Friday, June 2, 2023

MBA Students Create Online Ventures for Charities’ Benefit

photo by Nathan Latil, courtesy of UM Communications
photo by Nathan Latil, courtesy of UM Communications

Students in the Professional MBA program (PMBA), a purely online program, at University of Mississippi are enrolled in Dr. Clay Dibrell’s MBA 622 class where they actively learn entrepreneurship by helping charities by selling products online with profits benfitting the nonprofits.

Dr. Clay Dibrell, the executive director of Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and associate professor at UM School of Business, has challenged the graduate students to develop and launch a social entrepreneurship venture for a month this spring semester.

“This experiential learning approach allows the MBA students to be entrepreneurial and to run a startup venture in a low risk environment, while at the same time benfitting a non-profit charity,” said Dr. Dibrell. “These MBA students go through the entrepreneurial process from opportunity recognition to launching to exiting the venture. It is an excellent opportunity for them to take the knowledge they learn in the entrepreneurship course and apply it to a business, as they attempt to help others.”

Dr. Dibrell said that at the beginning of the challenge the students were always highly competitive. They asked him how other student groups did in previous challenges, and he told them there was a group who generated $5,200 for its charity – challenging them to beat that number.

“This may be the year a group does it,” said Dr. Dibrell. “In the end, it is good for our MBA students and for the charities which gain fro m their efforts.”

These students have created websites to sell items benefiting charities. These websites are live until April 19, thus the students have a week to beat the $5,200 goal.

An example of a fundraising website from the MBA class is the EDUganda organization that has a website created by the MBA students with items from text books to school uniforms so EDUganda can help disadvantaged students in Uganda pursue their education.

Another MBA student group is the MBAs for RMHC, benefiting the Ronald McDonald House in Jackson, Mississippi. Here is a video of the RMHC in Mississippi provided by Lisa Parker Lott.

Harry Hartman, one of the students in the group, has worked for the University of Mississippi Medical Center for the past 16 years so the close proximity of the Ronald McDonald House to the campus made it easy to partner with the charity.

The group applied Lean Startup principles to its model. They seeded the venture with $117 and generated over $3,000 revenue in the first 20 days of the challenge.

The website makes it possible for interested donors to send $8 to cover the cost of a room for a family for one night even via mobile. Other items in the store are food and kitchen necessities as well as laundry detergent to help families stay with their sick child as long as they can.

“We wanted to be able to offer this model to student groups and charities for future use with minimal barriers to entry,” said Hartman. “We will package our business model, including the results from our trial and make it freely available to charities and student groups.”

Hartman has boosted the website’s success with “the power of our networks.” He had written blog posts, one that was targeted to people in his network associated with his employer had 156 people tagged to it. This method generated 764 unique page views and $595 in revenue within three days.

Graphic by Mission: Mississippi
Graphic by Mission: Mississippi

Mission: Mississippi is another Jackson-based charity that received help from another MBA student group. The website the group made for the Methodist Children’s Homes features a $14 tour at Lazy Magnolia Brewery, a $10 all-access pass to Biloxi Seafood Festival alongside Ole Miss and State sports items.

Ray Mathew, one of the MBA students involved with the Mission: Mississippi site, said, “The requirements for the project stated we had to sell a product and donate all profits to a charity. Our team not only wanted to help the charity but find a way to bring the entire state together for this great cause. Through brainstorming, we realized we could get organizations throughout the state on board and offer their products or services. We got to highlight great things about the state like the Biloxi Seafood Festival, Resorts Tunica, Mississippi crafts, and of course college sports. By driving attention to these places, tourism increases benefiting local businesses, customers get a great deal by purchasing exclusive items on our website, and money is raised for our charity.”

The website is easy to remember: Thus far the team has raised a few hundred dollars with the goal to break $1,200.

“We still have several items left to sell, and did I mention you won’t find our exclusive charcoal gray ‘Mississippi’ shirt anywhere else? That shirt is one of our hottest items,” said Mathew.

Be it the $20 shirt or the $400 trip for four at the golf course at Old Waverly Place in West Point or limited items such as the Coach Hugh Freeze signed football, the profits go straight to helping Methodist Children’s Homes so it can help children recover from abuse and trauma.

Josh Clark, another graduate student in the Mission: Mississippi group, said, “We have been very fortunate to have support from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, the Mississippi Braves, several restaurants, the MS Craftman’s Guild, Resorts Tunica, the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce and other companies around the state.”

Those Mississippian businesses and organizations’ charity has left a positive impact not just on Methodist Children’s Homes but also on Mathews.

“This project has been a humbling experience and personally being a norther from New York, I’m impressed with the generosity of local Mississippi businesses and folks,” said Mathews. “I’ve learned quite a bit about Mississippi and now my bucket list includes visitn some of the great small charming towns in the state.”

This MBA group gave its website a larger reach to help a national cause, National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). The website,, sells magnets to support NDSS’ Trisomy 21 Awareness of the gene that is responsible for 95 percent of Down syndrome cases and show support for those living with T21 and their families.

Menelaos Stavropoulos, a member of T21 Awareness Magnets group, said, “Our group researched several worthy charities while selecting the most appropriate for our project. We liked the idea of a local charity, but we are geographically separated so a national organization was more appropriate for our project. We realized the NDSS values aligned with our own personal values, they were a logical fit for us.”

This charity, though for a national cause, is close to home for Stavropoulos. He said, “My daughter, Hadley, was born with Trisomy 21 in October 2014. I definitely wanted to select the NDSS for our project, however, I did not want my family’s tie to Down syndrome impacting the decision of our team. We mutually agreed to support the NDSS without the team understanding why it was so important to me, there was no bias.”

Photo screencap from
Photo screencap from

While the team was working on the website the group members realized a photo of a person or family impacted by Down syndrome would help personalize their cause. A week before the website launch Stavropoulos explained to the team his family dynamic and offered to use a picture of his daughter, Hadley.

“The way (team) has embraced Hadley and featured her in a few pictures has been extremely emotional,” said Stavropoulos. “We are thrilled to create more awareness to Trisomy 21 and Down syndrome. Our project is truly inspiring to our family and other families impacted by Down syndrome.”

The group designed 5″ x 3″ oval magnets to sell on the website, and NDSS has shown the group tremendous support.

“The National Down Syndrome Society is using a picture of the magnet to promote to over 100,000 social media followers,” said Stavropoulos. “I’m amazed that over 100,000 have seen a picture of our magnet!”

The symbol of the magnet includes awareness ribbon colors for Down syndrome, and anyone can display the magnet anywhere from a vehicle to office to home to show support. All net proceeds goes to NDSS that will then use the proceeds to promote the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome while continuing to raise awareness for T21 even long after the project has been completed.

These MBA students in the online course have worked hard to meet Dr. Dibrell’s challenge. To help them meet their challenge, to benefit of these charities, the donors can visit these websites up until April 19, next Sunday.

Callie Daniels is a staff reporter for She can be reached at