South Bend's Brain Gain

Downtown South BendSouth Bend is once again rebuilding itself as an industrial powerhouse - and this time, it's using some ND brainpower to do it. Photo by Matt Cashore.

South Bend has no problem bringing talented minds to Michiana.  With Notre Dame just blocks away, the city enjoys a yearly influx of bright students, world-class faculty and creative researchers.  The trouble is getting those smart folks to stick around.

So South Bend community leaders figured out a way to turn "brain drain" into "brain gain."

On Thursday, South Bend will formally announce the creation of enFocus, a non-profit that will pay seven graduates of Notre Dame's ESTEEM Program to solve challenges in the community and improve civic government.

The graduates in the enFocus program will be named Michiana Venture Fellows.  The fellows will apply their ESTEEM (Engineering Science Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Masters) training and work as a team, with each member leading a different project.  

Because of their hybridized training in technology, engineering and entrepreneurship, ESTEEM graduates have ideal backgrounds to tackle complex socioeconomic problems.  Dina Imbabazi, a 2012 ESTEEM student, is designing a business plan to bring a new medical analysis technology (which she developed) to aid people in her native Rwanda.

The Michiana Venture Fellows will primarily focus on using technology to improve city governance by operating more efficiently and improving communication.  They will also tackle a much broader issue: how to improve South Bend's entire city culture and strengthen the bonds between the city and Notre Dame.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at Mendoza College of BusinessMayor Pete's next wish-list item: a red phone with a direct line to the enFocus headquarters. Copyright University of Notre Dame / Photo by Matt Cashore.

Notre Dame has started to harness its brainpower in service of the city.  Notre Dame has recently announced that some of its students will conduct surveys for Transpo, South Bend's public transportation system.  Notre Dame researchers have developed local tech companiespartnered with the Indiana Department of Education, and even pioneered a new sewer system that will save South Bend $120 million.

Pete Buttigieg, South Bend's fresh-faced new mayor, has already publicized his plan to revive South Bend's stagnant economy by attracting high-tech investment.  With high-tech businesses come educated employees, and with educated employees come dollars.  And if you believe Buttigieg, South Bend has what it takes: an abundance of developed industrial space, cheap energy, access to quality fiber optic communications and a cool climate.

If South Bend's new enFocus program pulls through, the city will be able to confidently add another advantage to its roster: a bunch of bright, civic-minded entrepreneurs.

Read more about South Bend's enFocus initiative at the South Bend Tribune.

Learn more about Notre Dame's ESTEEM Program, which features entrepreneurial polymaths like Dina Imbabazi and is still accepting applications for 2012-2013!

For more aerial pictures of South Bend, check out Matt Cashore's work on photos.nd.edu. 

 by Michael Rodio

Posted In: Features