Creating Social Value Blog / Corporate Social Relevance

Notes from the Case Files: Introduction

By Jesseca P. Timmons, a case writer in Entrepreneurial Studies and Social Entrepreneurship for the Lewis Institute at Babson College.

When I tell people I write case studies on social entrepreneurship for the Lewis Institute at Babson, I usually get a blank stare. Unless you have an MBA–or grew up with a Babson professor for a dad, like I did–the case method is not widely known. My dad, the late Dr. Jeffry A. Timmons, came home every night talking about cases–he loved it when the students would tear apart an entrepreneur, only to learn he or she had been sitting in the back of the class the whole time. I can’t count the number of times my dad got off the phone with a former student and announced, with a gleam in his eye, “This is going to be a great case!”

Many months of research and footwork go into every Babson teaching case. After an entrepreneur agrees to be the subject of a case study (most are happy to oblige), the hardest part is getting a whole hour of his or her time for an interview–although every entrepreneur loves to talk about his or her venture once we pin them down.

In order for cases to be as current as possible, we try to get a case wrapped up in one semester to be taught the next. Even as we are writing the case, things are changing–hires, fires, funding, technology, the economy, and even the business model itself evolve daily. One founder let us know he was going on an unannounced sabbatical immediately after we had finished the last interview. Often, people in different leadership roles in the same organization give us very different takes on the same situation–leaving us very curious about how things will turn out.

Many things we hear in case interviews don’t make it into the case–“Stop the tape recorder!” sometimes precedes the most interesting part of the conversation. Lewis Institute Executive Director Cheryl Kiser asked me to share some of these stories in my new blog, Notes from the Casefiles.

Currently, Associate Professor Mary Gale and I are finishing an incredible case on Inner City Weightlifting (ICW), the nonprofit gym created by Babson MBA Jon Feinman to reduce urban violence in Boston. Knowing Jon works with very troubled youth, Mary and I were not sure what to expect the first time we went to the gym. We were amazed to walk into a bright, sunny space that in every way could have passed for a weight room at B.U. or Northeastern. On our second visit, we were able to sit down with three students: Trey, Joe and Marcus. Our conversation with these young men left us literally speechless–and several times, teary-eyed. As Jon had told us, it was hard to truly comprehend what was being accomplished by ICW until we spoke to some of the students and heard their stories in their own words. Next month, read about our remarkable conversation with these three incredible young men.