This piece was written in collaboration with Rita Ferrandino, President of Education Design Studio, Inc.  

          How do we inspire and support the next generation of social impact entrepreneurs?  What can our higher education institutions do to prepare students for entrepreneurial success?  We are all familiar with companies born out of dorm rooms that have revolutionized our world. Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Reddit, Snapchat, AirBNB, Warby Parker, Bombas Socks and many other game-changers were created by college students to address a societal need or problem with limited capital investment. Would these students have done better or moved faster if they would have had access to hands-on entrepreneurial learning to augment their theoretically-oriented academic paths?  (Businesses Started in College)  

          What can colleges do to support aspiring entrepreneurs on their campuses or to encourage greater numbers of students to consider entrepreneurship?  What role can colleges have to inspire these entrepreneurs to build social impact into their entrepreneurial ideas? Is there a way to tap into today’s college students and weave into their sustainable business models a way to “do well while doing good”? One way that higher education institutions can foster and support committed entrepreneurs–as well as the merely curious–is by holding Startup Weekends. These weekend-long experiences of building a bare-bones business can expand academic experiences for college students and also spawn our next generation of social impact entrepreneurs.  

          We recently hosted a Startup Weekend with three liberal arts colleges in the Philadelphia area. The administrators wanted to provide their students with an interdisciplinary event with an emphasis on impact and entrepreneurship.  They knew their students were hungry for a snapshot on how to grow their ideas into a company with social impact. They also knew their classic liberal arts offerings were ill-suited for taking a business concept or early stage venture from ideation to execution.  We crafted a weekend-long curriculum to engage students in a dynamic, interactive exploration of the concepts and processes of innovation, entrepreneurship and impact.

          We began by putting students into teams where they collaborated through interactive experiences to develop their group’s idea.  This approach was modeled after traditional Startup Weekend programs and curriculum.  Some students came with their own ideas or fledgling businesses and others came to be inspired. We filled the room with materials that encouraged hands-on engagement, such as post-it notes, poster boards and lots of colored markers.  We also provided curriculum support in needs assessment, value proposition creation and design thinking principles. Pizza, socialization and ideation are a great combination for inspiring college students.

          The second day, while the students worked with their teams, we provided curriculum on identifying the target market, competition, financial models and selling strategies. We gave them exemplars on creating a pitch deck. Mentors, who were alumni and local business professionals, also worked with the teams. Local entrepreneurs came to work with the students and shared entrepreneurship best practices and tips on social responsibility and leadership.

          Speakers and mentors at the event included entrepreneurs Paul Santolla and Evan Magill, founders of TriviaNote, an artificial intelligence platform designed to aid student study.  They started TriviaNote while Paul studied engineering at Villanova and Evan studied business at St. Joseph’s University. Immediately after graduation, they participated in the Education Design Studio, Inc., accelerator (located now at [email protected]) where they gained the hands-on experience to grow their business.  As Paul explained: 

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This piece was written in collaboration with Rita Ferrandino, President of Education Design Studio, Inc.  

          How do we inspire and support the next generation of social impact entrepreneurs?  What can our higher education institutions do to prepare students for entrepreneurial success?  We are all familiar with companies born out of dorm rooms that have revolutionized our world. Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Reddit, Snapchat, AirBNB, Warby Parker, Bombas Socks and many other game-changers were created by college students to address a societal need or problem with limited capital investment. Would these students have done better or moved faster if they would have had access to hands-on entrepreneurial learning to augment their theoretically-oriented academic paths?  (Businesses Started in College)  

          What can colleges do to support aspiring entrepreneurs on their campuses or to encourage greater numbers of students to consider entrepreneurship?  What role can colleges have to inspire these entrepreneurs to build social impact into their entrepreneurial ideas? Is there a way to tap into today’s college students and weave into their sustainable business models a way to “do well while doing good”? One way that higher education institutions can foster and support committed entrepreneurs–as well as the merely curious–is by holding Startup Weekends. These weekend-long experiences of building a bare-bones business can expand academic experiences for college students and also spawn our next generation of social impact entrepreneurs.  

          We recently hosted a Startup Weekend with three liberal arts colleges in the Philadelphia area. The administrators wanted to provide their students with an interdisciplinary event with an emphasis on impact and entrepreneurship.  They knew their students were hungry for a snapshot on how to grow their ideas into a company with social impact. They also knew their classic liberal arts offerings were ill-suited for taking a business concept or early stage venture from ideation to execution.  We crafted a weekend-long curriculum to engage students in a dynamic, interactive exploration of the concepts and processes of innovation, entrepreneurship and impact.

          We began by putting students into teams where they collaborated through interactive experiences to develop their group’s idea.  This approach was modeled after traditional Startup Weekend programs and curriculum.  Some students came with their own ideas or fledgling businesses and others came to be inspired. We filled the room with materials that encouraged hands-on engagement, such as post-it notes, poster boards and lots of colored markers.  We also provided curriculum support in needs assessment, value proposition creation and design thinking principles. Pizza, socialization and ideation are a great combination for inspiring college students.

          The second day, while the students worked with their teams, we provided curriculum on identifying the target market, competition, financial models and selling strategies. We gave them exemplars on creating a pitch deck. Mentors, who were alumni and local business professionals, also worked with the teams. Local entrepreneurs came to work with the students and shared entrepreneurship best practices and tips on social responsibility and leadership.

          Speakers and mentors at the event included entrepreneurs Paul Santolla and Evan Magill, founders of TriviaNote, an artificial intelligence platform designed to aid student study.  They started TriviaNote while Paul studied engineering at Villanova and Evan studied business at St. Joseph’s University. Immediately after graduation, they participated in the Education Design Studio, Inc., accelerator (located now at [email protected]) where they gained the hands-on experience to grow their business.  As Paul explained: 

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