SOUTH BEND — Maria Gibbs spent a year managing field staff in Rwanda, Haiti, Panama and Nicaragua for Bridges to Prosperity, a nonprofit that builds footbridges over impassable rivers, and she recently earned her doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Notre Dame.
But instead of chasing a career in engineering or international development, the Duke University alumna has decided to put down roots in South Bend.
Along with Dustin Mix, with Notre Dame’s ESTEEM Program, Gibbs recently founded Invanti, a social endeavor that seeks to “catalyze aspiring entrepreneurs to solve big problems.”
The name references Avanti, the innovative sports coupe manufactured by the Studebaker Corp. in the 1960s, evoking the city’s rich industrial heritage and its long history of innovation.
“Avanti in Italian means charge forward or charge ahead,” said Gibbs, a dual citizen of Italy and the U.S. “But we also wanted to mash together innovation, invest and invent.”
At its most basic, the venture will help aspiring entrepreneurs identify opportunities for for-profit businesses that create impact and profit by connecting them with the right information and the right people, Gibbs said.
The motto: Find a problem. Create a solution. Build a company.
The first cohort of six entrepreneurs will gather this fall to identify problems and solutions around the issue of financial inclusion — the idea that low-income segments of the population should have the same access to financial products and services as their wealthier counterparts.