By Allie Nanni, writer for Public Affairs at the University of Notre Dame
There is a lot of talk about "brain drain" in South Bend -- talented students who leave the area after they graduate. As Riley High School graduates and alumni of the University of Notre Dame, Khoa Huynh and Andrew Wiand tell similar stories. Both men assumed they would move away like the rest of their friends.
Both South Bend natives, both with undergraduate biology degrees from Notre Dame, Huynh explains, “I assumed I would go away to medical school.”
However, Wiand, the son of two South Bend schoolteachers, says he had an inkling that there was an even better opportunity right in his own backyard.
On Monday, Aug. 13, approximately 36 hours after receiving master’s degrees from Notre Dame’s ESTEEM (Engineering, Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence) program, Huynh and Wiand began their fellowships at Union Station Technology Center in downtown South Bend.
Michiana Venture Fellows -- also called enFocus, for Entrepreneur Focus -- was created by a group of city and business leaders to encourage the community’s brightest young professionals to stay in town to tackle some of the community’s toughest challenges.
For one intense year, Huynh, Wiand and five others will live and work downtown together as a team. The purpose is for the fellows to use their innovation and entrepreneurial skills to study issues and design local projects in the areas of education, technology, transportation, health care and city government.
A one-time expenditure of $40,000 gives companies a high-impact, high-return on investment project designed to boost profits and help save money. The partnership has the potential not only to advance South Bend but also to benefit the fellows directly as they are mentored by prominent local business leaders passionate about creating a healthier community.
"These [fellows] are people that have great skills and talents. They are ready to roll up their sleeves and go into the community to be a part of something bigger than themselves," says David Murphy, the director of the ESTEEM program at Notre Dame and enFocus board member.
"They could be working anywhere, but they will work on some of our challenges in local government and help us do what we do better," says Gary Gilot, a Michiana Venture Fellows board member, industry partner and president of South Bend's Board of Public Works. Expectations are high. Gilot expects a $400,000 return on investment in cost savings, improved efficiency and new revenue.
“We feel the pressure to perform, but we’re excited to be able to demonstrate impact,” says Wiand. In addition to Murphy and Gilot, other Michiana Venture board members and mentors include Mike Bieganski, Scott Ford, Kevin Smith, Dr. James Kelly and Shane Fimbel.
Robert Bernhard, vice president for research at the University of Notre Dame, says of the new enterprise, “enFocus is an outstanding initiative. It brings the combination of energy, talent and experience of individuals who have just completed the ESTEEM program together with passionate local mentors toward the goal of making this community an even better place.”
Photo description: From left Brendan Daly, Khoa Huynh, Marco Magallon, Daniel Lewis, Andrew Wiand, Santiago Garces and Alan Barrett, stand outside of Union Station Wednesday August 22, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Photo by Joe Raymond/University of Notre Dame