Hands-on experience in Social Entrepreneurship at UIC Liautaud

Thank you to Sarah Agamah, Brett Czekaj, and Mackenzie Magnus for providing this blog post about your experience in Social Entrepreneurship 594.

For those interested in entrepreneurship we highly recommend to take a closer look at this popular UIC Liautaud course within the Entrepreneurship concentration.

During the Spring 2015 semester, students in Professor Maija Renko’s Social Entrepreneurship course were given the unique opportunity to tackle real problems in the social enterprise space. By partnering with a variety of socially oriented organizations, students utilized content from the course, in order to solve current problems facing social enterprises.

At the beginning of the semester, representatives from a variety of organizations visited the Wednesday evening class and presented an overview of their organization, as well as a problem that they were facing and wanted input on solving. Students were then given the choice of which organization they would like to consult for throughout the semester. Students opted to work as three-person teams with the following organizations:

  • Bright Endeavors: a company working to support single moms by providing job opportunities
  • Piece & Co: a business that seeks to provide jobs for women by sourcing fabric made by women from countries around the world and selling them to businesses in the fashion industry
  • Spark Ventures: a company wanting to start a post-production coffee processing plant in Nicaragua
  • Streetwise: a magazine that is sold to support those suffering from homelessness
  • Jail Education Solutions: an organization that works to reduce recidivism by providing education training opportunities for inmates
  • Crisp! Mobile Grocer: a mobile grocery delivery service seeking to solve the food desert problem in Chicago

 

In selecting the organization they would work with, students were charged with building a relationship with the organization, learning more about the problems at hand, researching potential solutions, and offering up recommendations. Student teams worked to develop recommendations surrounding a variety of organizational challenges, including: brand recognition, social impact measurement, operations, product development, and more. After spending several months researching the problem, students presented their findings and recommendations to representatives of the organization during their regularly scheduled class, at the end of the semester. Beyond the presentations, students also provided the organizations with a formal report of their findings.

 

                                                           Bright Endeavors Team and Client

 

Laura Campbell, a student who chose to work with Piece & Co, felt that she gained a lot from the experience.

 Laura said, “The primary reason that I chose to work with Piece & Co was the nature of the project and what they were looking for. I believed that evaluating the company’s current impact metrics and making recommendations for measuring impact would be a valuable learning experience. The project was a good fit with my public health research experience and I thought that I would be able to contribute useful knowledge and skills to the project. I was also drawn to Piece & Co for their success and passion in the field of social entrepreneurship. The combination of a meaningful social mission, addressing global poverty among women, and a fun topic like the fashion industry was interesting and appealing.”

“The best part of the experience was learning about the field of social entrepreneurship hands on. I was not familiar with the field before taking the class so the opportunity to work with Piece & Co really threw me right in. I learned so much about the benefits, challenges, and drawbacks of social enterprises. I developed some extremely valuable skills related to measuring social impact and bridging the gap between creating social impact and economic profit.”

“After taking this course and working with Piece & Co, I would love to continue developing my social entrepreneurship skills and knowledge by working for a social enterprise like Piece & Co. This project taught me how business concepts can enhance social change movements and how social change movements can drive the business world.”

Another student, Justin Farr, chose to work with Crisp! Mobile Grocer. Justin sums up his experience as:

“I chose to work with Crisp! because I am passionate about good food and the affordability of good food. I have spent some time working on farms, so I chose to work with Crisp! because I thought that I could help them and provide a unique perspective. While working with Crisp! I learned a lot about food deserts and the challenges that come with providing good food to underserved communities. I will be starting a new position with a local food distributor which provides Midwest sourced foods to Chicago restaurants and consumers. This project has definitely prepared me for this position The company I will be working for has a strong mission towards local food and supporting local communities and businesses. Working on a socially minded project for Crisp! should prepare me to work with a socially minded company and understand that an ROI can be more than just financial.”

Julianne Sherer, a student that worked with Jail Education Solutions said, “It feels more beneficial to work with actual companies because you’re helping to solve a real problem, rather than just doing something for academic purposes.There are things that you learn through that process that you simply wouldn’t, if you’re only reading a textbook.”

 

The Streetwise & Spark Ventures Team