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MBA Student Connects Ethical Shoppers with Sustainable Products

Marianna Kerppola
MBA/MS ’16

Marianna Kerppola, MBA/MS ’16, has leveraged Zell Lurie Institute resources to launch BetterHope, an online marketplace for products made with dignity. “As a mission-based business, BetterHope endeavors to show consumers how they can make more-informed purchase decisions to create a better world,” she says. “The website curates clothing, accessories, gifts and home-décor products that make a meaningful social impact by creating safe, sustainable jobs for producers around the world.” Kerppola will launch a beta site in the fall, using affiliate marketing to generate revenue by directing ethical consumers to the websites of established retailers, such as Amazon and Nordstrom, where those products are sold.” With this model, she will earn commissions based on the number of clicks or product purchases made by Internet shoppers on the other retailers’ sites. Kerppola aims to build a strong community of ethical consumers to prove interest in products made with dignity. After demonstrating proof-of-concept, she anticipates taking the next step by setting up a direct supply chain of ethical producers in the U.S. and overseas. Kerppola’s inspiration for BetterHope came four years ago while she worked in corporate finance at Nationwide Insurance. Interested in social entrepreneurship, she began to volunteer for International Development Collaborative, a nonprofit start-up selling fair trade collegiate apparel to help impoverished Bolivian women. “I started a journey to explore how to create ethical, sustainable supply chains for clothing,” Kerppola explains. “Apparel manufacturing offers important, low-skilled jobs for people, mostly women, around the world. I want to ensure these jobs help to alleviate rather than perpetuate poverty.” A two-year stint at Google in Ann Arbor supplemented her passion with a critical skill set, Internet marketing, and she decided to return to school to launch her company. Kerppola chose the University of Michigan to pursue her dual graduate degree in business and global social enterprise in large part because of the entrepreneurial coursework, support and mentoring offered by Zell Lurie. Through the Dare to Dream program, she landed a $500 Mayleben Venture Shaping grant in fall 2013. This year, she received the $500 Weiser Family Cause-based Entrepreneurial Leadership Award and was runner-up for the Erb Institute Award for Sustainability at the 2014 Michigan Business Challenge. Over the summer, Kerppola continued development work on her website content and architecture at TechArb with coaching from Zell Lurie Institute Entrepreneur-in-residence Jim Price and Program Manager Sarika Gupta and funding from a $6,000 stipend through the Marcel Gani internship program. “It’s been helpful to have wonderful mentors to point me in the right direction and provide emotional support,” she says.