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How to Use Entrepreneurship for Social Good: A Unique Class

Written by University of Michigan on 15 April 2010.

 How to Use Entrepreneurship for Social GoodIn a new Social Venture Creation course at the University of Michigan, students who want to make the world a better place are learning hands-on how to use market principles to solve society's challenges.

In four teams, students are working to:

--Put fresh fruits and vegetables in Detroit convenience stores and liquor stores.
--Enable Internet access for schools in rural Kenya.
--Establish a peer-to-peer car-sharing program.
--Implement computer-based training for community health workers in Lesotho.

Some of these projects are expected to continue beyond semester.

The teams will present their business plans to a panel of industry experts and potential funders from 10 a.m. to noon on April 17 at the Ross School of Business in room 1210. This event is open to the public.

"We see this class as a catalyst to provide students tools to go out and transform society," said instructor Moses Lee. "Many of these students want their ventures to exist beyond this class, and we're really excited about that."

The course is taught by Lee, a lecturer for the College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship and a program manager at the William Davidson Institute, and Nick Tobier, an associate professor in the School of Art & Design.

"This class started because there are a lot of students across the departments here at Michigan with change-the-world ideas, but they weren't talking to each other," Lee said.

Enrolled in the course are graduate students and undergrads from a broad range of disciplines including engineering, public health, psychology, urban planning and business.

"One of the things I find most provocative about this whole endeavor is that we have concocted this ecosystem for social entrepreneurship by putting together students with overlapping interests who come at these interests through myriad lenses," Tobier said.

The class is part of an emerging of social entrepreneurship education movement across the country, Lee said.

"The goal is not just for students to demonstrate that their ideas can make an impact one time." he said. "We want to teach students to think about how to make their ideas and innovations sustainable for the long haul. This involves heavily leveraging principles of entrepreneurship."

Team Get Fresh Detroit has a plan to create and distribute a packaged produce product targeted to corner stores and liquor stores, where many city residents grocery shop. Beyond lettuce in a bag, their product will come with detailed and clear instructions on how to make a complete meal and what else to buy.

Several team members are moving to the city this summer to launch the venture.

"Over the last few months, I've really begun to fall in love with Detroit. There's so much excitement and opportunity. It's almost as if there's this giant revolution coming, and I don't want to miss it," said Noam Kimelman, a public health and urban planning student who passed up internship opportunities with PolicyLink and Food Trust to fully dedicate himself to this project this summer.

Team IMAGINE Africa (which stands for IMplementing A Global Internet NEtwork), is carrying on a project started by an earlier engineering class to bring the Internet to rural Africa. Funded by Google, students in the previous engineering class designed, built and deployed several prototype solar-powered stations where residents of Kenya could access satellite-based Internet service. In this social ventures class, students are figuring out how to turn this idea into a sustainable business that focuses on educational Internet access.

"We've done everything from doing basic due diligence to contacting schools in Kenya, to interviewing teachers from similar low-income communities in Southeast Michigan, to networking with Google and venture capitalists in the Bay Area," said Bo Zhu, an electrical engineering undergraduate. "We will present a pretty comprehensive business plan that will show what we hope is a feasible way of delivering IMAGINE to Africa."

Team Community Cars Ann Arbor, or C2A2, envisions a car-sharing system that allows anyone with a car to rent out the vehicle to someone who doesn't own a car but periodically needs one.

"We hope to provide an income opportunity for owners, increase access to renters, and make an environmental and social impact through the notion of sharing resources," said Gaurev Parnami, who will graduate in the spring with an MBA and a master's in sustainable systems.

Team eHealth Educator hopes to help fight illness in Africa, which, according to the World Health Organization, shoulders 25 percent of the world's disease burden, yet only has 1.3 percent of the world's health workforce. Focusing on a prototype system developed by Intel and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the students are developing a business plan to effectively train more than 100,000 health workers, as the AIDS relief plan mandates. The team is planning to pilot the program in Lesotho.

This course is supported by units across the university, including the College of Engineering, the William Davidson Institute, the School of Arts and Design, Rackham Graduate School, the Office of the Vice-President for Research, The CoE Office of Student Affairs, the Ginsberg Center, the Center for Global and Intercultural Study, and the Zell Lurie Institute.

For more information:

Social Venture Creation at U-M: http://www.socialventurecreation.com/

Michigan Engineering:
The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. At $160 million annually, its engineering research budget is one of largest of any public university. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments and a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. The college plays a leading role in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and hosts the world class Lurie Nanofabrication Facility. Find out more at http://www.engin.umich.edu/.