Skip to main content

Entrepreneurship Case Studies

Corn wrapped in plastic

Mukesh Pandey, K Sudhir, Raman Ahuja, and Deepali Tewari
Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Operations

By 2010, the FieldFresh team had been able to create an efficient supply chain for baby corn across Punjab and Maharashtra at all levels. But success brought with it the expectation of growth. Should FieldFresh grow opportunistically into different foreign markets as retailers and wholesalers demanded different products for their respective markets? Should FieldFresh continue to focus on baby corn, whose supply chain-market linkages it had perfected, or should the company expand the range of products it would supply? Should FieldFresh continue to maintain its primary export focus, or shift relative emphasis to the growing domestic market?

DonorsChoose logo
Anna Blanding, Jennifer Stredler, Kim Su, Ivy Washington, Sharon Oster, Jaan Elias and Andrea R. Nagy

Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Operations, Social Enterprise

After an auspicious start, Charles Best (Yale College ’98) and set their sights on growing beyond New York City. Supported by a $14 million grant from Silicon Valley executives in 2005, scaled up its organization and began a step-by-step expansion into various locales.  By 2009, the organization had made great strides toward completing its expansion. However, observers wondered whether could reach its goal of providing $100 million per year in gifts to classrooms and whether it would have an impact on the fundamental inequities within the educational system.

AdBiome sign
James Baron and Jaan Elias

Employee/HR, Entrepreneurship, Ethics & Religion

AgBiome co-founders, Scott Uknes and Eric Ward,  were admirers of self-managed organizations and commitment culture, approaches to organizational structure and process that encouraged openness and collaboration. Accordingly, they built AgBiome to operate without supervisory relationships, job titles, formal performance evaluations, and individual performance bonuses. Instead, AgBiome relied on a committee structure that encouraged people with the greatest expertise to make decisions on matters within their ambit.  By 2017, AgBiome employed 80 people and was projecting further expansion. But observers wondered, could a company, which worked on the basis of commitment and without a hierarchy, scale?


Competitor/Strategy, Entrepreneurship, Investor/Finance, Law & Contracts

By July of 2011, Yun “Jack” Ma had achieved his goal of creating one of the world’s leading e-commerce companies. Ma founded the Alibaba Group and took advantage of growing internet usage in China to launch the leading B2B, C2C and B2C sites in the country and capture a huge market. Despite his success, Ma had a troubled relationship with Yahoo!, the largest investor in the Alibaba Group. Ma’s decision in January of 2011 to transfer Alipay (the Alibaba Group’s online payment unit) from the Alibaba Group to a company under his personal control was just making matters worse.

A.J. Wasserstein

Entrepreneurship, Investor/Finance, Leadership & Teamwork

During his time at the Yale School of Management, Matt Dittrich (Yale SOM ‘18) became interested in how recent MBA students gathered search funds, structured small acquisitions, propelled themselves into being a CEO, and then participated in a liquidity event only a few years after acquisition and graduation.  He appreciated the case studies about entrepreneurs facing acquisition, strategy, and financing issues.  But what did entrepreneurs do after their exits?  At the urging of his teacher, A.J. Wasserstein, he interviewed former search fund entrepreneurs who had experienced an exit to learn what exactly they chose to do, and why. Overcome by curiosity, Dittrich was excited to begin his informational interviews (summaries included here). 

Jaan Elias, James Quinn and James Baron

Employee/HR, Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Design, Leadership & Teamwork, Social Enterprise

Biographies of the following seven leaders are provided:

  1. Rodney O’Neal, Delphi,
  2. Neal Keny-Guyer, Mercy Corps,
  3. David Cote, Honeywell,
  4. Linda Mason, Bright Horizons,
  5. General Stanley McChrystal, United States Military,
  6. Donna Dubinsky, Numenta, and (7) Laszlo Bock, Google. 
A. J. Wasserstein

Employee/HR, Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Design, Leadership & Teamwork, Social Enterprise

Mike Erwin, a decorated army veteran from West Point, never envisioned himself as a social entrepreneur or activist. Yet in 2012, he found himself the CEO of an organization with 15,000 members and 34 chapters reaching from Syracuse, NY to Houston, TX. Though Erwin was proud of his organization’s growth and had excelled in leadership positions, he questioned whether he was the right person to scale Team Red, White and Blue. Would someone else with more experience be more appropriate? If he indeed moved on, how could he ensure the organization would continue to thrive amid a change in leadership and potential restructuring?

A. J. Wasserstein

Employee/HR, Entrepreneurship

Before entering the Yale School of Management, James Guba (SOM’18) had thought about becoming an entrepreneur. He did not have a specific idea to build a business around, but he did aspire to take charge of an organization and grow it. At Yale, Guba discovered an entrepreneurial niche called “search funds” that would allow him to acquire and lead a company that he had not built from scratch. Inspired, Guba met with search fund entrepreneurs to learn about their different paths to building their funds.

A. J. Wasserstein

Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship

After nearly two years of searching, Kalil Diaz (SOM '14) wondered if he had finally found the company for which he had been looking. The decision he was facing would have a big impact on his investors as well as his own life. He was somewhat confident he could access funds from his current investors to purchase the company despite several investors being slow in their response to commit. However, Diaz still wondered if making the investment was the right move. How would he transition from the search to being CEO and running a company? Would the acquisition provide suitable financial returns for his investors and himself?

Elise Rindfleisch and Allison Mitkowski

Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Sustainability

In October 2007, Clorox announced that it would buy Burt’s Bees for $925 million – more than five times Burt’s Bees’ annual sales. Clorox’s move caught many in the industry by surprise - Burt’s Bees had a folksy image and natural appeal for customers. Could such a brand find a home within a company best known for a toxic cleanser? Would Clorox’s push into “green” cleaners satisfy Burt’s Bees’ faithful customers? Had Clorox paid too much for its acquisition? Or, were there potential synergies that justified the purchase? What was the future of this market?

Rodrigo Canales, Jean Rosenthal, Jaan Elias, and William Drenttel

Entrepreneurship, Healthcare, Innovation & Design, Social Enterprise

The traditional Zulu greeting, "Sawubona," literally translates as "I see you." The major challenge faced by Project Masiluleke could be captured in this local greeting – could Project M see the lives of the individuals they hoped to help? Could they find ways to understand each other and the individuals threatened by HIV/AIDS well enough to design effective solutions to a major health crisis? PopTech, frog design, and the Praekelt Foundation joined with iTeach, an HIV/AIDS and TB prevention and treatment program, to look for new approaches to address South Africa's health issues. Access to this case has been made freely available to the public.

Rodrigo Canales, Jean Rosenthal, Jaan Elias, Ashley Pandya and Samuel Sturm

Entrepreneurship, Healthcare, Innovation & Design, Social Enterprise, State & Society, Sustainability

In a unique partnership, governments, designers, architects, academics, and NGOs had come together to create new sanitation solutions for India's urban slums. Specifically, the group set about tackling one of the developing world's leading problems – open defecation in crowded urban settings. But by fall 2013, not a single community toilet had been approved. What had gone wrong? And what could this experience teach others about an overall solution to the problem?

Jaan Elias, Mario Alan González Hernández, Carlos Gil García, Rodrigo Canales, and Kaveh Khoshnood

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Employee/HR, Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Design, Leadership & Teamwork, Operations, Social Enterprise

San Miguel, a small Amaranth processing company in Huixcazdhá, Mexico, was started as a development project to sustainably employ local residents.  Despite the plant’s rural location and unschooled workforce, the company pioneered the processing of amaranth into a number of unique products. Though the company yielded a small but steady profit, the plant was operating at only 20 percent of capacity and the organization lacked a coherent marketing strategy. What new markets could the company target and what communications strategy should it employ?

Andrea Nagy Smith and Douglas Rae

Entrepreneurship, Operations, Social Enterprise, State & Society

JMB S.A. had been in the mango processing business since 1998, and CEO Jean-Maurice Buteau had built up a profitable business that exported around 2,000 tons of mangoes per year.  The January 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, but JMB appeared to survive intact, and the Soros Economic Development Fund (SEDF) was eager to move forward. In spring 2010 SEDF proceeded with a $1.3 million loan and a $1 million equity investment in JMB. But by spring 2012, after pouring $2.55 million into JMB, SEDF realized that it had to make a decision: invest another $2 million and reorganize the company under new management; sell the company, or shut down JMB S.A. altogether.

Allison Mitkowski, Alexandra Barton-Sweeney, Tony Sheldon, Arthur Janik, and Jaan Elias

Customer/Marketing, Innovation & Design, Social Enterprise, State & Society, Sustainability

In 2009, SELCO was considering its plans for how the company might expand. The company decided to institutionalize its design process by building an innovation center. SELCO also added products that provided energy solutions beyond solar. Some within the company were hoping the company would go “deeper” and look at designing solutions for even poorer members of the Indian population. Others were hoping that the company would go “wider” and expand beyond its current geographical areas in Karnataka and Gujarat. Whatever its direction, the strategic choices the company made at this point in its evolution would be crucial to determining its continued success.

Andrea Nagy Smith and Mathew Spiegel

Asset Management, Investor/Finance, Metrics & Data, Sourcing/Managing Funds

In 2010 developer Bruce Becker completed 360 State Street, a major new construction project in downtown New Haven. The building was a 32-story high-rise with 500 apartments, a parking garage, and a grocery store on the street level. In the summer of 2013, Becker had a number of alternatives to consider in regards to the open lot adjacent to his recent construction. He also had no obligation to build. He could bide his time. But Becker also worried about losing out on rents should he wait too long. Under what set of circumstances and at what time would it be most advantageous to proceed?

Fawzia Ahmed, Jaan Elias, and Sharon Oster

Social Enterprise, State & Society

On the edges of a warehouse district in New Haven, Connecticut, an intrepid group of educational pioneers were turning conventional theory on its head. Amistad Academy, a charter school founded by two Yale Law School graduates, was not only getting students on par with their grade levels in reading and math, but was pushing them to perform as well as the best suburban school districts too.  Five years after opening Amistad, McCurry and Toll opened an additional school in New Haven and four schools in Brooklyn, New York – all of which showed the same promise as Amistad. They dubbed their network of schools Achievement First (AF), and garnered national attention and funding from “venture philanthropists” interested in educational reform. However, in the summer of 2006, AF was facing critical questions about its future direction.

Ravi Dhar and Andrea Nagy Smith

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Investor/Finance, Operations

At the time of its IPO filing, Groupon held the lead among group buying sites, a 52-percent market share of revenue generated, according to the group-buying site aggregator Yipit. But many questions remained about its future. Would Groupon’s labor-intensive business model prove profitable? Would customers and merchants be loyal to Groupon? Would other companies take its business? In summer 2011 it was far from sure that the young company could maintain its lead.

K. Geert Rouwenhorst, Jean W. Rosenthal, and Jaan Elias

Innovation & Design, Investor/Finance, Macroeconomics, Sourcing/Managing Funds

In 2006 Deutsche Bank (DB) brought a new product to market – an exchange traded fund (ETF) based on the carry trade, a strategy of buying and selling currency futures. The offering received the William F. Sharpe Indexing Achievement Award for “Most Innovative Index Fund or ETF” at the 2006 Sharpe Awards. These awards are presented annually by and Information Management Network for innovative advances in the indexing industry. The carry trade ETF shared the award with another DB/PowerShares offering, a Commodity Index Tracking Fund. Jim Wiandt, publisher of, said, "These innovators are shaping the course of the index industry, creating new tools and providing new insights for the benefit of all investors." What was it that made this financial innovation successful?

K. Geert Rouwenhorst, Jean W. Rosenthal, and Jaan Elias

Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Design, Social Enterprise, State & Society

The political players had changed since President Clinton and Senator Moynihan’s helicopter ride. Clinton was no longer President, his wife had taken Moynihan’s seat in the Senate and Michael Bloomberg had replaced Rudolph Giuliani as New York’s Mayor. What remained the same was that the city, state, and federal government had yet to reach a deal. The question of what to do with Governors Island and who should do it remained very much open. Indeed, there were those within the new Bush administration and the Congress who believed in scrapping Clinton and Moynihan’s deal and selling the island to the highest bidder be that the local government or a private developer.

Jingyue Xu, Jean Rosenthal, K. Sudhir, Hua Song, Xia Zhang, Yuanfang Song, Xiaoxi Liu, and Jaan Elias

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Design, Investor/Finance, Leadership & Teamwork, Operations, State & Society

In 2015, Ant Financial’s MYbank (an offshoot of Jack Ma’s Alibaba company) was looking to extend services to rural areas in China through its Flourishing Farmer Loan program. MYbank relied on the internet to communicate with loan applicants and judge their credit worthiness. Initial tests of the program had proved promising, but could MYbank operate the program at scale? Would its big data and technical analysis provide an accurate measure of credit risk for loans to small customers? Could MYbank rely on its new credit-scoring system to reduce operating costs to make the program sustainable?