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Startup Experience Explores Social Entrepreneurship

Henrik Scheel of Startup Experience gives students tips for working on their social entrepreneurship projects during a workshop.
Henrik Scheel of Startup Experience gives students tips for working on their social entrepreneurship projects during a workshop.

On Nov. 9-10, Hamilton’s Levitt Center along with Colgate University hosted Startup Experience, an intensive two-day workshop for students interested in social and commercial entrepreneurship. The workshop was held in the Spencer House on Hamilton’s campus. During the program, students worked in six teams to learn about problem identification, tech trends, design thinking, business planning, customer development and pitching, and in the process gained the confidence to create a viable start-up. 

Hendrik Scheel, who is the founder and CEO of Startup Experience, led the workshop. Scheel is a Danish entrepreneur and has hosted several dozen of these workshops in 12 different countries across the world, educating hundreds of teachers, professionals and students about social innovation.

Social innovation, as defined by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, is “A novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.”

The weekend began with students breaking off into six groups according to a social problem they are passionate about addressing. The workshop was then divided into five sessions: (1) understanding the true nature of the problem you aim to solve; (2) identifying a user for the product you aim to develop; (3) discovering new technologies that can help solve the focus problem; (4) ideation; (5) business modeling and pitching.

The first session, understanding the true nature of the problem, focused on how to break down and understand the multidimensionality and complexity of a problem before attempting to come up with solutions to solve the problem. Hamilton students, and students of liberal arts institutions in general, excel during this stage because the multidisciplinary nature of a liberal arts education empowers students to think critically, analytically and move beyond prohibitive linear thinking. Tellingly, the walls of the Spencer house were blanketed in hundreds of multicolored post-its as Hamilton and Colgate students dissected the various social problems they aimed to solve.  

Following the multi-colored transformation of the Spencer house, groups honed in on a specific group of users for the products they would develop in session four. After Scheel gave a lecture outlining how social entrepreneurs are best leveraging technology to solve some of the world’s toughest social challenges, groups began the process of ideation. The ideation session involved multiple teamwork and brainstorming exercises and was designed to help participants work in a team setting to come up with innovative ways to help the specific group of users, identified in session two, overcome a specific social challenge.

All of Sunday was devoted to teaching participants how to create a business plan and then clearly and concisely articulate their idea and business plan to potential investors, new business partners and potential customers. The weekend was capped with a two-hour pitch competition in the Red Pit, during which student groups presented their ideas to a panel of judges. The top two teams were awarded prizes.

Startup Experience is the first in a series of events and programs being organized by the Levitt Center this year. This effort is part of larger trend among colleges and universities to break down barriers to institutional change and foster a campus-wide culture of social innovation.

All Hamilton students are encouraged to apply for The Levitt Center’s new Social Innovation Fellows Program, which is designed to prepare and support students who aim to use innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to address persistent social problems. 

This program will include a week-long workshop over the second week of spring break (March 23-28, 2014) with Anke Wessels, who teaches an award-winning course on social innovation at Cornell University. Selected student projects will receive project funding, as well as guidance about developing mentoring support from among alumni and community members. 

Students can apply online on the Levitt Center website.  Applications are due on Monday, Dec. 2, at 4 p.m. Please email the Levitt Center at levitt@hamilton.edu with questions.

To learn more about social innovation and entrepreneurship visit Ashoka.org.

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