Tag Archives: social entrepreneurship

Kids with hats are on track

Krochet KidsKohl Crecelius is a young man of many hats: a social entrepreneur, a dedicated practitioner of crocheting and CEO and co-founder of Krochet Kids, a company that sells “headwear.” He’s even somewhat of a media celebrity, appearing on a national TV ad for Bing that ran during the fall kick-off week on major networks.The concept for the company was an unlikely combination of activities. Kohl and his surfer, high school friends loved to crochet and enjoyed summers volunteering in developing countries. How to combine the two?

With a mission and the passion to empower people to rise above poverty and “stand on their own two feet,” Krochet Kids was born in 2007. The plan was to teach women to crochet hats and pay them a living wage for their work. While students at the University of Washington and Whitworth College, the three friends formed a non-profit organization and targeted a chronically poor, war-torn province in Northern Uganda. From a small group of workers they taught to crochet in 2008, the work force has expanded to 122 women today. Earning a sustainable wage means that these women can provide food, water, clothes and education for up to six dependents. Customer appeal is clear: “buy a hat, save a life.” Each hat comes with the personal story of the woman who crocheted it.

Since winning the “Best Social Idea” at the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition in 2008, the company has been growing to the healthy tune of about 250% a year. “The BPC instilled confidence in our model,” says Crecelius. “We had judges buying our hats during the event, and winning the competition gave us the validation and encouragement we needed.”

Since the competition, Krochet Kids has attracted the attention of Nordstrom which now carries their hats; partnered with Seattle’s One Day’s Wages, a group dedicated to alleviating extreme world-wide poverty; and won $2,000 in the Chase Community Giving Competition, a program where fans on Facebook vote for their favorite charities.

Company founders believe the model used in Uganda can be applied anywhere. Recently, they expanded to Lima, Peru, employing 10 women working with some “amazing yarns.” Introduced in mid-September, the Kids’ fall line of hats and the shirts they recently added sold out within a week.

One of Krochet Kids’ advisors, P. Scott Cummins, a Seattle-based social venture expert, recently made a bold prediction: “Kohl Crecelius is among the 100 most important graduates of UW Business School. But mark my words, even five years from now, that will be considered an understatement.”

$33,500 awarded to best social innovations

The 2011 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) at the UW Foster School of Business brought in more than 100 entries from university teams around the world who seek to reduce poverty and solve social problems through sustainable business and technology endeavors.

Sanergy won grand prize
Sanergy won grand prize

“How do we help make social innovations scale? It’s through visibility, encouragement and investment,” said GSEC award banquet keynote speaker Dan Shine, senior innovation advisor at the Office of Science & Technology at USAID.

Grand Prize of $12,500 went to Sanergy. Led by a diverse team (of engineering, business, urban planning and design students) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA), University of Cambridge (Cambridge UK) and Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, CA), Sanergy addresses both social and economic issues among Kenya’s poor by making sanitation safe, affordable and accessible through innovative technologies—such as small-scale toilets—that collect waste and convert it to energy or fertilizer. Their business model ultimately seeks to reduce sanitation-related disease in Africa. Sanergy also won the new Rotary Prize for Social Impact of $1,000.

welloGlobal Health Prize of $10,000 went to Wello. Led by University of Michigan MBA students, Wello provides clean, affordable water to rural India communities through their innovative, mobile WaterWheel that alleviates the burden of carrying water from source to house while also providing entrepreneurial opportunities for rural residents via delivery service.

A new Information & Communication Tech Prize of $10,000 went to NextDrop led by a diverse team (of business, engineering, public policy and information technology students) from University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University. NextDrop addresses clean water scarcity in rural India by improving the distribution of information about water availability via mobile phone technology. NextDrop works with both local water utilities and consumers to provide more predictable water supplies and improve water management.

“GSEC is a gem among University of Washington programs. Global health is a quest that relies on new tools and alliances… to alleviate disparities,” said Dr. Judy Wasserheit, professor and vice chair of the University of Washington School of Public Health.

The Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition is organized each year by the Global Business Center at University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Engineering and international studies students get involved in Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition

Guest post by Ryan Kelley (UW international studies student) and Adrian Chu (UW engineering student)

Why is an international studies grad student engaged in social entrepreneurship?

I am a second year student at the University of Washington Jackson School of International Studies with a focus in political economy. Both politics and economics have developed to a point of interconnectivity that cannot be ignored, as political issues often are economic issues, with the reverse being true as well.

I see the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) at the UW Foster School of Business as a focal point where bold global contestants—each having a unique window to a concept as broad and penetrating as “poverty,” represent the vanguard of beneficial changes that can be made to the world. What about each team makes their project the most apropos to how they see poverty? Does this say something about where they are from? Does their solution have a regional impact or transferability beyond a region?

If questions such as these have the possibility of being answered, what this means to me, as it should to anyone currently in international studies, is that GSEC is a global lobby where the problems of the world are brought to light in the context of their possible solutions. What the contestants ultimately bring to the table will in some way be a representation of the future in a way that we have not seen before. I believe that that promise alone begs the attention of everyone.

Ryan Kelley is a UW international studies graduate student fluent in English, Japanese and Spanish who is serving as a 2011 GSEC ambassador to foreign teams who meet in Seattle to compete.

Why is an electrical engineering undergrad student engaged in social entrepreneurship?

Growing up, I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship. The concept of social entrepreneurship occurred to me a few years ago when I came across the paper entitled “Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition,” by Sally Osberg and Roger Martin on the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In the past few years, I have become increasing interested in entrepreneurial endeavors. I have been participating in a number of competitions offered by the UW Foster School of Business’ Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship: the Environmental Innovation Challenge, Business Plan Competition and the Science & Technology Showcase. Each of these activities taught me valuable lessons on the pathway to creating a successful business.

My own curiosity drew me further. Being environmentally friendly is one thing, but how can something be “green” and at the same time improve social welfare around the world?

My motivation to participate in the UW Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition was driven by the desire to apply my past professional and academic experiences in order to learn new things, meet new people and play a role in saving the world one step at a time. As an engineer, our primary occupation is to solve challenging problems. A typical business venture consists of identifying a problem and proposing a solution, while trying to maintain a profit. Social entrepreneurship is an amazing feat, where its success synergizes traditional principles of business and the ability to make a positive difference. Serving as the 2011 GSEC marketing co-chair and team ambassador for Sanergy, I am looking forward to seeing how an idea can transform into engineering design that can be developed into a product that will make a positive difference in the daily lives of people in developing countries.

Adrian Chu is a senior in electrical engineering at the University of Washington and the marketing co-chair and team ambassador for this year’s GSEC.