The Independent Study: Harnessing the Power of Yale

The independent study option allows Yale EMBA students to engage deeply across Yale University, accessing Yale expertise to develop projects or new business models or conduct new research. Students have the flexibility to tailor this element of the curriculum to shape a project that explores personal or professional interests.

October 6, 2016

Oladipo Okeshola ’16 (Focus: Healthcare)

Describe your independent study and primary desired outcome.
My project was to develop an application to enable easy and seamless booking of haircuts. My primary outcome was to build the application and maybe get some investors.

What inspired your independent study?
I was tired of waiting in line at the barbershop.

How did your project evolve over the course of the study?
It evolved from a scheduling platform to an alternative lending platform for small businesses in beauty and wellness.

What resources did you draw upon at Yale during your independent study?
I got a lot of advice from classmates and professors. Kyle Jensen and Jennifer McFadden, Yale SOM entrepreneurship faculty, were also very helpful in providing guidance, advice, and introductions.

Have you continued to work on this project post-graduation?
Absolutely! We have since raised $250,000 and are now currently raising $1 million in equity and $20 million in debt financing.

What advice would you offer to current students embarking on their independent study?
As Yale SOMers, you are over qualified to do anything you desire. If you want to do it, do it! Nothing comes easily, but chances are you are here today at Yale SOM because you fully understand that. Godspeed!


Jessi Schwarz ’17 (Focus: Healthcare)

Describe your independent study and primary desired outcome.
I am working with a free-standing birth center in my community to evaluate a potential location for opening another branch of the center. My evaluation will include an analysis of cost, regulatory environment, potential market for services, competition, payer mix, and projected revenues.

What inspired your independent study?
I had worked with the clinical director of the birth center on a previous project for my statistics class at Yale SOM, and we both enjoyed the process. Since the birth center is in the community where I live and work, I knew it would be informative and useful for me to have a more in-depth understanding of the market for midwifery services in this area. It is also a great opportunity for me to use many of the skills we have learned at Yale SOM, including market research, competitive analysis, and developing a discounted cash flow (DCF) model.

What resources are you drawing upon at Yale in order to complete this study?
I’m thrilled to be working with Howard Forman, who is also my faculty director. Dr. Forman  has helped me in setting up an outline and timeline for the project, and I anticipate relying on him for assistance with my DCF.

Do you plan to continue to work on this project post-graduation?
Yes!


Caleb Wertenbaker ’17 (Focus: Sustainability)

Describe your independent study and primary desired outcome.
How do you change people’s minds? Savvy Turnaround will be a new media experience that uses satire, storytelling, and data to change the way people think. Although I will focus on contemporary issues, my goal is not specific to those issues. I will strive to turn readers’ understandings upside down by presenting a smart reversal on the way the media usually presents contemporary issues.

What inspired your independent study?
I developed the idea as the final project for the core MBA State and Society course in which we were asked to “identify a nonmarket issue (challenge or opportunity) that your organization currently confronts and sketch a strategy for tackling it using frameworks encountered in the course.” Because I freelance and mostly work by myself, the exact assignment didn’t really fit my circumstances, so I chose to stretch the assignment. I am particularly interested in how meaning can be changed through storytelling and found some of the Greenpeace videos that Professor David Bach showed us in class spoke directly to my interest in story telling (particularly the Kit Kat and Lego videos).

What resources are you drawing upon at Yale in order to complete this study?
So far the project is still only a concept, and I have had limited discussion with Professor Paul Anastas, who seems to like the direction of my idea. I have also found a great many relevant ideas in the sustainability focus area courses to date.

Do you plan to continue to work on this project post-graduation?
If I am able to get something up and running I would certainly like to continue with Savvy Turnaround after graduation. So far this is just a dream.


Paul Nouri ’17 (Focus: Healthcare)

Describe your independent study and primary desired outcome.
For the independent study, I am developing a business plan for a restaurant that will substantially increase awareness of social issues among all of its stakeholders, including its customers. The restaurant itself will strive to employ an otherwise displaced workforce, source ingredients locally, and adjust its menu to natural seasonal patterns, in addition to many more crucial social guidelines. Importantly, the restaurant will be themed with interactive social displays. Customers will be able to learn more about a substantial range of issues locally and around the world.

People, corporations, and nonprofits globally, and especially in America, hold an enormous amount of tangible and intangible wealth. More money is critical in the near to mid-term to provide food, shelter, and healthcare for people who can’t provide for themselves. The most significant accomplishment that this endeavor will strive to achieve is winning an increasing share of people’s time to discuss and act on social issues that will have personal, far-reaching, and positive societal impacts.

What inspired your independent study?
Since I went to college as an undergraduate, I have been drawn to social issues including increased inclusiveness for people with disabilities and fair working conditions for low-wage overseas workers. When the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, I found myself overwhelmed by the feeling of helplessness I had of not being able to help the millions of people who were trapped in a situation completely out of their control. Since then, I have become increasingly involved with non-governmental organizations that support a range of social issues around the world. Wanting to start my own enterprise in this space, but realizing that there were already many effective organizations on the ground, I decided to focus my efforts on how to increase awareness for social issues that could drastically increase the number of people around the world who have the opportunity to live safe, happy, and healthy lives.

What resources are you drawing upon at Yale in order to complete this study?
The most important resource I plan to draw upon at Yale is the people. From alumni to current peers and professors, there is an abundance of intellectual capital, experience, and well-labored points of view that will help in determining the best dynamic approaches to launch and manage this enterprise.  Additionally, the classes I am taking this year on global health and social enterprise will be important contributors to my understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the nonprofit sector. I will also be drawing on the significant online library resources that Yale makes available to its students.

Do you plan to continue to work on this project post-graduation?
Yes. My hope is that the work that I do around market potential and cost assumptions will provide the basis for launching the first restaurant, which will only be one of many that will increase social issue awareness one community at a time!



Seydina Fall ’17 (Focus: Asset Management) & Marc Wigder ’17 (Focus: Sustainability)

Describe your independent study and primary desired outcome.
We plan to launch a real estate fund that is global in reach, fully hedged, and that delivers attractive risk-adjusted returns and current income to our investors. Our investment vehicle will intentionally invest in projects that deliver environmental and social good.  Our most desired outcome is to contribute to breaking down the old binary belief that for-profit investment could only maximize financial return while social and environmental purpose could only be pursued through charity.

What inspired your independent study?
Although we look at real estate from slightly different angles when considering asset management or sustainability, our mutual extensive real estate backgrounds (over 30 years’ experience between us both) and our experience through our first year at Yale SOM led us to similar conclusions: developing an optimal real estate portfolio must include both sophisticated portfolio management techniques and strategies in sustainability and social impact in order to do well for investors and society.

What resources are you drawing upon at Yale in order to complete this study?
Yale’s resources are invaluable to our research and development of this project. Yale SOM’s professors in both asset management and sustainability include leaders and legends in academia, in business, and in government.  Drawing on their incredible experiences and advice has been crucial to our learnings and will be critical to our success as well.

Do you plan to continue to work on this project post-graduation?
One of the most incredible aspects of the EMBA program at Yale is to be able to take the critical points learned in a class weekend and apply them to your work the next day.  Likewise, we fully intend to develop a comprehensive strategy that can be deployed as we leave Yale SOM next spring.


The Yale EMBA independent study gave Wendy Davis '14 the space to develop her business idea, which won seed funding from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute and is now a successfully launched startup making an impact at the nexus of business and society. GestVision  was recently named a Patents for Humanity winner by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for "developing a quick, simple diagnostic test for preeclampsia, a potentially life threatening pregnancy complication, for use in developing regions.”

Watch a video profile of Wendy Davis.

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