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uVenture Competition Engages New Generation of Nonprofit Leaders and Social Entrepreneurs

Georgia State students learned what it takes to be a social entrepreneur during this fall’s uVenture Social Challenge. Each participant engaged in an interdisciplinary experience in creating and proposing innovative solutions to pressing social issues. The winning teams also walked away with prize money.

During the Venture Social Challenge, participants were introduced to many of the challenges facing social enterprises through the lens of Star-C, a nonprofit that serves refugees living in the Willow Branch Apartment complex in Clarkston, Georgia. At the kickoff, students participated in a day-long field experience that included interviews with Star-C volunteers and Willow Branch residents to gain their perspectives on Star-C’s programs in affordable housing, after-school care and health and wellness. They were charged with introducing new solutions aimed at extending the impact of Star-C’s programs on its clients’ quality of life.

During the month-long competition, students participated in workshops on the ideation process. The teams were mentored by faculty members and noted Atlanta social entrepreneurs. At the end of the month, each team pitched its proposal to six judges from Atlanta’s nonprofit community.

“The students were required to work with a team, identify a problem and come up with a solution Star-C could implement.” said Chris Markl, a visiting professor of social entrepreneurship in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. “The value of this challenge is in understanding what a nonprofit or social enterprise is like. They learned there are constraints, like budgets or time. Their experience emulated the innovative process.”, Markl continued.

gsu-day-2-w-67-of-105The uVenture Social Challenge was led by Markl, a social entrepreneur himself, and Andrew Young School Assistant Dean Cynthia Searcy in partnership with Michael Jordan, a visiting associate professor in the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Institute (ENI) at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business.

“Although there were prizes, many students applied because they wanted to see what it’s like to be a social entrepreneur,” says Markl. “They wanted to help people. Another part of what drew them was the chance to participate in a high-impact, co-curricular experience. They can now talk about their uVenture experience in their job interviews, LinkedIn profiles, etc.”

The proposal of the winning team – Josh Morton (Real Estate), Tosin Olagunju (Managerial Science), John Gunells (MPA) and Anna Sexton (MPA) – was to develop a robust, easily replicable program that would deliver training resources on health and wellness, financial literacy and life skills in low-income communities.

“The U-Venture challenge was a great experience,” said Morton. “It allowed me to apply my innovative and problem-solving skills to a real world situation. Throughout this challenge, I got a peek into my field of interest and met some great people along the way.”

The runner-up team – Nephthaly Leonidas (Economics), Samir Alyateem (Actuarial Science) and Michael Carter (Instructional Design & Technology) – proposed programming to expand and improve Star-C resident services and marketing to connect Star-C with influential gatekeepers and expand Star-C real estate operations and investments.

The proposals were judged by six experts who work in nonprofits or entrepreneurships, including Star-C board member Deborah Schwartz Griffin and founder/director Margaret “Marjy” Stagmeier.

“I was impressed with the synergies between the Andrew Young School and ENI working together to craft this real world competition for students,” said Griffin. “It’s a wonderful opportunity, and we enjoyed the quality, heart, enthusiasm and chutzpah of the students there.”

“The experience was lovely.  It was a pleasure meeting the students and seeing their enthusiasm,” agreed Stagmeier. “The tour of Willow Branch was very well organized by Chris, Michael and Cynthia, and the students asked good, thoughtful questions.

“I thought the final presentations were excellent quality,” she continued. “There were a lot of creative solutions offered in the presentations through a global holistic approach.”

The next Georgia State uVenture Social Challenge will take place fall 2017. Learn more at eni.gsu.edu/2016/11/22/fall-2016-uventure-challenge/. Learn more about Georgia State’s new B.I.S. in Social Entrepreneurship at aysps.gsu.edu/public-management-and-policy/b-s-social-entrepreneurship.