s time at the U-M taught her three important professional lessons. First, she now takes an active role in how her writing is released to the public. She identifies her target market, considers who would be interested in her stories and determines the value proposition of her work. On top of that, she carries the confidence she gained in Ann Arbor with her. At U-M, she was encouraged to try new things, test out solutions and adapt after lessons. She brings that surety into her writing career, pushing the bounds of her topics and how she reaches people. Finally, at Ross, there was constant encouragement to press on and improve issues of inequity and underdevelopment.

“That all still shows up in my writing because I’m the same person. I’m still a person who cares about what’s happening around me. I am this person who is asking questions and seeking answers, interested in issues of justice and how we think about that,” she said.

Gopo said her U-M and WDI experiences continue to crop up her professional life. The support she felt when she was provided that funding has given her the confidence to apply for more over the years. Gopo recently received a Cultural Vision Grant from the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte Mecklenburg County to implement a local public library program about sharing personal stories. “I created this program to draw people together through community, recognize the things we have in common and see the ways our journeys differ such that we can build greater understanding,” she said. “It may not necessarily be global, but it connects to my goal of empowering people to flourish in their lives.”

Gopo continues to explore the beauty of a multifaceted life through her writing, her podcast Picture Books Are for Grown-Ups Too! and her community work. Her books are available to purchase at ShelvesMain Street Books or Park Road Books.

Author headshot by Allie Marie Smith

WDI Hosts a Panel of Business, Industry Leaders for “Front Burner: How Business Model Innovation is Driving the Clean Cooking Industry”

Time: 8 AM EDT / 3 PM EAT / 5:30 PM IST

Date: Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Location: Zoom, click here to register

Private sector innovation is a cornerstone of the efforts to bring clean cooking to the over 2.3 billion people worldwide who presently lack it.

The Clean Cooking Alliance (CCA) has supported over 25 clean cooking companies through its Venture Catalyst program, which helps firms attract investors, and grow their leadership and technical capacity to scale. Supported companies like BioLite, BURN Manufacturing, KOKO Networks and have brought different product and business strategy innovations to the forefront. These include high-tech solutions like electric induction cookers, new fuels such as ethanol, targeted marketing, and business model solutions such as special purpose financing vehicles, carbon financing, and pay-as-you-go customer financing mechanisms.

The April 16 discussion, “Front Burner: How Business Model Innovation is Driving the Clean Cooking Industry,” will be hosted by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI), and will feature panelists from CCA and these four trailblazing clean cooking companies with operations in multiple countries. Panelists will share their strategies for growing market size and scale, as well as barriers and enablers to implementing innovation. To learn more about the state of the clean cooking industry, click here for the CCA’s 2023 Annual Report.


Yaquta Fatehi
Yaquta Fatehi
Program Manager,
William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan
Simbarashe Mudimbu
Senior Portfolio Manager, Venture Programs, Clean Cooking Alliance
Ethan Kay
Managing Director,
Emerging Markets, BioLite Energy
Sophie Odupoy
Group Head of Public Affairs, KOKO Networks

WDI is supporting the learning objectives of the Clean Cooking Alliance Market Strengthening Program by developing innovative methods to measure the effectiveness of market strengthening interventions. The Institute is providing programmatic and data support, informing programmatic adaptations and pivots, and contributing to knowledge products targeting clean cooking enterprises, funders, policymakers and other stakeholders.

Webinar Clean Cooking Social Rectangle

Valerie Labi, Co-founder & CEO, wahu!

Time: 4 PM EDT

Date: April 3, 2024

Location: Blau Colloquium, 5th floor of the Blau Building at the Ross School of Business

wahu! is the first Ghanaian brand to produce electric vehicles domestically. The electric bike (e-bike) startup brings together local talent and experienced automotive engineers and designers from global automakers, including Audi and BMW.

In the talk, “How an E-Bike Startup is Looking to Change the Way Africa Moves,” Valerie Labi, co-founder and CEO of wahu! Mobility Ltd. will discuss how the business is unlocking new possibilities in low-emission mobility solutions, particularly in urban markets. By locally designing and manufacturing connected EVs for Africa and the wider world, wahu!’s value proposition includes ease of transport, a path to vehicle ownership and a gateway to sustainable employment through mobility services.

Labi is an entrepreneur who also served as Ghana country director for nonprofit iDE, International Development Enterprises, which focuses on market-based solutions in agriculture and water/sanitation. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the University of Southampton and her Masters of Studies from the University of Cambridge in Sustainability Leadership.

This event is open to the public and sponsored by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI) in partnership with the African Studies Center at U-M’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

Attendees are encouraged to register (see below or click here) and submit questions in advance. Light refreshments will be served.


Graphic concept for speaker Valerie Labi, fo-founder of e-bike startup wahu!
The William Davidson Institute at The University of Michigan Logo
UM LSA African Studies Center logo



Sophia Opatska, Vice Rector for Strategic Development at Ukrainian Catholic University

Time: 4 p.m., March 7

Location: Corner Commons, first floor of the Blau Building at the Ross School of Business

The William Davidson Institute and the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia are proud to present a discussion with Sophia Opatska, Vice Rector for Strategic Development at Ukrainian Catholic University. Opatska, an entrepreneur and an academic, leads University’s Lviv Business School. More than two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Opatska will explain how business leaders and business educators have persisted toward economic resilience in the face of war.

Through student programs, projects and university partnerships, WDI has worked in Ukraine for more than two decades. Before Russia’s invasion, the Institute sent multiple teams of U-M MBA students to Lviv Business School of Ukrainian Catholic University to assess and make recommendations to improve their consulting process for small- and medium-sized businesses in the country.

This event is open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to register and submit questions in advance. Light refreshments will be served.


Speaker Sophia Opataska graphic

Winners announced in the Energy Case Writing Competition

Managed by WDI Publishing, the contest received submissions from 10 different countries and 14 universities around the world

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, 733 million people are currently living without electricity. Most of those off-grid populations are in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), often cooking or heating their homes with fuels that are harmful to their health and the environment. At the same time, global investments in renewable energy are at an all-time high, creating a new generation of entrepreneurs and businesses.

It’s in this environment that the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI) launched the Energy Innovation in Low- and Middle-Income Countries Global Case Writing Competition. Administered by WDI Publishing, the contest sought out new voices and expertise in the form of business case studies focused on energy solutions in emerging markets.

Case studies encourage current and future business leaders to expand their education, question their assumptions and discover innovative strategies. The development and use of these cases will help accelerate global understanding of how businesses are implementing energy technologies and innovations in LMICs. The contest received submissions from 10 different countries and 14 universities around the world.

“It was very gratifying to receive submissions from so many different countries and institutions,”  said Sandra Draheim, Manager of Case Publishing at WDI. “Clearly the clean energy challenge in LMICs is front and center within many academic institutions and other organizations globally.”

The top three winning cases feature businesses with energy at the heart of their operations, including new approaches to solar and wind energy.

“The energy sector is undergoing an incredible transition and this needs to be reflected in the types of case studies available for students who will be navigating these changes,” said Dana Gorodetsky, WDI Program Manager, Energy. “It’s exciting to see so many dynamic entries for the competition that reflect innovation, creativity and access.”

The energy sector is undergoing an incredible transition and this needs to be reflected in the types of case studies available for students who will be navigating these changes.

Case Writing Competition Winners

First Place

Electric Moto-Taxis Innovation in Low-Income Countries: A Rider's Perspective in Kampala

Second Place

Paths to the Future of Solar Energy in Brazil

Third Place

Gigawatt Global: Electricity in Africa Fueled by the Power of Purpose

First place $3,000

Electric Moto-Taxis Innovation in Low-Income Countries: A Rider’s Perspective in Kampala

When he purchased an electric motorcycle, Sammy Kalunji – a self-employed microentrepreneur in Kampala, Uganda – joined the hundreds of low-emission transportation pioneers in the heavily polluted city at the end of 2022. Despite lower operating costs of the electric vehicle, known as an E-boda, Kalunji does not receive enough income to fully provide for his family. The case elaborates on four financial, operational, commercial, and social organization models and alternatives Kalunji must navigate so that he and his fellow E-boda riders can harness economic opportunities while spurring green urban mobility.

Authors: Nathalie Prime, Professor of International Business & Sustainability and Scientific Director of the Chair Responsible Innovation in Africa at ESCP Business School in France; Akil Amiraly, Associate Researcher at Ecole Polytechnique in France; Mansoureh Hasannia Kolaee, PhD and Post-doctoral Researcher at Laval University in Quebec; Peter Kasaija, Research Associate at Urban Action Lab, Makerere University in Uganda.

Second place $2,000

Paths to the Future of Solar Energy in Brazil

The case aims to put students in the role of the protagonist Sergio Araújo, CEO of SolarEnergy, to assess the company’s next steps amid the arrival of new investors. SolarEnergy provides installation and maintenance services for photovoltaic panels in regions of Brazil. With shifts in the market and new government tax policies at the beginning of 2023, Araújo faces new market dynamics and challenges as new investors seek to multiply annual revenues by five within five years.

Authors: Eduardo Russo, Post-doctoral Researcher Coppead Graduate School of Business, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; Marco Simões-Coelho, Associate Researcher, Coppead Graduate School of Business; Ariane Roder Figueira, Associate Professor at Coppead.

Third place: $1,000

Gigawatt Global: Electricity in Africa Fueled by the Power of Purpose

Gigawatt Global Coöperatief U.A., a multinational renewable energy company focused on the development and management of utility-scale solar and wind fields in emerging markets, faces a striking dilemma: the firm’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities may be limiting its efforts to bring clean energy to Africa. Gigawatt Global’s strategy is to partner with diverse stakeholders — energy financial entities, governments, development groups and other institutions — to structure renewable energy investments in emerging markets. As a mission-driven company, it invests significant resources into CSR efforts alongside each project it completes. The challenge for the company’s chief financial officer is determining the right balance between mission-fulfilling efforts worthy of investment, while also growing and thriving as a business in a market replete with uncertainties. The case presents conditions and potential decisions faced by the company’s chief operating officer trying to find the right balance.

Authors: Sheri Lambert, Associate Professor of Practice at Temple University; James Oldroyd, Associate Professor of Strategy, Brigham Young University; Narasimhan Srinivasan, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Connecticut; Lynne Sprugel, Adjunct Instructor of Management, University of Dallas.

Judges for the Energy Innovation in LMICs Global Case Writing Competition included:

Deeana Ahmed, Chief Strategy Officer at Our Next Energy (ONE). Ahmed holds a doctoral degree in neuroscience and nutrition from Columbia University, a Master of Science and Master of Public Health in policy from Tufts University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Michigan. Ahmed is a published researcher and policy analyst who has conducted large policy evaluations for the NYC Department of Education, managed grants for a Silicon Valley non-profit, and owns and operates a start-up education technology firm. Ahmed is an alumnus of the University of Michigan Solar Car Team, where she led the development of the nationally and globally ranked solar car, InfiniUM’s battery pack.

Kate Gasparro, Director of Land Development and Sustainability at Bedrock Detroit. Gasparro is responsible for planning and implementing the company’s sustainability and district infrastructure strategies, lowering the carbon footprint of the built environment in Detroit and Cleveland. Gasparro earned a BS in Civil Engineering from Clemson University. She went on to earn an MA in International Policy and PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University.

Daniel Vermeer, Associate Professor of the Practice; Executive Director, Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Vermeer has spent three decades working on the world’s “grand challenges”, including water scarcity, climate change, and ocean sustainability through diverse roles in academia and business. His areas of expertise include sustainable development, business innovation, climate change, water management, and food systems. Prior to Duke, Vermeer led Coca-Cola’s water sustainability initiative and has also worked with leading companies and organizations including Google, Walmart, GE, Tesla, World Wildlife Fund and the UN Global Compact.

About WDI Publishing

WDI Publishing produces and distributes high-quality, cutting-edge business cases and other teaching materials for business schools around the globe with more than 700 cases in its collection reaching 800 universities and institutions around the world. Learn more about the case collection and future competitions at

Smiling woman of color in wheelchair at desk

From inclusive hiring practices to gender pay equity, the winners of the 2023 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Global Case Writing Competition tackled today’s most pressing DEI quandaries. 

The 2023 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Global Case Writing Competition, managed by the William Davidson Institute (WDI) at the University of Michigan generated 26 cases from seven countries. Now in its third year, the contest is supported by the Ross School of Business. The partnership will be renewed with a fourth competition in 2024. 

The winners, announced below, represent the best of a strong field of submissions. Authors covered topics ranging from gender pay equity to conflicting DEI-related business practices within an organization. Other topics included equitable restroom access and encouraging employee support of a staff member’s gender-confirming surgery. The vast majority of submissions touched on an immediate and critical business quandary.

By publishing and disseminating the winning cases, WDI Publishing continues to build its collection of valuable teaching tools focused on DEI that provide crucial business lessons to the global economy, including to low- and middle-income countries. 

“The cases we received this year were outstanding, and I was especially impressed by the ability of each submission team to tap into what’s truly going on in the business world when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Lori Costew, retired Chief DEI Officer at Ford Motor Company, and finalist judge.

Case studies provide real-world lessons at the core of many business schools, and serve as an opportunity for students to apply the business concepts to their current or future careers. Case studies cover the breadth of topics that business leaders will encounter, including issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“In addition to students, these case studies are tools that businesspeople everywhere can use to improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and overall business success,” said Sandra Draheim, Manager of WDI Publishing.

After sorting through a trove of compelling, thoughtful submissions, contest judges have selected the competition’s 2023 winners.

The cases we received this year were outstanding, and I was especially impressed by the ability of each submission team to tap into what’s truly going on in the business world when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The Winning Cases

First Place

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives at Levi Strauss & Co.: Are They Enough?

Second Place

Rhino Foods’ People-Profit Dilemma: Inclusive Workforce Challenges and Opportunities

Third Place

The Quest for Gender Pay Equity at Elemental Systems

The first-place case, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives at Levi Strauss & Co.: Are They Enough?, asked readers to push the bounds of what can be done in an organization around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Writer Hadiya Faheem and Associate Dean Sanjib Dutta at the ICFAI Business School in India, wrote about Levi Strauss & Co.’s efforts to increase the number of women and people of color in senior positions. While the company already maintained a diverse workforce, it hired a Chief Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Officer to build a more diverse talent pipeline for these higher-level roles. The case calls on readers to consider how an organization can expand on the current expectations of DEI initiatives — pushing beyond the checkboxes that can sometimes come along with these commitments.

The second-place case, Rhino Foods’ People-Profit Dilemma: Inclusive Workforce Challenges and Opportunities, brought to the surface a conversation about inclusive hiring. Authors Pramodita Sharma, Srinivas Venugopal, and Nicole Mallett from the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business shared the story of Rhino Foods, the food ingredients supplier that manufactures the “cookie dough” in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Since its establishment in 1981, the company has followed an inclusive hiring policy, and 40% of its current employees arrived through refugee resettlement programs before becoming U.S. citizens. They also recruit people coming out of incarceration, homelessness and rehabilitation for substance abuse. The policy to not run background checks on potential employees removes barriers to entry for employment — and expands its inclusivity. However, cultural adjustments required updated training materials, flexible scheduling and support for current team members. The case asks readers to consider what actions Rhino Foods could take to support its diversity and inclusion goals while alleviating stressors for current employees.

The third-place case tackled the question of gender pay equity — an issue that has been at the top of mind in the business world for decades but has not yet been resolved. Authors Christopher I. Rider, Elizabeth Choi, and Yena Kim from the University of Michigan present a fictional business scenario where the average pay for men and women employees is not significantly different. Still, staff observations did not align with that analysis. The case, The Quest for Gender Pay Equity at Elemental Systems, pushes readers to consider how to reconcile perceptions and data. This case will be published in October.

The finalist cases were reviewed by a team of distinguished judges well connected in the DEI and case publishing worlds: Lori Costew, retired Chief DEI Officer at Ford Motor Company; Shaista Khilji, Professor of Human and Organizational Learning and International Affairs at George Washington University; Manel Khadraoui, Associate Professor of Marketing at University of Tunis Business School; Kim Eric Bettcher, Director, Policy and Program Learning at the Center for International Private Enterprise; John Lafkas, Senior Editor, Cases & Pedagogy at Harvard Business Publishing; and Greg Merkley, Director of Case Publishing at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management.

“The submissions were themselves diverse — in terms of topics and issues,” said Draheim. “In addition to university faculty, there were many graduate and undergraduate students, research assistants, and businesspeople who submitted, which was impressive. Often having input from business leaders makes a case stronger and more realistic.” 

Judges also awarded two honorable mentions. Breaking Bread: DEIB Challenges Impact a Peruvian Corporation’s Potential asks readers to identify and attempt to resolve issues arising from a competitor merger that created serious diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging concerns. Diversity on Screen: Allure Studio’s Challenging Casting Decision explores how the entertainment industry, specifically in casting, must grapple with issues of diversity and inclusion.

The first-place winners received $10,000, second-place winners received $5,000, and third-place winners received $2,500, funded by Michigan Ross. 

“Our investment in the 2023 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Global Case Writing Competition demonstrates our tremendous commitment to this important practice at the Ross School of Business,” said Carolyn Yoon, associate Dean for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Michigan Ross. “We are proud to have supported the competition into its third year and look forward to its growth.”

Each one of the case studies provides a unique look into the growing questions around diversity, equity, and inclusion in business — and WDI has been dedicated to expanding educational tools for students and professionals on these topics. Winning cases this year and in previous years have honed in on timely topics that any business interested in improving DEI efforts would benefit from thoughtfully contemplating. Cases from recent competitions have already been adopted and taught at universities around the globe.

About WDI

At the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, unlocking the power of business to provide lasting economic and social prosperity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is in our DNA. We gather the data, develop new models, test concepts and collaborate with partners to find real solutions that lead to new opportunities. This is what we mean by Solving for Business — our calling since the Institute was first founded as an independent nonprofit educational organization in 1992. We believe societies that empower individuals with the tools and skills to excel in business, in turn generate both economic growth and social freedom — or the agency necessary for people to thrive.

Entrepreneurship Development Center

WDI shares lessons with hopeful entrepreneurs on identifying a gap in the marketplace and building a business around a solution.

Small- and medium-sized businesses drive up to 70% of global employment and gross domestic product, and many are started by determined, dedicated entrepreneurs. The economies in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are powered by these businesses.

Accompanying the call for entrepreneurship in emerging markets, there’s a call for the knowledge, tools and networks to bolster those businesses. Would-be entrepreneurs working to develop successful companies are seeking the know-how to get there in a more efficient, effective way. After taking part in courses on leadership, communication, and team-building, participants in the Ford Community Impact Fellows Training program — a development program for which the William Davidson Institute (WDI) at the University of Michigan has been creating courses since 2020 — asked for precisely that.

“They really wanted to know the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship,” said Amy Gillett, Vice President of Education at WDI and co-leader of the Institute’s Entrepreneurship Development Center.

Gillett and David Estrada, Program Coordinator at WDI, created the “Starting a Business: Your Entrepreneurial Journey” course to teach participants the basic skills needed to effectively start their journeys. The 88 students in this summer’s program learned how to identify a need in the market, pitch a business plan, acquire funding, price a product and find a place for it in the market. While at work on the projects, the students were guided by 13 program mentors. These mentors had participated in previous online skills building programs offered by WDI and were eager to now share their knowledge and expertise in a guiding role.

The goal of the course was to set these committed students up for success in the business world by providing a foundation for a new company.

“We gave them an overview of the landscape and the fundamental skills they’d need to take an idea and get started,” Gillett said.


A successful entrepreneurship path is forged by experience — even if someone else lived it first.

Course guest speaker Jakub Zaludko, leader of strategy and projects at Impact Games, explained how he reshaped digital challenges toward commercial aspirations. As a trained political scientist and anthropologist, Zaludko observed how students in his home country of Slovakia were largely disengaged in the classroom, but they were noticeably focused while playing video games at home. Zaludko and his partners offered a solution: games with positive social impact goals. They built an innovative platform to develop games that encourage educational progress, promote freedom, and boost inclusion and equality.

Just as he did in the educational market, Zaludko explored how students can find a gap in their marketplace and build a solution to fill the void. Participants learned from his experience in identifying the community need, navigating the business world and launching a product.

The course content echoed similar lessons on focused solutions, mainly within low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). When developing the class, Gillett and Estrada wanted to be sure that examples and questions were sourced from spaces where students could see their own potential.

“Great ideas emerge everywhere. We don’t have any kind of monopoly in the U.S., which is why we included cases from all over the world when we created the course,” Gillett said.

Building a Network

Participants from nine countries, including China, Hungary, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa and the United States, shared their backgrounds, skills and experiences with one another — all in an effort to grow their business ideas and abilities. Business can’t be built in a vacuum, and engaging relationships are just as critical to the participants’ business development as the lessons themselves.

“To be a successful entrepreneur, you need these connections — and this is a great way to start building or expanding that network, for both participants and mentors,” Gillett said. “With these courses, we are building a global network of learners and entrepreneurs.”

Beyond simply initiating these critical connections, participants were introduced to the deep value of these relationships through their course conversations, projects and group work. “I learned about the value and importance of working as a team to solve problems as they emerge,” said a participant from Nigeria. “Each team member brings a unique set of abilities to the table.”

Pitching a Business

Ultimately, participants worked together to build a business plan and create a video pitch. Gillett, Estrada, and program mentors evaluated the projects with an eye on how well the teams integrated the course lessons.

The winning pitch was for a personalized, flexible online education company: Explore Online. It highlighted the need for customized tutors on a global level, reviewed a break-even analysis for the business and considered the organization’s value proposition.

The second-place team set out to tackle the problem of teenage pregnancy and motherhood in Kenya. Vijana Artifacts dug deeply into the issue itself in their pitch and shared their solution: viable vocational training for young mothers. They shared their business model, target customers and expected revenue streams.

The Truly Glam Apparel team came in third place. Their business pitch focused on sustainable fashion and explored the gap in the marketplace. Their solution involves turning to local artisans, relying on local production teams, and opening up opportunities for personalized customer experiences.

These pitches pushed students to hone their presentation skills. “I gained a better understanding of how I can present my new project to others,” said a participant from China.


To the participants, this course wasn’t just an academic venture. It was a professional stepping stone. Most participants either had a business plan in mind before starting the class or were excited by one they came up with during the process. For them, these tools are providing the groundwork for a lifetime of entrepreneurship. This is the mission of the Ford Fund.

“Ford Fund is proud to invest in expanding access to entrepreneurship in communities where Ford does business with a focus on providing more widespread  access to investment capital and educational resources, partnering with local organizations who share our desire to grow entrepreneurial ecosystems in an impactful way,” said Mike Schmidt, Director of Ford Fund.

Excited by the prospects of a new business, one participant from Kenya said: “My partner and I are on a mission to implement the idea we built during the course. Our next move is to develop a solid business plan and budget, then we’ll approach the necessary funding platforms and apply for grants.”

Buoyed by these positive impacts, the WDI Education team is on its way to creating even more courses for Ford fellows. While it will continue to run the current lessons, a new subject — driven by student suggestions — is on its way for a 2024 launch.

Ford Fund is proud to invest in expanding access to entrepreneurship in communities where Ford does business with a focus on providing more widespread  access to investment capital and educational resources, partnering with local organizations who share our desire to grow entrepreneurial ecosystems in an impactful way.

About Ford Motor Company Fund

As the global philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, Ford Fund focuses on providing access to essential services, education for the future of work and entrepreneurship opportunities for under-resourced and underrepresented communities. Ford Fund’s partnerships and programming are designed to be responsive to unique community needs, ensuring people have equitable opportunities to move forward. Harnessing Ford’s scale, resources and mobility expertise, Ford Fund drives meaningful impact through grantmaking, Ford Resource and Engagement Centers and employee volunteerism.

About WDI

At the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, unlocking the power of business to provide lasting economic and social prosperity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is in our DNA. We gather the data, develop new models, test concepts and collaborate with partners to find real solutions that lead to new opportunities. This is what we mean by Solving for Business—our calling since the Institute was first founded as an independent nonprofit educational organization in 1992. We believe societies that empower individuals with the tools and skills to excel in business, in turn generate both economic growth and social freedom—or the agency necessary for people to thrive.



Just over the border with Yuma, Arizona is the town of San Luis Río Colorado in Sonora, Mexico. Like many border communities, agricultural jobs dominate the local economy. In this community of around 200,000, Grupo OSME is a privately run medical clinic business, founded by Dr. Raúl Payán, focused on serving the health needs of agricultural workers and their families. Despite the success of the business, Payán explains that securing the necessary financing to expand OSME into a hospital has been a major challenge. But in early 2023, the North American Development Bank (NADB) and Grupo OSME signed a US$14.2 million loan agreement to finance construction of the medical complex. The deal was completed after WDI conducted due diligence on OSME’s expansion and business plans, which gave NADB the expert advice it needed to proceed with financing. The project includes the design, construction and operation of a private hospital with space for 67 beds, an emergency room, operating rooms, intensive care unit, medical imaging and laboratory, along with a medical specialties center. As the following video feature explains, at the time of this project, WDI was also developing a Healthcare Delivery Management Training program, following a request from the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation. Following a positive experience of the due diligence process, OSME requested training for its management team from WDI. As a result, OSME and a Ghanaian hospital were the first two businesses to participate in the course.



From left to right: Dr. Joseph Kolars Director of the Center for Global Health Equity, pitch winners Marilyn Filter and Lyn Behnke of U-M Flint, and Paul Clyde, WDI President.
Competition judges WDI Healthcare Vice President Pascale Leroueil and Dr. Lee Schroder question a competitor.
Dr. Tom Kerppola presents his concept, Psoriasis RX.
Dr. Geoffrey Siwo pitches his business called SARATANI.
Parker Martin pitches epiSLS via Zoom.
The winning team Filter and Behnke demonstrate a prototype.
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A team focused on women’s health was named the winner in the 2023 Global Health Commercialization Competition sponsored by WDI and the Center for Global Health Equity

Pressing global health concerns, from undetected cancer to untreated psoriasis, require innovation to find powerful, lasting solutions. Often, that kind of innovation comes from small teams, start-up companies, and underfunded research groups — but, for these teams to be successful, they need support.

The William Davidson Institute (WDI) and the Center for Global Health Equity (CGHE) at the University of Michigan (U-M) came together recently to assist with filling in that piece of the equation. 

“There is a lot of research happening at the University of Michigan that could lead to impactful products or services in low- and middle-income countries,” said Paul Clyde, President of WDI and professor at the Ross School of Business. “Assisting and accelerating that work, through both funding and technical assistance, is very much in line with our mission.”

To support that growth, Fast Forward Medical Innovation, a department at the U-M Medical School, offered a professional development course with a focus on key business commercialization principles, which began in January 2023. For the first time this year, WDI  and CGHE followed this course with the Global Health Commercialization Competition. The competition invited faculty innovators to share their work on technical solutions to healthcare problems in emerging markets. Responses to the request for proposals were due on April 1, 2023. Four finalists were selected from the group, and each one presented their pitches to judges on May 22. 

Ultimately, one team took home a $30,000 prize and a chance to work with MBA students at the Ross School of Business to refine their plans.

The Power of Competition

Each proposal was centered on a clearly defined, unmet need in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and an innovative solution to enhance the lives of people in these regions. These solutions had to be commercially viable, and teams were required to outline market timelines.

In line with similar pitch competitions, presenters had the chance to highlight the significance of their work — and their own enthusiasm for the solutions. “These pitch competitions give the proposers the opportunity to sell their idea. Sometimes, when we’re reading proposals, we’re missing some of the passion. We’re missing the background about what makes these approaches exciting and relevant,” said Dr. Joseph C. Kolars, founding director of the Center for Global Health Equity and Senior Associate Dean and Professor at the University of Michigan Medical School. 

“It’s an easier way for us to understand the ‘why’,” he explained. 

Improving the Detection System

The first of the four teams to present at the competition, Saratani, is working to improve outcomes for cancer patients in Africa and taking aim at the lack of effective diagnostics. “One of the most important tools in ensuring better cancer outcomes is ensuring early cancer detection,” said Geoffrey Siwo, Research Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at the U-M. His team also included Robert Karanja, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Villgro Africa, and Deogratias Mzurikwao, AI Lead at Villgro Africa.

Saratani, named after the Swahili word for cancer, aims to diversify the biological data used to create the reference genome for molecular diagnostics, which is currently designed on Caucasian genetic data. This leaves massive gaps in the data, making it ripe for problematic diagnoses in Africa. Biobanks in Africa hold the information to fill this gap, but the bridge between them and pharmaceutical companies is missing. That’s where Saratani plans to step in. It would function as a marketplace, avoiding the overhead of running a biobank and capitalizing on the potential widespread deals that could be built between small biobanks and large pharmaceutical organizations.

While Siwo acknowledged that these biomarkers are not yet widely used for detection in Africa, he encouraged support for their preemptive and proactive work. “If we wait until these biomarkers are widely used, it will be very difficult to change, and we know they are inaccurate,” he explained.

Eliminating False Positives for Allergies

Penicillin allergies riddle medical records across the U.S., but it could be that up to 90% of people with this notation have been mistakenly diagnosed. This particular allergy marker keeps patients from treatments that protect against site infections during surgeries and superbug infections during hospital stays. In LMICs, false penicillin allergies could make certain treatments totally inaccessible.

EpiSLS aims to make allergy testing simpler, from correcting those false positives to providing clear answers about food allergies. Parker Martin, an MD and MBA student at the U-M, and Cory Cooney, a 2023 U-M MBA graduate, created a novel optical sensing technology that is compact, portable, and safe for any patient who might get an in-office allergy test. For clinics in emerging markets, the tool — which is currently patent pending — could mean bringing sustainable allergy testing to regions where there has not ever been an allergy specialist. 

Through their easy-to-administer and even-easier-to-read technology, the team is set on “bringing allergy testing into the 21st century across the world.”

Equalizing Results for Global Psoriasis Patients 

Psoriasis is a chronic disease that causes psychological and physical suffering when left untreated — and, in LMICs, this is often the case. While medications can treat many symptoms of the condition, they aren’t available in emerging economies. The costs are prohibitive, the production is not available, and the administration is a challenge. The Psoriasis RX team, led by Tom Kerppola, Professor of Biological Chemistry and Biophysics at the U-M, has set its sights on changing that dynamic.

“The problem is enormous,” Kerppola explained. There are about 100 million people suffering from psoriasis at the moment, and a substantial number are not finding any relief. “Regrettably, the only drugs used in low-income countries have very low efficacy, barely better than placebos,” he said, explaining that that’s not the case in high-income countries. “It’s clear we can do better.”

His research is centered on the Keap 1 protein, which could suppress inflammatory responses in skin fibroblasts without the risks of systemic infection that often come with immunosuppressant drugs. “This is not an untreatable condition,” Kerppola said, and he’s on his way to finding a treatment that works for patients regardless of geography.

Saving Lives with a Better Women’s Health Tool 

Over 70% of women around the world have not been screened for cervical cancer, and part of the reason is access to and comfort with the current medical tools required for these screenings. At the moment, the exam for cervical cancer screening requires a vaginal speculum, an exam table with stirrups, and a person who is physically and emotionally able to handle the exam. For many around the globe, those requirements just cannot be met.

In search of a way to reach these women, Marilyn Filter, a Certified Nurse Midwife and Associate Professor at the University of Michigan – Flint, and Lyn Behnke, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, and associate professor at the U-M – Flint, built a new tool. The Femscope Calm Collect system is a slim cell-collection device with a scope that would replace the speculum and swab typically used. Providers can learn to use it in under an hour, it connects to a smartphone or computer, and patients can receive the exam without an exam table.

“We have made it our mission in life to improve patient outcomes,” explained Filter. Their  accessible tool is less expensive, easier to use, and more comfortable for many patients — all traits prioritized to improve screening rates for people around the globe.

The team is on its way to completing its pilot study to ensure biopsy results are of the same caliber as a traditional exam, then the product will move to a full clinical trial and eventually head to market around the globe, Filter said.

Choosing a Winner

Judges Ioan Cleaton-Jones, Senior Director of Healthcare Delivery at WDI, Pascale Leroueil, VP of Healthcare at WDI,  Amy Conger, Managing Director for the Center for Global Health Equity, Kolars, Brad Martin, Managing Director of Fast Forward Medical Information, and Dr. Lee Schroeder, Associate Professor of Chemical Pathology at the University of Michigan, faced the difficult task of choosing a winner. They considered the presentations, asked questions of the teams, and came to a decision: The Femscope team took home the prize.

Filter and Behnke plan to use the funds to purchase a 3D printer and fund its pilot test — the first essential steps to get the life-changing product into the market. Once there, “it will certainly save lives,” said Filter.

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