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Friday, November 12, 2010 - CIBRE interns help launch nonprofit, giving charity a technological boost

When Oakland University SBA students Nick Morana and Daniel Ring signed up for a CIBRE Summer Internship last summer, they never imagined they would be asked to help launch a new business.


Since last June, Morana and Ring have been developing a business plan for a project designed to change the way people help one another. Karmagora is a Web-based, interactive time bank program that allows participants worldwide to deposit and withdraw credits – karmas – that represent 15 minutes of volunteer service each. Karmas are created by service and can be redeemed to receive service.


“This could be a big success,” says Ring, an accounting major from Clawson.


He and Morana, now seniors, invested so much time and energy into the project that they agreed to continue supporting it beyond their internship while founders Rob Ray, SBA (Finance) ’04, and Doug Van Slembrouck, SBA (MIS) ’01, get Karmagora in motion.


“I personally like it,” Morana says. “I think it will catch on.”


The CIBRE Summer Internship program offers students real-world work experience while providing them a tuition stipend. Students work directly with business professionals, and they develop skills and knowledge that enhance their marketability.


Ring had already completed an internship in the summer of 2009 when he signed up for the program this year. “I knew I could expect something great,” he says.


What he didn’t anticipate was the vast array of responsibilities that would come with this latest internship. He and Morana researched the concept of time banks, studied potential competitors, developed ideas for Karmagora’s Web site and suggested approaches to improve upon what other time banks have done before them. They organized their findings on a Wiki database for Ray and Van Slembrouck to review.


“We’ve done a lot, but most importantly, we helped them draft a business plan,” Ring says.


Karmagora is an offshoot of another nonprofit organization Ray and Van Slembrouck founded, The Social Philanthropist’s Foundation, to connect young professionals with charity opportunities.


“One of the things we talked about is creating content for the people who did this and a way to do it,” says Van Slembrouck, who designs and markets software for Plex Systems Inc. in Auburn Hills.


They developed the idea of Karmagora to build upon time banking, a community-building tool that surfaced in the 1990s.


“Between the early ‘90s and now, technology has evolved at least six or seven times,” Ray says.


Most time banking programs involve specific neighborhoods. Karmagora gives users the ability to expand their reach globally. The program is based on the same interactive technology used by social networking programs like Facebook, Van Slembrouck says, and it can function as a mobile application.


Ray says he is pleased with Oakland University’s supportive role with Karmagora and the opportunity their partnership is providing Morana and Ring. “I just would have jumped on this chance when I was a student,” says Ray, a certified financial planner, UBS Financial Services. “I never wrote a business plan while I was in college.”


Ring and Morana are now working their way through a list of business plan edits and suggestions provided by volunteer mentor Judy Janes of the Older Persons Commission and project adviser Gary Foster, SBA ’91, MBA ’09, president, Lapeer-based Unicorn Consulting Associates.


Foster, who specializes in small business development and lean manufacturing consulting, says he believes the students’ work with Karmagora will prove invaluable to them. “The potential to them as people and as business people is substantial,” says Foster, who was brought in as an adviser by SBA Dean Mohan Tanniru. “Of all the business plans we see, and we see hundreds, I would put this in the top 1 percent as far as likely success stories.


“The cycle of helping others is self-feeding,” Foster continues. “When you involve churches, schools, groups and individuals, that cascade of doing good and helping others is just phenomenal.”


Janes was director of operations for advertising firm Campbell-Ewald when she retired in November 2009. Earlier this year, she volunteered to participate in the new mentoring partnership between the SBA and the Older Persons Commission.


In addition to reviewing the business plan draft, Janes encouraged the Karmagora team to fine tune its goals and develop a timeline. She also suggested working with focus groups to identify potential Karmagora users.


 “I look at my role as mentor as helping the students help Rob and Doug,” Janes says. “I intend to stick with them. This is such a good real-world experience, and as a mentor, I think that’s what we should bring students. Exposure to entrepreneurs like Rob and Doug is extremely worthwhile.”


Morana, a marketing major from Sterling Heights, says supporting the Karmagora project has impacted his overall outlook on pursuing one’s goals. “If you put your mind to it; you have a lot of dedication; and you’re surrounded by the right people, you can do almost anything,” the senior says.


There were times the project seemed daunting, he says, but Ray and Van Slembrouck helped keep him and Ring energized. “These guys are very passionate. They motivated me.”


For information about Karmagora, visit

By Flori Meeks