Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Notes from the Case Files: Finding the Stories

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

Case studies are a little bit mysterious: where do they come from? Who writes them? How do we pick what companies to write about? The answer is, it’s a little bit different every time—but Babson faculty always have their ears and eyes open for a fascinating case that will show students exactly what is happening in the ever-evolving world of entrepreneurship.

Our best source of entrepreneurs is our alumni—but even there we stumble across them for many different reasons. Jon Feinman of Inner City Weightlifting attended Babson specifically to launch his non-profit aimed at helping urban young people find a new path, and was happy to be the subject of a case study just a few years after leaving Babson. Another great Babson alumni case is on Jim Poss, who, working in partnership with students at the Olin School, invented Big Belly Solar Compactors to create an environmental solution to trash disposal.

Boston is a small city—most of the movers and shakers, especially social entrepreneurs who are really making a difference with the city’s social ills, all know each other. We kept hearing about Gerald Chertavian and Year Up, so Professor Ed Marram–a twenty year veteran of Babson’s entrepreneurial studies faculty–was determined to get a case on him and the amazing work he is doing with inner city youth.

We met Sy Friedland after Babson alum and longtime senior lecturer in entrepreneurship Professor Les Charm served on a board with him and heard his unusual succession story. The fact that Sy was willing to have a case written about what was a painful memory for nearly everyone involved—the tactical errors he made in handling his own, ultimately successful transition out of JFCS—was another testament to what an extraordinarily unusual thinker Sy Friedland is. Rather than shy away from discussing the incident, he put it all out there with absolutely no concern for his own ego; he just hoped others would benefit from his mistakes.

The irrepressible Adam Braun of Pencils of Promise came to us through a personal connection of Les Charm: Les’ son and Adam were close friends in college. Les knew Adam was the real deal: a born entrepreneur, destined to make things happen. Associate Professor Mary Gale and I had a ball meeting Adam and learning about Pencils of Promise—with any luck, someday we’ll get a B case on POP.

Along the way, we encounter all the bumps in the road that can effect any growing business. One faculty member approached a friend with a highly innovative and dynamic social venture. The friend was delighted to be part of a case study, and we were preparing to start the case, when a huge leadership change occurred, and the founder let us know it was no longer the right time. We are hoping to get back to that one in the future. We’re always looking for great cases—if you have one for us, let us know!