Catherine (Cat) Fish was born in Germany and spent most of her childhood in London, where she attended international school. Her love of American politics couldn’t keep her away from her native country and she returned to her homeland to earn a BA in Politics and Government at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.
Her interest in politics continued to grow for the next three years after graduation, as she worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Her positions as a political assistant and later, as a policy aide, helped develop her interests in social policy, eventually leading her to the University of Michigan School of Social Work.
During the past summer, Fish interned with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which was founded by University of Michigan MBA alum Steve Mariotti in New York City. In 1987, Mariotti founded NFTE, which gives at-risk youth from low-income backgrounds opportunities to receive entrepreneurial education while attending high school.
“This internship really helped me understand the intersection of entrepreneurship and social work, and how to write a business plan,” Fish said.
Bringing it all together didn’t end with her internship. She is currently on the Student Advisory Board of the Nonprofit and Public Management Center (NPM), which is open to students from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, School of Social Work, and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, each of which is perennially among the top-ranked schools in its field. NPM’s mission is to equip future leaders in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors with interdisciplinary insight that can help them operate more effectively when working for or collaborating with nonprofit and public institutions.
Now in the second year of her Management of Human Services MSW program, Fish takes her combined interests one step further by entering the Entrepalooza and Business Concept Competition, sponsored by the Michigan Entrepreneur & Venture Club and the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the UM Ross School of Business.
Entrepalooza features panel discussions and keynote presentations from entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and executives about emerging entrepreneurial trends and perspectives. Entrepalooza also features a student pitch competition, which gives students an opportunity to pitch a business plan to a panel of judges comprised of investors.
Fish, and her team presented their concept, Dinner With, which is a social enterprise with the mission of promoting the philanthropic and advocacy power of public figures.
“The idea is simple,” explains Fish. “A public figure chooses a charity they would like to represent, and the American public has the opportunity to enter a sweepstakes or volunteer for the chance to join the celebrity for dinner. Dinner With provides charities with an online and mobile application platform to meet fundraising and volunteer needs.
“As the Obama campaign successfully did with political fundraising in 2008 and 2012, the Dinner With fundraising model democratizes philanthropy by making it accessible, affordable, and fun,” Fish explains. “Surprisingly, individuals, not corporations or foundations, are the dominant source of philanthropic giving in the United States. Approximately 75 percent of charitable donations are made by individuals, yet individuals are harder for nonprofits to reach and solicit. The Dinner With website and mobile applications are tools for organizations to connect with individual donors in a cost-effective way.”
The Zell Institute offers a grant process called Dare to Dream, where student entrepreneurs apply to three different phases of business. The Dinner With team won the business concept competition and a $500 check. Recently, Dinner With was awarded the $1,500 Dare to Dream Assessment Grant, and the team is developing a feasibility study with financial models and market research.
“If we determine the venture is feasible, the next goal will be to apply for the Dare to Dream integration phase, which offers a $10,000 prize, and the opportunity to operationalize,” Fish said. “We’ll find out the results before mid-year 2013.”
According to Fish, Dinner With utilizes social media networks of celebrities to publicize the sweepstakes as well as volunteer opportunities. Approximately 26 percent of Americans over the age of 16 volunteer for a charity or nonprofit each year. Dinner With can bolster volunteerism for partner organizations by making volunteer opportunities more visible and providing additional incentives.
“We’re a tool for nonprofits to reach new audiences …our market is the end user…teens, colleges students, people who don’t have an affiliation with a charity of choice.”
In addition to her involvement with the Zell competition and her coursework, Fish is currently interning with the University of Michigan Ginsberg Center, where she assists in the training, coordination, and evaluation of more than 300 UM students participating in Alternative Spring Breaks and North American Summer Service Trips.