For US Students and Alumnus, Social Innovation Challenge Takes On New Meaning
Upper School students in Gara Field’s Economics of Social Innovation course received a dose of real-world business experience in more ways than one this past semester.
For over five years, this course at Moses Brown School, also taught by Dan Ohl in the spring, has focused on project-based learning and connected students with successful entrepreneurs. The class not only focuses on business practices and entrepreneurship but also how to make those practices sustainable and socially responsible. Every semester, students prepare for the “Social Innovation Challenge,” a shark-tank-esque pitch presentation to a real business owner looking for solutions to an actual problem. Often, the businesses will seriously consider or actually implement the ideas presented by students, making the project a mutually beneficial experience for all involved.
This semester, the eleventh and twelfth graders were partnered with the co-founder and CEO of Gilson Snow, Moses Brown alumnus Nick Gilson ’07. The challenge: Who should be the next global partner for Gilson Snow? The popular snowboard and ski manufacturer was looking for its next big collaboration to appeal to their younger audiences – and who better to draw inspiration from than MB upper schoolers looking to gain some real-world business experience.
When selecting a business, Gara knew Nick would be the perfect partner for the challenge. Nick started working on snowboard prototype designs in Middle School at Moses Brown and has since launched himself into a career pursuing his passion for creativity in snow sports as the owner of Gilson Snow today. Using the age of the students to his advantage, Nick decided to task them with finding a collaboration targeting the 18-25 year-old market.
The class divided into three groups, making conscious decisions on the strengths, skill sets, and learning styles each member brought to the table. The project spanned over the course of five weeks. First, students researched the company: their mission, values, products, and processes. They also researched the 18-25 age demographic and their interests in arts, sports, and apparel. Then, they worked as a team to determine which influencers, artists, and brands would be a good fitfor a collaboration, looking for partnerships that would match Gilson Snow’s values of being American-made, sustainable, and community driven.
Students were able to email Nick twice a week and met with him once via Zoom before the final presentation. The checkpoints helped the groups stay on course, and Nick provided helpful feedback and advice. When the big day finally came to present their pitch, students felt prepared knowing Nick’s expectations upfront.
On presentation day, the class was joined in the Y-Lab by guest judges Nick, Middle School division head Jared Schott, Upper School division head Laura Twitchell, and alum Peter Ramsden ’82 to share their thoughts and wisdom. The pitches represented a wide variety of interests from the students and included companies, content creators, and creatives popular with Gen-Z audiences.
One pitch proposed that Barstool Sports would be the best collaborator for Gilson Snow. Thomas S. explained how the satirical sports brand captured young audiences through their social media presence, podcasts, and other content platforms.
“Barstool is your entry into the college-age demographic because Barstool has an active presence on every campus in the country through their college-specific social media accounts. Gilson Snow could use their logos and artwork as well as social media channels to tap into the market.”
Other collaborations proposed were Ben & Jerry’s, Marvel Comics, Supreme, Mr. Doodle, Dude Perfect, Billabong, and Drew House. Nick was impressed with the student suggestions and said he would seriously consider pursuing the recommendations. In fact, Nick is currently in discussions with one of the collaborators pitched from the project.
No less than a week after the presentation, students were given another real-life example of how in business and in life there can be major challenges and setbacks. Gilson Snow’s manufacturing building located in New Berlin, PA, experienced a factory fire, destroying a large amount of equipment and product inventory. Thankfully, no one was in the building when the incident occurred. Gara’s social innovation class knew that they wanted to help Nick and immediately sprang into action to think of ideas to get him back on his feet.
“We were devastated when we heard the news, and we knew that there was no possible way we could just be done with you and our social innovation challenge,” wrote the students in a message to Nick.
“Our Quaker beliefs and values kicked in, and we pivoted our focus to immediately finding ways to support you and your Gilson Snow crew.”
Everyone in the class received a holiday gift from MB’s social innovation fund to spend upwards of $60 on the Gilson Snow website, and the students placed an order of close to $1,000 worth of merchandise.
“Once our packages arrive, we will wear our Gilson Snow merchandise with pride, and help members of our Moses Brown School community understand the situation with the Gilson Factory, which will hopefully spiral into more purchases.”
The students wanted to do even more to support Nick. In an effort to spread awareness about the factory fire and help support Nick rebuild, the class created a video to be shared across Moses Brown’s and Gilson Snow’s social media platforms.
“We are all so grateful for the opportunities you have given us and would love to reciprocate the favor,” wrote Brie C.
Nick expressed his gratitude in a note back to the class. “I am absolutely blown away by your focus and gesture. It means the world to us, and my deep respect for MB and our community is only strengthening through this challenging moment. Thank you.”
Click below to watch the video and please help spread the word by sharing the video through social media!