Guest post by Jene Etheridge, Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) Ambassador, Foster undergrad and President of UW Social Entrepreneurship Club
Entrepreneurs, students, engineers, and investors filled Anthony’s Forum in Dempsey Hall on the UW Campus with excitement and curiosity as teams from all over the world prepared to present at the 2013 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition’s Trade Show. The evening began with one-minute pitches from each team which highlighted their solutions and resulting benefits for social issues. The issues ranged from problems of respiratory disease and unclean water to accessible housing and resources.
Volunteer judges from the Seattle business, education and nonprofit community joined community members and host families—all of whom were given a hypothetical $1,000 to invest in the teams, culminating in an “Investor’s Choice” and “People’s Choice” Prize awarded at the end of the event. Judges included representatives from the Evans School of Public Affairs, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sophos Law Firm, Ness Consulting, and various UW departments.
When I talked to Brijesh Sharma, a first-time GSEC attendee and a Hubert Humphrey Fellow, he emphasized his intrigue in the range of ideas and innovative solutions. “The hardest part is choosing who to invest in,” he said, “but it’s an opportunity to test the teams’ ideas and helps build confidence for them.” An emphasis on high social impact instead of profit is something that an undergraduate business student isn’t used to hearing, but for this week the lens is re-focused through GSEC, which defines success by social impact.
I was curious as to how some of these companies even started, and was interested in Prukalpa Sankar’s story about where the idea came from for Social Cops, an open web and mobile platform where citizens, councils and corporations come together to solve civic problems. “We didn’t want to go corporate when we studied business.” She mentioned that they were inspired to start Social Cops because of the social movement, India Against Corruption. Not only are these social movements creating catalysts for change, but also urging members in their communities to mobilize and take action into their own hands.
Although some in attendance were major players in the business world, I realized they were there to find a cause they believed in that had the right people to carry out a solution with a positive social impact. I knew my fellow ambassadors would leave the trade show inspired to make change in our own communities. When I talked to Joyce Tang, a student ambassador for the livestock provider Jorsey Ashbel Farms, she emphasized even more student involvement for events like GSEC. “You meet the world here!” She told me as we watched the teams attentively answering questions from judges. “I think people forget that business can be used to benefit others too.” GSEC is somewhere to get inspired, because we see how social entrepreneurship is even more important to the founders of these companies. They’re passionate about these innovative solutions because they have grown up with these issues firsthand.
Troy Hudson, one of the participating investor judges, added a new perspective to the group as an immigrant from Guyana and Seattle business executive. “It’s important to use these business
skills to solve social problems and reinvest the profit back into a sustainable solution,” he said. The judges, along with fellow students and members of the Seattle community, offered a great opportunity for dynamic discussion on past projects and international travels, as well as innovative resources.
It seemed like the two hours had been only minutes when the announcements were made for the Investors’ and People’s Choice Awards. For the first time in GSEC history, each team received votes from the investor judges. The deliberation was so difficult the People’s Choice Award was presented to two teams: Eco-Chula from University of Dhaka in Bangladesh and Coffee Promo Co. from National University of Rwanda. The Investors’ Award was presented to one of the U.S. teams, Disease Diagnostic Group from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Congrats everyone!