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Stanford students experience small- and large- scale entrepreneurship in Mexico City on their Journey of Inquiry

Stanford students Micheal Brown and Kayley Miller recount their experiences on a Journey of Inquiry to Mexico City.

This past summer, six Stanford students traveled to Mexico City for a Journeys of Inquiry trip, titled “Private-Sector Development in Emerging Economies: Investigating micro-entrepreneurs, policymakers and corporations in Mexico City.”

Led by Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Stephen Anderson and graduate student Shreya Kankanhalli, the trip focused on understanding the constraints that small businesses face when trying to expand, and how promising entrepreneurs can overcome them. Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Sridhar Narayanan was also part of the team exploring how to grow and modernize small-scale retailers in Mexico as part of a partnership with the World Bank and Mexico’s Ministry of Finance.

Two of the students, Micheal Brown, '22, and Kayley Miller, '20, recently shared their experiences with the King Center, thinking back on the whirlwind of activity they experienced while meeting with small retail business owners, multinational corporation executives, and policy makers at the World Bank.

Brown, a Houston native who had recently returned from a three-week backpacking trip in Wyoming, is a sophomore studying economics.

Miller, a cheerleader on the Stanford cheerleading squad, grew up in West Virginia and will graduate in June 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in public policy.

student group in mexico
The Mexico City Journey of Inquiry team. Micheal Brown is third from the left and Kayley Miller is in the center | Credit: Kayley Miller

Stanford students have a multitude of opportunities they can pursue during the summer months. What was it about this Journeys of Inquiry trip that made you choose it?

Brown: It was an opportunity to expand my perspective, in terms of both academics and culture. In particular, I was excited by the prospect of interacting with and speaking to the business owners who participated in the project. Also, I was looking forward to the opportunity to meet people from the World Bank to learn more about their experiences.

Miller: The trip gave me a glimpse into multiple industries in Mexico. We met with entrepreneurs on small and large scales and learned how small changes in the economy could affect large businesses like MasterCard and florists across the city alike. It was an opportunity to learn a great deal about the Mexican economy and culture in a short time frame. 

Can you share a particular encounter with one of the entrepreneurs you met?

Brown: One particular encounter that was very meaningful for me was a conversation with the owner of a flower shop. She said that she was simply running her business because it was fun, and it was what she enjoyed doing the most. Simple improvements to her business were making her happy, and she was able to contribute to her family because of her business; it was very significant for her—and that made the research all that more important for me.

Miller: I particularly liked meeting with a skateboard shop owner. This small business owner designed his own skate shoes and operates one of just a few skate shops in Mexico City. This business owner had such a strong entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to bring a new industry to the city.

What is your biggest takeaway from your experience during this Journeys of Inquiry trip in terms of what it means to work in global development?

Brown: One of the biggest takeaways from my experience in Mexico City was that partnerships are absolutely necessary for successful policy. I witnessed first-hand NGOs, governments, and academics coming together to find answers to real-world problems.

Miller: This trip reminded me that small changes can make a huge impact. Providing small business owners with coaching on how to improve their signage or book keeping could positively impact their businesses but also ripple to impact the country as a whole by improving the efficiency of a major sector of the economy. 

How did the experience of meeting with politicians and policy makers at the World Bank influence your college or post-college plans?

Brown: After going on the trip, my post-college plans became less clear. I am now seriously considering a PhD in economics along with an MBA. I feel like the trip inspired an interest in business—and now I’m thinking of how businesses come together to influence the economy.

Miller: Meeting with policy makers at the World Bank was insightful as I could see the implementation and impact of their research firsthand. Research and policy are fields with such large potential, and there are endless possibilities for what can have the largest impacts. 

What was something about your trip that surprised you?

Brown: I was surprised that we got to meet very high-up people in the federal government. I did not expect to get exposure to highly-influential members in the manner that we did.

Miller: I was surprised as the collaboration between different industries. Government officials, business leaders, and everyday consumers all play such a role in the modernization of the Mexican economy.

What is this upcoming academic year looking like for you?

Brown: This upcoming year, I plan on getting through the majority of the economics core and hope to further explore my interests in history, politics, and international development.

Miller: My last year at Stanford will be a nice mix of economic classes, policy classes, and a few miscellaneous subjects too. I'm looking forward to my classes on the psychology of decision making, school reform, and entrepreneurship.