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Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues


Kenan Institute 2024 Grand Challenge: Business Resilience
Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues

Craston Artis

President/Lead Consultant, Artis Consulting, Inc.

Craston Artis is making a difference in his community. And, his MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler is helping him do it.

Craston recently launched EngageWIT, an education technology platform focused on virtual student teaching. He has also expanded his consulting practice, taking on a variety of projects that support economic development within the Black community.

One of those projects was with Corning, which engaged Craston to help expand its philanthropic footprint in North Carolina. Craston worked on a team that evaluated opportunities for the company to invest in community-based organizations in the Black community.

“We identified the needs of the community in different areas — healthcare, education and economic development,” Craston explains. “But I also brought my organizational efficiency lens to the table to evaluate how filling those needs could bring Corning the return on investment they were after.”

Next, through connections he made with the Kenan Institute, the School’s thought leadership think tank, Craston has been working as a consultant for NCGrowth to explore ways to support the southeast Raleigh community, a predominantly Black area of the city.

“We’re looking at how to ensure that construction projects in the Black community as a result of the affordable housing bond can provide more work for Black contractors and subcontractors,” says Craston. “It’s been a great example of how I can apply my business mindset to address a community issue.”

After earning his undergraduate degree in history and education, Craston taught social studies at a Chicago high school before moving on to administrative and consulting roles for schools, districts and government agencies. He built a strong personal network in the industry, which helped him find numerous opportunities to provide coaching, curriculum development and leadership training.

For his next career move, Craston considered two options — charter-school management or an entrepreneurial venture to deliver virtual coaching. Each pursuit was exciting and each would challenge him in a different way. School leadership would require strong organizational management skills, while the entrepreneurial path would require a solid understanding of marketing, operations, strategy, and finance.

To bolster his knowledge and confidence in these areas, Craston turned his attention to pursuing an MBA. He chose UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Weekend Executive MBA program for its reputation, flexibility, and immersive format, which would allow him to build strong, personal connections with his peers and professors.

It also felt like “his kind of program.”

“From the classroom visit to the interview, it felt right,” shares Craston. “It felt more like a family, and more personal, than what I experienced at other schools with similar reputations.”

In the program, Craston built critical skills across numerous dimensions, in operations, strategic planning, product development, and emerging uses for technology. In a marketing course, he learned how to think through processes within a team environment, a skill he had previously only tackled alone. Coursework in entrepreneurship exposed him to new ways to launch a business — franchising, acquisitions, search funds, and private equity. This course also helped Craston bring his vision for a virtual coaching service to fruition by providing him with new tools that he was able to apply immediately to his growing enterprise.

While the skills he learned in the classroom were important, Craston deeply valued the connections he was able to make with his classmates. “Whether it was at the social events set up by the program or just us hanging out in the lounge after class, I made some really strong connections,” he explains. “I learned a lot about other industries that really intrigued me.”

Craston’s MBA experience increased his confidence and helped him recognize the impact he could make within the Black community. “A lot of conversations in business are not considerate of communities of color,” he said. “In the program, I figured out how to have these conversations in a way that was fruitful for me and that I think was fruitful for my classmates as well.”

With his new skills, connections, and confidence, Craston plans to bridge further into economic development to support his community. He’s looking into microprivate equity opportunities that could help small businesses find the growth capital they need to scale up and take on larger contracts. Ultimately, he believes this focus could help him build a firm specializing in this work.

To those considering an MBA, Craston suggests, “If you think of your MBA as part of a professional journey that extends for years beyond your time in the program, you’ll better appreciate its gems. This is one of those times where you want to step back and see the bigger picture.”