A transformational collaboration

Sep 12, 2013

Kettering student collaboration provides a transformational foundation for St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center.

Kettering University students have created a transformational business plan to launch St. Luke N.E.W. (North End Women) Life Enterprises, Inc., from six part-time employees to 100 full-time, then eventually 1,000 full-time employees, responding to contractual agreements for medical facilities all over the region.

Dr. Matthew Sanders
Dr. Matthew Sanders

The business plan was expected to cost $25,000, but N.E.W. Life Enterprises “perfectly fulfilled” the requirements of Kettering’s Community Vitality initiatives; therefore, funding was absorbed by the university. An Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (IME) Capstone Team in addition to a Culminating Undergraduate Experience Team performing their Professional Practice Thesis, was led by Dr. Matthew Sanders, putting students on the task of researching the business and creating the plan, ultimately fulfilling their requirements before graduation. The collaborative teams work well together as the IME Capstone class fulfills the front end leg work of the project that becomes a building block for the Professional Practice Students to create a comprehensive business plan. Both the IME Capstone Course and the Professional Practice Thesis are necessary components to facilitating a successful project.

“It is the last bridge for students between undergraduate education and the engineering profession,” Sanders said.

“One of Kettering’s core strategic pillars is a commitment to community vitality,” Kettering President Dr. Robert McMahan said. “This project perfectly resonated with this commitment and with our expanding efforts in the greater Flint community.”

Maria Goodpaster, Amber Coe and Todd Turfe
Maria Goodpaster, Amber Coe and Todd Turfe

A new facility for the growing business is expected to be one of the many recommendations for final presentation given by Kettering students Amber Coe, Maria Goodpaster and Todd Turfe. The students will present to a group including N.E.W. Life Co-founders Sisters Carol Weber and Judy Blake; Diplomat CEO Phil Hagerman and Senior Vice President Jeff Rowe; Phil Shaltz, President of Shaltz Automation and managing partner of Uptown Developments; Steve Landaal, President of Landaal Packaging; and Dr. Nita Kulkarni, area physician.

Hagerman noted that the business plan represents the first of much collaboration he expects to have with Kettering in the months and years to come. It also aligns a growing trend in private business partnering with education, non-profit organizations and government to have a major social impact in the communities each serves, Hagerman said.

Diplomat became a key supporter of N.E.W. Life in recent months. So much so that Hagerman changed the dress code of his company to encourage support of the scrubs manufactured at the growing business. Working with other community leaders, they established the Business Advisory Council for N.E.W. Life while urging area hospitals and medical facilities to support the work of the women. He has directed his IT and Marketing team to redesign the N.E.W. Life logo and website in an effort to increase the exposure of N.E.W. Life to a national level.

“We see this as an unprecedented time in our country’s history when people are willing to pay a reasonable price for a high quality product that meets a social mission,” Hagerman said. “The successes of companies like Tom’s Shoes, and others, have pushed the members of our Business Advisory Council to consider N.E.W. Life in the same light. There is no reason this business cannot become a tremendous success.  More importantly, we believe we can replicate businesses like N.E.W. Life Enterprises in other areas of the community.

“While our team at Diplomat has been able to assist with some of the major hurdles, partnering with a world-class institution like Kettering really helps with the operational side of the emerging business,” Hagerman said. “Working together on this project ensures a very bright future not just for N.E.W. Life, but for the entire community. This project is far more than improving profitability. We are opening previously closed doors for individuals. We see this as an opportunity for reinventing our community – one project at a time.”

Shaltz agrees, noting that the community must seek a new course of action to create a healthy and sustainable economy and citizenry.

“Traditional ways of doing business no longer effectively address the needs of the greater Flint community,” he added. “I am committed to these kinds of collaborations that address not just profitability, but also address our social concerns.”

Discussion after the event.
See more photos on Kettering's Facebook page.

Sisters Carol Weber and Judy Blake are co-founders for the mentoring-ministry that is quickly becoming a social impact industry on the north side of Flint. Their business trains impoverished Flint women caregivers to become seamstresses and earn a wage to improve their family’s financial stability.

Thirteen objectives for the N.E.W. Life transformation will be presented at a Sept. 11 meeting at Kettering.

“As students, we have enjoyed this effort as part of our thesis,” Coe said. “It allowed us to help with a project that helps Flint and helps the Sisters with their effort. We have been working to determine how best to help this business grow and expand and help more people in Flint.”

“We believe that the unique social impact of this business is the selling point,” she added. “And the products are high quality and able to be custom-fitted.”

The transformational business plan will likely note that the market for N.E.W. Life’s products could easily bring in profits of $2 to 4-million once efficiencies are built in, McMahan said. That money will be used to help empower the people, families, and community of Flint.

Dr. Kulkarni noted that the transitional plan is critical as more individuals become aware of the products being offered. She purchases hospital gowns and scrubs from N.E.W. Life and frequently discusses the social impact value of the business with colleagues who also want to support the effort.

“People are ready to begin purchasing gowns and scrubs from them, but it is clear that the Sisters need more space and employees to fill the growing number of orders,” she said.

Purchases help N.E.W. Life Enterprises reach more women in need, Sister Judy Blake said. The N.E.W. Life Center is a faith-based environment providing life skills, work place training which empowers women to become self-sufficient.

“In the Flint vicinity, many mothers and grandmothers who raise children suffer financial hardships due to national and local economic issues, and personal circumstances,” she added. 

Founded in 2002, the St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center was created by the sisters and inspired by the real life events of a Flint mother who gave birth in an abandoned home.