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Per Scholas

Per Scholas

Team: Ben Thomases '03
Areas: sales, marketing and pricing strategies
Supervisor: Professor Cathy Clark, Social Entrepreneurship course

Per Scholas is a human services non-profit in the Bronx with a variety of educational programs including computer training for adults from lower income urban communities. It also provides reconditioned personal computers at low cost to students and other users who would otherwise be unable to access such technology. As an outgrowth of a program to refurbish used computers Per Scholas developed the capacity to break up and recycle computers that are not worth refurbishing. As they became involved in this fee-for-service business, they came to believe that there exists an unmet need for environmentally sound computer recycling.

Computers contain hazardous materials, including a high proportion of lead in monitors. Most companies and individuals simply throw old equipment away and there is little regulation covering computer disposal. However, organizations that handle hazardous materials are regularly visited by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has begun auditing for proof of environmentally sound computer disposal.

However, Per Scholas realized that it was not breaking even on its recycling operation, due to overheads such as rent, as well as other cost and pricing factors. As part of Professor Cathy Clark's social entrepreneurship course, Ben Thomases '03 helped the organization assess options to improve sales, developed a marketing strategy, and analyzed financial models and breakeven pricing scenarios.

Learning the sales process

As part of this project Thomases helped the organization pursue actual sales with 24 potential customers, including hospitals/health care facilities, universities, school districts, and a museum. This provided insights into the sales process and the complexities of dealing with large departments, where the responsibility and process for disposal of equipment is unclear. Thomases recommended that helping clients deal with these organizational complexities, should form part of Per Scholas' services. In addition, sales people needed to provide clients with information on environmental regulations and benefits of using Per Scholas' services. For these and other reasons, Thomases recommended that an in-house sales position be created, rather outsourcing this function.

Broader insights for nonprofits

By thinking about the marketing, sales and pricing strategies as well as some organizational issues for Per Scholas, Thomases was able to learn first-hand about success factors for nonprofits running fee-for-service businesses. "The Social Entrepreneurship course was great preparation for the work I am doing now," says Thomases, "This consulting project gave me a window into issues that I am facing on a day to day basis as President of FirstSource Staffing."


2014 Social Enterprise Conference

Millennials Rising: What's Next for Sustainability?

When: October 31, 2014,
8:30 am-6:00pm

The Marriott Marquis
1535 Broadway, New York, NY 10036
Between 45th and 46th Streets
New York, NY 10036

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The annual Social Enterprise Conference at Columbia Business School brings together thought leaders from across private, nonprofit, public, and academic sectors to share best practices, debate critical issues, and collaborate on innovative concepts to inspire change. Through interactive sessions, keynote speakers, workshops, a pitch competition, and networking opportunities, the conference presents guests with the opportunity to partake in the most important business and societal conversation of this new era. For updates on speakers and sessions, please visit the conference website.

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Pangea Advisors

Man rowing boat in South East Asia

Watch student videos and learn more about the 30 international pro bono consulting projects organized by Pangea Advisors this year.


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