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News and Media

News and Media

Creativity and Leadership Project Awards $65K to Student Entrepreneurs

May. 20, 2011

The Creativity & Leadership Project has awarded grants totaling $65,000 to six graduating seniors to launch their originally conceived entrepreneurial ventures.

Erika Zarowin will establish a cooperative food market on the near west side of Cleveland as a means of alleviating food desert issues and encouraging economic renewal; Harry Israelson, David Sherwin, and Federico Sanchez-Llanos will launch an innovative and affordably priced 3-D video production company that will make the technology more accessible and foster a community of 3-D artists; and Madhav Kaushish and Haider Ali Khan will implement an online test prep program for students in Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent.

Each year, Oberlin’s Creativity & Leadership fellowship program awards a series of grants of up to $30,000 to motivated students to help them move entrepreneurial ideas from concept to reality. The program supports dedicated entrepreneurs who have a creative model for addressing a demonstrated need or demand in a financially sustainable way, whether in the for-profit or not-for-profit sector. In addition to funding, fellows benefit from mentoring by leading entrepreneurs.

Ventures may be business, social, or artistic in scope, or a combination. The Creativity & Leadership Project reflects Oberlin’s musical and artistic excellence, academic rigor, and longstanding commitment to preparing students for leadership and civic engagement.

The 2011 fellowships are a component of Oberlin's Creativity & Leadership Project, which is part of the Northeast Ohio Collegiate Entrepreneurship Program—a Kauffman Campuses (SM) initiative funded by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Proposals are adjudicated by a committee of faculty, staff, and alumni on the basis of quality of idea, strength of the implementation plan, and the leadership qualities of the students, says Conservatory Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Andrea Kalyn, who is also director of the Creativity & Leadership Project.


“This year's fellowship recipients impressed the committee with their passion for and commitment to both their ideas and the successful implementation of those ideas, as well as their intelligence, thoughtfulness, and creativity,” Kalyn says. “We are excited to see these ventures develop throughout the coming year.”

Erika Zarowin has received $25,000 to establish a cooperative food market serving

neighborhoods on the Near West Side of Cleveland, in an area considered an urban food desert because of the distance residents must travel to access a supermarket.

Zarowin’s fellowship will fund the research and development phase of her project. She will spend the coming year raising capital, working with a consultant to finalize a business plan, meeting with community leaders and residents, and identifying potential sites for the year-round market. Her goal is to raise $400,000 to $800,000 to open the retail space in a rental or redeveloped property, the specific location of which is not yet determined.

An environmental studies major from Cambridge, Mass., Zarowin has close ties to

Cleveland. Her maternal grandparents, children of Hungarian and German immigrants, were raised on the west side of Cleveland where their families settled, but it wasn't until Zarowin came to Oberlin College that she built a personal connection to the city.

“I fell in love with Cleveland and declared my major around the same time, at the start of my junior year,” Zarowin says. “For me, all of this is about environmental justice — protecting, preserving, and regaining access to the resources our communities need and deserve.”

Harry Israelson, David Sherwin, and Federico Sanchez-Llanos have been awarded $25,000 to launch an affordable 3-D video production company called OUTHERE Productions. Their mission is to make 3-D video production available to artists, musicians, writers, businesses, and public servants at a grassroots level.

According to their proposal, OUTHERE Productions will have three functions: produce, shoot, edit, and package 3-D video for clients; advance an unexplored art form by creating groundbreaking 3-D content and sharing it with an online community through their website, OUTHERE.TV; and foster 3-D media literacy by giving workshops and classes on the fundamentals of 3-D production. The group also intends to maintain a relationship with the Apollo Outreach Initiative by conducting workshops for Oberlin youth.

The three plan to establish their company in New York City. Sanchez-Llanos, an economics major, will focus on the business side, reaching out to clients and allocating funds for production. Israelson and Sherwin, both cinema studies majors, will be involved with the creative and technical functions.

Sanchez-Llanos says the three became involved with the venture after Israelson returned from a symposium in Denver in which he attended 3-D video workshops and met with industry leaders.

“Harry came back extremely excited about the countless opportunities that 3-D offers for the future. He came to David and me to talk about the best way to seize a position in the market,” Sanchez-Llanos says. “We immediately began taking steps to establish the first affordable 3-D production company.”

Madhav Kaushish and Haider Ali Khan received $15,000 to develop an online program that will prepare students for standardized tests in public schools in India and Pakistan.

“In Pakistan and India, there is a real crises in the education sector at the moment. We hope to make a small contribution toward the betterment of our compatriots,” says Khan.

Kaushish, an honors math major who was raised and schooled in New Delhi, and Khan, an economics major from Pakistan, assert that the primary and secondary government schools in India and Pakistan suffer from the longstanding effects of colonialism. According to their research, the main focus of educational policy in both countries for the last 15 years has been to increase literacy rates, with a goal of universal literacy by 2015. While India has been able to achieve a literacy rate of 74 percent, Pakistan still lags behind with a literacy rate of only 45 percent—and there are large swaths of people with no access to educational services.

Khan explains that serious problems exist with the quality of education that is being offered to students in government schools. The mushrooming of private school enrollment means education is directly tied to socioeconomic status, he says, with only elite schools (which are out of reach for most middle class families) offering a comparatively modern education.

Parental anxiety about their children being left behind has led to an explosion in “cram schools” and private tuitions, which Khan and Kaushish believe are designed specifically to “teach the exam” in order to maximize students’ standardized test scores rather than teaching the curriculum.

“This strategy is producing a generation of students who are extremely good at using formulas but useless at deriving them; they’re good at solving problems provided they have encountered them before,” Khan says.

A primary tenet of their project is to make students responsible for their own learning. The two will deliver lecture content through a series of videos streamed online. While their venture requires broadband Internet, the number of Internet subscribers in both countries is growing rapidly.

They will spend most of the fellowship year developing content and marketing their program.

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