MBA students use learned skills to help others

A team of MBA students at DePaul's Kellstadt Graduate School of Business earned the 2009 Chase Community Development Competition for their project to bring fresh produce to New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.

Ian Kos set out to change careers from academic research in biology to a business finance background, but in the process may change lives.

As an MBA student at DePaul University's Kellstadt Graduate School of Business Kos and classmates continued work in New Orleans years after Hurricane Katrina.


When Kos learned of the need for grocery stores in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, he thought it would be the perfect fit for the 2009 Chase Community Development Competition, which currently focuses on non profit organizations in New Orleans and finding practical real estate development concepts to address real needs.

Kos and MBA classmate Kevin Down were put in touch with students at the University of New Orleans and architect students at Louisiana State University. Together the students began working on a solution.


"It was an opportunity to work across disciplines with other schools," Kos says adding New Orleans is an area he is passionate about.

Considered a "food dessert" the Lower Ninth Ward has economic and geographic challenges that were only exacerbated by Katrina.

Kos says residents struggling financially have little choice but to buy the limited selection of foods at a pharmacy that lacks a produce department.

"They hadn't had a fully developed grocery since the 1960s," Kos says.

The team's business plan involves bringing a fresh food grocery store to the area and won the competition. The hope is the concept will become a reality.

Kos says the team has a property owner and a site approved and are working with a small urban grocery store that manages stores on the South Side of Chicago and Indiana as a potential operator.

As winners of the competition, Kos' team provided the $25,000 prize money to the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Development and Engagement, the not-for-profit that served as their partner in the competition and is continuing work on a potential grocery.

"Financing is tough," Kos says. "You have to look at unconventional sources."


Kos only had one quarter-worth of MBA classes under his belt when he dove into the competition and found himself often saying - "What am I supposed to do here?" - learning more from each course he took and from faculty support.

"We learned as we went," he says. "It was on-the-job training. That's one of the things that led to the ultimate success in the Chase competition."

Steve Bell, associate director of DePaul's Real Estate Center, served as a sponsor and sounding board, but says the adult students don't need much leadership. In addition to the potential impact in New Orleans, Bell says Kos and his team's success in the competition has had an impact on other students sparking interest from others who want to repeat their success.