Each year, ideas grow from a spark to a complete business plan as a result of the Notre Dame McCloskey Business Plan Competition. Hundreds of students come together and embark on an entrepreneurial adventure that typically ends with the final awards ceremony or the graduation of its members. However, some stories aren’t quite as simple. Developed by a team of seven business students, Yugo is a crowdfunding site uniquely positioned to provide a more informed, impact-driven experience for “doers and donors”. Read below to hear the team’s story, and check out yugofund.com to learn more.
A packed high-speed rail train headed from Beijing to Shanghai isn’t the first place you might expect a business idea to spark up. It’s October 2013 and a team of ten University of Notre Dame students are embarking on the second half of a fall break trip to China to compete in an international case competition. Instead of taking the time to sleep off some of the jet lag, Alex Schoemann (ND ’14) is in a heated discussion with two of his fellow students about the idea of a crowdfunding site featuring social enterprises and non-profits that have undergone impact and sustainability analyses. “All we had for research at the time was one chapter in a social entrepreneurship textbook and what we already knew [from experience],” says Alex, now working for Deloitte in Chicago. They quickly realized that they were going to need a lot more than that.
After arriving home, Alex sought out a team of friends, including Andrew Cousins, Yegor Elkin (ND ’15), Carolyn Green (ND ’14), Meredith Houska (ND ’14), Jack Trunzo (ND ’14) and Colleen Wade (ND ’15), to pitch the idea to and form an entry for the Notre Dame McCloskey Business Plan Competition. With backgrounds in marketing, IT, design, finance, and start-ups, the team launched into challenging discussions surrounding the value the crowdfunding site, now named Yugo, could deliver to donors and social impact organizations if executed effectively. Based on summers spent working with microentrepreneurs in the developing world and classes in social entrepreneurship and microventuring, the team knew social impact organizations could benefit from the sustainability measurements the proposed business would provide. But who would the target donor be? How could they attract attention at a time where numerous crowdfunding sites existed?
Unlike other crowdfunding sites, Yugo is committed to improving the crowdfunding experience for both organizations in need of funding and the donors looking to provide it. Most sites place the burden of proof of legitimacy on the social enterprise or non-profit. While some organizations independently generate infographs and impact statistics to feature on their crowdfunding page, many project descriptions leave users wanting more information about how their money will be used. A user may donate and never hear about the project again, let alone know how their money turned into a meaningful social impact.
Yugo changes the experience by walking organizations through a comprehensive impact and sustainability analysis that is shared on the organization’s Yugo campaign page. This not only benefits the organization but also details to donors how their contribution makes a difference. After adding to the campaign, donors are provided with regular impact updates on the organization, making them feel more secure and ensuring organizations maintain a focus on impact and sustainability.
Over the next several months, conversations continued and expanded as Yugo progressed through the stages of the Notre Dame McCloskey Business Competition. Surveys were sent out to friends and family members regarding their donation habits and preferences while the team interviewed social impact organizations they had worked with in the past to determine needs for measuring impact. Within a few months, they had the base of research they needed and Yugo’s business plan was fully developed. In April, the team won the Fellow Irish Social Hub (FISH) Social Venture Research & Development Award for Yugo’s business plan, which included mentorship along with a $7,000 award. This spurred the team forward, but with graduation approaching quickly, what would come of Yugo?
“Most of our focus since McCloskey has been on what the customer wants, and what they want to see,” said Alex. “We asked a lot of not-for-profit leaders and development workers about what they need and want to see in this space and where they are trying to take their own projects. We employed a lot of systematic human centered design strategies to thinking about how we could create something that is beneficial for both doers and donors and inspires both to keep coming back.” These conversations unfolded in many arenas. Carolyn spent the summer in Kathmandu working with Notre Dame and the Association for Craft Producers, a fair trade organization that works with local artisans in Nepal, while Alex worked with South American microentrepreneurs as a part of Community Enterprise (CE) Solutions. These experiences resulted in partnerships with three organizations (Cama Fina, EOS International, and the Enlace Project) for Yugo’s pilot.
Back in the U.S., Meredith Houska was brainstorming website design, social media strategies, and launch campaigns that would result in a successful implementation. After watching the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge sweep the nation through the summer months, the team developed a “2 Hands for Cama Fina” social media campaign that encouraged Facebook friends to donate $5 to Cama Fina’s Yugo project or tell 5 friends about the work Cama Fina is doing for mothers in Nicaragua. In two weeks, this campaign has raised over $4,000 from over 50 unique donors.
Looking forward, the team is committed to building off of their initial success. “I’m very proud of where we are at this point and believe we can grow into a sustainable organization with the continued efforts we’ve seen from our team thus far,” said Meredith. Alex added, “Now the responsibility is on us to make sure we can deliver a product that enhances the giving experience for our customers. We are definitely going to keep pushing this forward as this is a service we believe should exist to both enable donors to ask more of organizations, and to reward organizations for providing more.”
Interested in contributing to Yugo’s first campaign with Cama Fina? Donate at yugofund.com