A ski design company, a business that tracks crowds at dining facilities and an environmental nonprofit were among the companies that won at the North Country Regional Business Plan Competition on March 29 at Clarkson University.

More than 60 students on 34 teams from five North Country colleges and universities converged at Clarkson to pitch their business start-ups for a chance to win funding.

Eleven teams won a total of $13,500 at the event, which was co-hosted by Clarkson’s Reh Center for Entrepreneurship and SUNY Plattsburgh’s Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and was attended by students from Clarkson, St. Lawrence University, SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY Canton.

“Our goals were to provide a regional forum for cross pollination among student entrepreneurs, to strengthen their ties to the North Country and to provide funding for their continued growth,” said Erin Draper, Reh Center director of operations. “We were excited to fund 11 student companies at the event and look forward to the next round in Albany.”

The first-place winner in each category — information technology and software; nano and high technology; products and services; and “social entrepreneurship” (businesses that exist to create social good) and nonprofits — received $2,000 while second place earned $1,000 and third $500. In addition, the top two teams from each category are advancing to Albany for the state finals on April 26.

Renoun Ski Company, which is designing a ski to instantly adapt to snow conditions using a patent pending technology, took first place in the nano and high technology category and Prometheus Safety Solutions received second.

First place in the social entrepreneurship and nonprofits division was Natural Resilience, which connects universities and businesses to ecological restoration projects in the developing world, while Center for Textbook Cost Reduction took second and Siren Apparel earned third.

In the information technology and software category, Know B4 You Go, which allows students to check lines before they grab a meal through cameras with smart phone integration, received first place, while Extended Fullstack Software Services received second place and GetMePlace earned third.

The first place student venture in products and services was ABIA, a new body armor system focusing on weight reduction and flexibility. Innovative Delivery Systems received second place and Ski Bumz earned third.

“The competition was really tough; in just a few minutes, the entrepreneurs had to communicate a compelling case for supporting their business venture,” added Richard Gottschall, a lecturer of marketing and entrepreneurship at SUNY Plattsburgh. “The Clarkson students did a great job of innovating around new technologies and made a clear case for improving products.”

Those interested in more information should contact Erin Draper, director of operations for the Reh Center at 315-268-3995 or [email protected]clarkson.edu.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Team “Know Before You Go,” which competed at the North Country Regional Business Competition, won $2,000 and will advance to the state finals in Albany. Standing, left to right: Brianna Blackburn, Jon Ketcham and Michael Larkin.

[A photo for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/businesscompetition.jpg.]

Article source: http://clarkson.edu/news/2013/news-release_2013-04-08-1.html

VENTURES AFRICA –  In a bid to drive impact investing in Africa, Tony Elumelu Foundation and one of America’s oldest private foundations, Rockefeller Foundation have launched the Impact Economy Innovations Fund (IEIF) at the Impact Investing in Africa: Accelerating the Industry Regionally Forum in Cape Town, South Africa last Friday.

The forum which was hosted by The Rockefeller Foundation, the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), and the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Graduate School of Business introduced Africa business leaders to the concept and practice of impact investing.

It also featured series of presentations and discussions targeted at developing a better understanding of the regional barriers and opportunities for unlocking greater investment capital-seeking impact from within the continent and improving the sector’s entrepreneurial talent and ecosystem across Africa.

Impact Investing are investments that help address social and/or environmental problems while generating a financial return. The impact investing industry helps to move significant capital to market-based solutions in areas such as sustainable agriculture, affordable housing, affordable and accessible healthcare, clean technology, financial services for the poor, and other sectors while addressing the world’s most pressing problems.

Impact investing, according to the Foundation, can and does play an important role in addressing societal challenges in Africa.

CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, said Dr. Wiebe Boer, described Impact Investing as “a critical tool in driving our agenda of promoting entrepreneurship for lasting economic and social development in Africa.”

We want to see more deals of this nature and our commitment to support this new fund is just the beginning,” Boer said.

Meanwhile, the Impact Economy Innovations Fund (IEIF) will fund proposals geared towards projects that seek to enable capital solutions, foster entrepreneurial ecosystems and promote impact investing industry infrastructure – ultimately aimed at impacting the lives of poor or vulnerable people throughout Africa.

The IEIF will be managed by The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) in close collaboration with The Tony Elumelu Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation.

Although the Foundation did not disclose the size of the fund, the IEIF will support approximately 7-8 proposals geared towards projects that seek to enable capital solutions, foster entrepreneurial ecosystems and promote impact investing industry infrastructure – ultimately aimed at impacting the lives of poor or vulnerable people throughout Africa.

Interested organisations may apply to the fund for grants for up to 12 months with a maximum request of US$100,000. They may also participate in more than one grant proposal.

A Request for Proposals (RFP) has already been issued, calling for submissions to the Impact Economy Innovations Fund (IEIF), that align with the Fund’s objective of boosting the development of robust regional markets, a statement released by TEF said.

Speaking on the partnership, Acting Managing Director at The Rockefeller Foundation, Eme Essien Lore said, “Throughout its 100 year history, The Rockefeller Foundation has worked to enhance the impact of innovative thinkers and actors. Now, during our Centennial year, our work is helping accelerate the growth of the impact investing industry in Africa as we partner with organizations that are at the forefront of helping to achieve equitable growth for all, such as The Tony Elumelu Foundation and the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.”

Article source: http://www.ventures-africa.com/2013/04/rockefeller-tony-elumelu-foundation-fuel-impact-investing-in-africa/

Many of the boldest experiments in higher education these days are led by a relatively new kind of business leader: the social entrepreneur.

The founders of Coursera proudly claim the label, stressing their lack of concern about a business plan as they set up free online courses from top colleges. So does the head of Udacity, another provider of MOOCs, or massive open online courses. In fact, it’s hard to find any chief executives of education start-ups these days who don’t drop “social entrepreneur” into their bios, as they stress that they are not your typical money-grubbing suits.

But other than a promise to do good, being a social entrepreneur in higher education appears to have no strict meaning, at least to the lawyer or the tax man. It is a state of mind: an optimistic belief that if you change the world, money will follow.

It is also a commentary on what the new entrepreneurs see as the slow pace of change at nonprofits—that traditional colleges and foundations move too slowly to make big innovations happen without a push.

Daphne Koller, the 44-year-old co-founder of Coursera, embodies this new ethos. Most of her career has was spent on scholarship, as a Stanford University professor of computer science and winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant. She says that she took a pay cut to start the company, and that its mission is to solve the problem of unequal access to high-quality education. To show she’s not about the money, she boasts that Coursera skipped the usual market research done by old-fashioned companies.

In every decision the company makes, she says, the first question is, “Is this in the best interest of our students?”

For instance, Coursera has rejected the idea of selling advertising on its Web site, Ms. Koller says. Ads might bring a lucrative income stream, but they would be a “distraction” to students.

Yet there’s nothing on paper that guarantees these student-centric operating procedures. Despite the “.org” in its Web address, Coursera is a standard C Corporation, whose charter is to return profits to the investors, who have given more than $22-million to start the venture.

Ms. Koller and the company’s other founder, Andrew Ng, could have made their venture a nonprofit. And they considered that route, Mr. Ng told me in an interview last year. But when they were starting out a couple of years ago, he said, they found it “really tough” to raise money from foundations. “It turns out that we’re able to find resources much more easily as a company than as a nonprofit,” he said.

They even looked into setting up as a “benefit corporation”—a structure that makes clear to investors that the company will focus on social good as well as profits. But the state of Delaware, where Coursera and just about every other Silicon Valley start-up are incorporated, doesn’t offer that option.

As I continued to ask for proof that Coursera would be less profit-focused than any other company, Ms. Koller pushed back and turned the question around, asking why people assume that nonprofits are somehow purer than a well-meaning company. “I just read the Time magazine article about nonprofit hospitals charging egregious amounts for Band-Aids,” she said. “Does that mean that they’re doing the right thing by their patients? I would argue against that claim.”

“It comes down to who’s running it and what their intent is,” she concluded. “Andrew and I are running this, and we’re running this with the best of intentions.”

More Contradictions

Social entrepreneurs in higher education also present another contradiction: Companies like Coursera need old-fashioned universities to be their partners but are also pushing disruptive changes that could threaten, as a side effect, traditional revenue streams of those same partners.

In other cases, the companies seek to change the way colleges do business rather than to simply sell to what colleges already do.

“If you want to create real change, you have to be willing to challenge your customer and question their beliefs,” explains another self-described social entrepreneur, Brian Sowards, the 32-year-old founder of a start-up called Useed. His company helps colleges run fund-raising campaigns for individual projects proposed by students. It’s similar in spirit to Kickstarter, the popular “crowdfunding” site, through which strangers are asked to make small contributions to support projects. It’s a different approach than asking alumni to donate to a main college fund that the institution can spend on whatever it wants.

Mr. Sowards says that his mission is to help students become more entrepreneurial as they raise money for their projects.

He said the company has already turned down gigs that didn’t advance that mission. “We were invited to help study-abroad trip companies to create crowdfunding pages for people to go on their trips,” he said. As a revenue-generator, it seemed a sure bet. “What it wouldn’t do is transform education,” he said. So they said no.

At least one longtime college-technology leader, Martin Ringle of Reed College, looks at some of the new pitches from social entrepreneurs with “fascination,” especially those promoting free courses.

“They’re saying, Hey, you guys have to get on board with this whole new wave of things,” he says. Yet the new wave of things is “trying to undermine and disrupt and ultimately do away with” the people they are selling to. “Many of these entrepreneurs are essentially playing both sides of the street.”

Some young leaders of start-up companies in higher education, though, argue that they are simply behaving in the disruptive spirit they were taught by the universities they are selling to.

“This generation of entrepreneurs were actually raised very idealist,” says Michael Staton, a 32-year-old who founded a company called Inigral several years ago. “I always felt that I was getting sold this idea that I could change the world—as far as back as I could remember.”

Mr. Staton says his alma mater, Clark University, which uses the slogan “challenge convention, change our world,” has declined to try Inigral, which helps colleges improve enrollment through a Facebook application. “I would probably give it to them,” he says.

Indiana Jones vs. Han Solo

While the term “social entrepreneur” has been around for decades, it seems to have emerged within higher education only in the past few years.

An organization called Ashoka, for instance, has been promoting the idea since the 1980s, but it only set up a program focused on higher education in 2008. The group has primarily applied the term “social entrepreneurship” to people starting nonprofits who want to borrow practices from the business world to make their efforts more innovative and sustainable.

Ashoka does sometimes support founders of for-profit efforts, but only if “the social mission is their main driver,” and the for-profit structure is just “the best way to realize its intended social impact,” says Michèle Leaman, a director at the organization. “Selling water and donating 5 percent of profits, that’s not really social entrepreneurship for us.”

In Hollywood terms, Indiana Jones might call himself a social entrepreneur. But not Han Solo, who claimed he saved Princess Leia only for the reward.

But Ms. Leaman admits that some companies misuse the label. “The term is really muddled,” she notes.

Many professors watching their colleges work with Coursera or try other products made by social entrepreneurs say they are skeptical of companies, fearing that the talk of social good is a way to try to distract from the profit the companies stand to make.

“It’s a kind of whitewashing of what they’re doing, which is to make money off education,” says George Williams, an associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina Upstate and an editor of the ProfHacker blog hosted by The Chronicle .

Yet Mr. Ringle, of Reed College, admits that he would rather work with companies who talk about doing good rather than ones who don’t bother making that pitch.

“I like hearing this rhetoric and would love to see these folks essentially carry through on it and be successful,” he says. He praised Google, which was founded with the informal corporate motto of “don’t be evil,” for its Apps for Education program, which offers free e-mail services to colleges, arguing that it has changed the behavior of Microsoft and other competitors.

There are other technology companies that have passed up profits to fulfill a broader social mission. One example cited frequently by social entrepreneurs is Craigslist, an example that Mr. Ng said is an inspiration to Coursera.

I got the chance to talk with Craigslist’s founder, Craig Newmark, during the recent South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, and I asked him what advice he had for the many social entrepreneurs in education.

He said that he went through a time when bankers and venture-capital firms were offering him “a big huge pile of money” for a stake. He passed, to keep almost everything on Craigslist free (the site does charge small amounts for some job postings).

“If you do something successful, bankers and VCs will be all too happy to give you a huge amount of money to do things the usual way,” he concluded. “But if you know when enough is enough, you can do something unique.”

College 2.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. Please send ideas to [email protected] or @jryoung on Twitter.

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