Entrepreneurship Puts the Maker in Changemaker
The University of San Diego’s Social Innovation Challenge (SIC) was created as a launching pad for student-driven ideas to launch or contribute to social enterprises. The 2017 edition, the seventh annual showcase for creative, problem-solving thinking, concludes May 5 with finalists delivering a fast pitch before a live audience.
“Social Innovations can be entered at any stage of development, whether the idea only exists conceptually in your head or you already have a social venture and you are ready to scale it up. Social enterprises can be for-profit, nonprofit, or blended ventures, working locally and internationally. The sky’s the limit, as long as the venture idea is student-lead” said Rachel Christensen, assistant director of USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce.
USD launched the SIC in 2011 through the CPC; and in that inaugural year, targeted students in the School of Business and the Kroc School of Peace Studies (KSPS) since CPC is a joint venture of the two schools. Today, the CPC’s signature event is open to all students in San Diego County and Mexico.
“The vision for SIC from 2018 onward is to expand the participation in the competition to universities across continents and help USD become a global hub for social innovation and changemaking,” says Amitkumar Kakkad, CPC faculty director.
Patricia Marquez, dean of the Kroc School of Peace Studies, believes innovation is the key to solutions. “Innovating to solve humanity’s urgent challenges is central to the University of San Diego’s vision and the CPC represents a path to prepare new generations of Changemakers who will ethically solve problems in today’s fast-changing world.”
Some 500 proposals have addressed a range of global challenges including food insecurity, the need for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education in low-income communities, even the best ways for local breweries to more efficiently use water.
A total of 77 proposals were received for the 2017 competition, Christensen said. Students were first required to provide answers to a series of detailed questions and produce a pitch video and roadmap about their project viability for the first two rounds. The finalist stage culminates in a six-minute pitch before a panel of judges and a 30-second pitch before a live audience when prize money is awarded.
Christensen says the challenge was structured to filter out insufficiently researched initiatives as well as those who aren’t willing to do the work to see their project through.
“We have a special focus early in the ideation process that really is a reality check for a lot of people,” she says. “It’s clear pretty early on which projects have been given sufficient thought and which ones are just ideas floating around.”
Soulr, a solar-powered mobile food cart enabling student charity-focused organizations to sell healthy food products and keep a percentage of the profits, has been a visible entity on the USD campus. Soulr founder and recent USD business graduate Tyler Norris said the $10,000 he won in the 2016 SIC aided expansion plans for carts at other San Diego college campuses. He recently allowed current USD engineering students the chance to create upgrades for his cart to increase its sustainability effectiveness.
"It's fantastic. I'm excited to have been a part of it," Norris says about his SIC experience. "It's really an honor to be part of this campus community and the San Diego community as it leads the charge for sustainability and social change."
Jessica Kort, a 2016 USD MBA graduate, launched her non-profit The Foothold Foundation — a kind of clearing house for non-profit organizations to obtain the business support they need — one year prior to entering the SIC. Kort, who also earned $10,000 in the 2016 SIC, says going through the process was an invaluable experience.
“Preparing the pitches is a great skill builder,” Kort says, “but what I thought was most valuable was the new ways I learned to look at what I was doing. Refining information, getting clarity as to why we make the choices we make. It was a great way to help me focus what we were doing at The Foothold Foundation. But now I’ve walked through the critical elements that are part of any start-up. It was an extremely useful experience.”
USD offers many ways for students to refine their idea as Kort mentions: periodic idea labs, networking events such as the annual USD Legacy Entrepreneurship Conference each October, the USD Changemaker Hub Challenge, and opportunities to work with local business leaders and entrepreneurial mentors and coaches add depth to the educational learning and skill set for each student entrant. The growth of entrepreneurship campus-wide led the Kroc School of Peace Studies to create a new master’s degree in social innovation debuting this fall.
From these resources emerge finalists for the Social Innovation Challenge and the Venture Vetting (V2) Pitch Competition who will have a chance to showcase their ideas during USD's Innovation Week, April 28-5. Events include the SIC Final Pitch in KIPJ conference rooms H and I on May 3; the sixth annual V2 Pitch Competition, where USD and bi-national student entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to angel investors, on May 4 in the KIPJ Theatre; and the SIC finale on May 5, also in the KIPJ Theatre.
— Timothy McKernan
USD News Center