Tag Archives: social entrepreneurship

Global change marketplace: how the GSEC Trade Show brings the world to UW

trade showOver its nine year history, the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business has brought awareness of pressing global issues to thousands of people – student competitors; competition mentors, judges and coaches; university partners; student volunteers; friends, family and supporters. So far, the competition has engaged over 2000 students of diverse educational disciplines and levels from around the world in tackling complex global social problems with entrepreneurial spirit and innovative market-based solutions.

At the competition’s culmination, semi-finalist university student teams (30-60 students per year) from around the world travel to Seattle for a week to learn about social enterprise, receive professional guidance and connections, network with each other and compete for prizes.

GSEC’s cross-cultural exchange is highlighted at the Trade Show, where semi-finalist teams each give their “pitch” to sell their business ideas to Trade Show judges, who act as mock investors, as well as students and community members. They often have prototypes, photos, videos and stories to illustrate the challenges they are facing and the inspirational impacts of their solutions. As a result, these issues become real, even for those who have never experienced them firsthand. Judge Loretta Little explains: “I have always felt and try to teach my kids that we’re citizens of the world. You need to put yourself in other people’s shoes. What better way than to meet people from around the world who are willing to come forward and share problems with you and what they think might be solutions to those problems.”

Teams often use prize money and connections made during GSEC to help launch their business, which can create employment and have other positive social impacts back home. Archived and streaming video of competition events, media coverage locally and in the student competitors’ universities and communities, and even the competitors own blogs and social media extends the education still further – allowing even those who cannot take part in the competition to feel inspired by the innovations being proposed to some of the world’s most pressing problems. Trade Show judge David Parker summed up why he volunteers each year: “The new ideas that are emerging every year from young people – it’s just astounding – they’re already creating patents, engaging with partners for manufacturing new devices, they’ve been able to engage with experts in the geographies of high need that they hope to get their solutions to – I just love seeing that passion, energy and creativity and innovation emerge and I continue to be impressed year after year with the applicants, the competitors and their ideas.”

GSEC is open to currently enrolled degree-seeking students in any discipline, at any level of study, and at any higher education institution worldwide who submits a plan that uses business principles to create a sustainable solution to poverty, health and economic growth in the developing world. Applications for the 10th annual competition are due November 12, 2014. Learn more at http://www.foster.washington.edu/gsec/

Great insight and thoughtful honesty at Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Guest post by Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA 2014
She attended the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was organized by Ken Denman, Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School.

Foster alumni never cease to amaze me, and Ken Denman (MBA 1986) is no exception. Ken has held numerous executive roles across established corporations and new ventures, and he is currently the president and CEO of Machine Perception Technologies as well as an angel investor. In addition, he holds the Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership and has spent this year bringing exciting and inspiring events to Foster. The Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship that Ken organized was no exception. For this conference, Ken assembled a fantastic group of leaders in the technology, start-up, and venture capital space from both Seattle and Silicon Valley.

Charles SonghurstThe day kicked off with Charles Songhurst, General Manager of Corporate Strategy at Microsoft. The first part of Charles’ remarks was about the five common reasons that companies succeed: geography, an ability to generate positive serendipity, expertise, getting the right mix of skills on a team, and being empathetic. The second part of his speech wasn’t what I expected from someone at a huge company like Microsoft—Charles discussed why big companies have such a hard time innovating. That mix of great insight and thoughtful honesty is something that comes out at all Foster events, and Charles’ attitude as well as his fresh perspective were echoed throughout the day.

After the incredible discussion with Charles, the day’s panels covered a range of topics relevant to innovation and entrepreneurship. Below are highlights from each panel discussion.

Chasing the Inevitable: How VCs identify and assess potential opportunities
The session was moderated by Foster’s own Professor Emily Cox Pahnke and featured three venture capitalists who work across a range of industries: Michelle Goldberg of Ignition Partners, Ghia Griarte of Saints Capital and Andrew Tweed of Thomvest Ventures. Although each VC specializes in different kinds of deals and has expertise in different areas, they all emphasized that their firms have internal theses they work from. When looking at truly innovative opportunities that don’t have a market yet, they look for products and features that can be easily explained and understood by a customer. All the panelists also agreed that investing is about relationships and the strength of the founder. They want to invest in someone who is wedded to success more than a specific idea, is open to feedback, knows the industry well, and has proven success in previous positions.

Changing the Non-Profit Landscape: What does it take for social entrepreneurs to achieve leading innovation and long term success
While a discussion about non-profits seems odd for a business school, Foster has a history of developing leaders who want to give back. Moderator Zaw Thet, co-founder and chairman of plyfe.me and HaulerDeals, engaged Kushal Chakrabarti (founder of Vittana), James Gutierrez (co-founder and partner of Insikt Ventures), and Doug Plank (founder and CEO of Mobilecause) in a conversation about social entrepreneurship. Despite the non-profit focus, the panelists all came back to the same themes discussed in the for-profit panels. In particular, you should practice “intellectual honesty” and admit to your strengths and weaknesses—then get brilliant people to fill in your gaps. They also reminded anyone going into philanthropy that some non-profits fail because they are 99% heart and 1% business, but being 99% business won’t lead to better results. You must have a mix of business and heart to succeed as a social venture.

Assembling Nimble and Functionally Diverse Teams: Where and how to spot the top talent to booster your team
Panel on Assembling Nimble and Functionally Diverse TeamsWith so many students looking for jobs and internships, everyone was excited to hear what start-ups and established innovation-focused companies look for when hiring. Interim CEO of Vittana, Rebecca Lovell moderated this discussion with Marc Barros (co-founder of Contour), Zaw Thet, and Donna Wells (president and CEO of Mindflash Technologies). It’s no surprise the panelists all advocated hiring people who are able to embrace flexibility, have emotional intelligence, and work well in a team. But it’s most important that you hire people who love and use your product. And when you’re thinking about hiring for your company, remember you should design a position around what needs to be done, not around a title.

The Next Big Themes: What’s next, why it matters, and how you can spot big ideas before anybody else
Ken Denman talked with Seth Neiman from Crosspoint Venture Partners, Tim Porter from Madrona Ventures, and Jason Stoffer from Maveron about the next big ideas. The panelists saw some major trends driving innovation, particularly around cloud computing, big data analytics, mobile, consumerization of IT, biotech, embedding internet capabilities in everyday objects, and perceptual computing. When it comes to predicting the next big thing, these investors look for simple value propositions, pay attention to what the kids are doing, and consider if a new idea fits in with their existing theses and view of the world. But they pointed out that innovation isn’t just about change—it’s about benefiting from change.

Learn more about the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and watch videos from all the sessions.

Driven by a mission, fueled by investment

Drew Tulchin2We’re all familiar with for-profit businesses, focused on the sales of a product or service, and motivated by value creation and financial return. We also know nonprofit organizations, focused on public needs, a social mission, and global impact, and supported by charitable dollars. But there’s an emerging middle ground: social enterprise. A for-profit/nonprofit hybrid, social enterprises use market-based practices and the discipline of business to support efforts that benefit people and the planet.

“There is a space in society for a social safety net,” says Drew Tulchin, founder of Social Enterprise Associates, a management consulting firm that helps organizations raise the capital they need to achieve their social and environmental goals. Traditionally, this space has been the domain of the nonprofit sector, but as need continues to increase, there is not enough philanthropic money to support the growing nonprofit marketplace. Social enterprises avoid this problem by forgoing a donation-only model in favor of market-based efforts to sell products and services that earn income. “It’s a pretty basic economic proposition,” explains Tulchin. “Where can a mission driven entity find more money to do the things it needs to do if donations aren’t enough? The answer is in risk capital.”

Social Enterprise Associates helps entrepreneurs of for-profits and nonprofit entities become game ready to attract investment. Tulchin says that while social impact is attractive to many investors, mission-based organizations may be far more accustomed to appealing for donations and lack the business skills needed to secure capital.  “It’s very important for organizations that are trying to ‘do well by doing good’ to actually do well,” he explains. “Take the discipline of business, of a well-run organization, and do that first. Once those elements are in place, investors are more likely to see a social enterprise as investment-worthy.”

When Tulchin entered the MBA Program at the UW Business School in 1998, he’d never heard the term “social enterprise.” All he knew was that he had a goal—to make the nonprofit model work better—and he believed in using the power of business to achieve it. “I came in trying to solve this puzzle,” he says, “and the University of Washington was a fantastic place to do it.” Tulchin learned from accomplished leaders in Seattle’s growing social entrepreneurship community (including Paul Shoemaker of Social Venture Partners and Gary Mulhair of Pioneer Human Services) that there was opportunity at the intersection of nonprofits and for-profits for mission driven businesses.

After business school and a brief stint with a Bluetooth start-up company, Tulchin focused his career on social enterprise. He joined Prisma Microfinance, where he co-wrote a Global Social Venture Competition award-winning business plan and raised $1.2 million in private equity to launch subsidiaries in Nicaragua and Honduras. He went on to work as a program officer and founder of the Capital Markets Group at the Grameen Foundation, and directed a U.S. microfinance organization in Washington DC before starting his own firm in the early 2000s. Social Enterprise Associates was incorporated in 2007.

Six years later, the company is a leader in social enterprise consulting, working with nonprofits, for-profits, foundations, and government entities throughout the U.S. and around the world. The firm’s recent consulting projects have including working with banks in Afghanistan, providing strategic planning for Native American housing organizations in New Mexico, and helping a mobile grocer bring healthy food to rural communities. Social Enterprise Associates was named a 2011 “Best For the World” Small Business by B Lab, which certifies businesses as “B Corporations” that meet standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Tulchin is perhaps most proud of having advised numerous social enterprises on raising the money needed to accomplish their missions. Most recently, the firm helped close $250,000 in debt for Sea2Table, a family-owned sustainably-caught fish distributor, and is securing $1 million for Florida-based Solar and Energy Loan Fund, supporting efficient home improvements. “Raising money for social entrepreneurs is fantastic,” says Tulchin. “It’s something I’m fortunate enough to wake up and do every day.”

UW environmental innovation wows judges

Judges were supposed to walk into the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on March 29, pick up their folders and grab a seat. But the 23 prototypes were simply irresistible.

They caught your eye the minute you walked into the room for the 2012 University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge. A bicycle with the electric assist that could transport up to 200 pounds of cargo. Solar windows that would continue to operate even if cracked or broken. The new cooking surface that was nonstick and nontoxic with no coating at all. A tiny helicopter drone that could be used to inspect remote wind turbines. The highway jersey barrier made of recycled tires that were not only cheaper to produce but could also lessen the impact of a direct automotive hit. The earth-bag house that can be built quickly and safely after a natural disaster—and still withstand a category 4 hurricane.

The Environmental Innovation Challenge, managed by the Foster School Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (in partnership with the UW colleges of engineering and environment), is focused on student-led solutions to environmental problems. More than 120 judges from Seattle’s environmental and entrepreneurial communities evaluated student teams from colleges and universities across Washington on three criteria:

  • a working prototype, designed and built by the team
  • an investor pitch, paired with a solid understanding of the  market opportunity
  • the solution’s potential for impact

Judge Kelly Ogilvie, former president and CEO of Blue Marble Energy, was impressed by the creativity. “People are worried about the economy, but look around. This is cool stuff, and a lot of these concepts have legs.” David Allen, executive VP of McKinstry, agreed. “Every one of these ideas is pushing the green innovation needle forward,” he said. Seattle entrepreneur and Concur CEO Steve Singh was more impressed by how robust the prototypes were. “This is amazing,” he said. “Not one of these teams spent more than $3,000.”

The $10,000 grand-prize-winning team was Green Innovation Safety Technologies (GIST), which has one goal in mind: to eliminate the vast number of auto and truck tires plugging up US landfills. GIST’s jersey barriers use the equivalent of 240 tires (5,000 pounds of rubber mulch) each and have the added benefit, in comparison with concrete barriers, of increasing safety, reducing noise and enhancing water run-off. The team is composed of UW business and engineering undergraduate and PhD students.

See full list of all 5 winning teams and videos.

Learn more about the world of start-ups via the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.