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To The Rescue

Your education is good for more than just your own success. Learn how you can help others, too.

Your entrepreneurial education, with its teachings on marketing, business planning and financing, can do more than just help you start your own business: You can use your training to help other business owners in need.

Follow the lead of the MBA students at DePaul University: 16 students traveled to New Orleans last year to help local businesses recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Rather than hand out supplies or build houses, these students decided to use their entrepreneurial training to help rebuild the city's business community. "With [our] various business backgrounds, I knew we could create a different kind of [program], where our contribution wasn't just labor," says Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, 26, founder of the DePaul Business Corps and the program's organizer and manager. "Instead, we viewed ourselves as a pro bono consulting group working on quarter-long client projects with New Orleans nonprofits and businesses--culminating in an eight-day trip for face-to-face work."

The 16 students broke up into four groups, each working with a particular nonprofit or small business. One group raised $25,000 in funding to help a woman entrepreneur open a vocational training school; another helped a fair trade art boutique owner build a new website and develop a new marketing strategy; a third group helped the owner of a bar and restaurant develop a new logo and brand identity. Anastasia Kwit and Luke Weingarten, who worked as assistant organizers for the DePaul Business Corps, were members of the fourth group, which developed a business plan to help The Rebuild Center, a nonprofit that provides homeless outreach, operate more efficiently. "The center really needed some business guidance," says Kwit. "I was happy to apply things I'd learned and give that knowledge to other people who weren't fluent in business skills."

Social entrepreneurship is a concept that's gaining more traction in business programs nationwide. The idea is that creating a self-sustaining business can often be the most effective way to help society at large and sometimes even empower an underserved group of people.

At Long Island University's C.W. Post campus, associate professor of management James Freeley decided to offer his second-year MBA students a real-life learning experience as part of their final semester. Their project was to help a nonprofit organization called The Center for Growth & Development Alcoholism & Addiction Services Inc. "We had the students take a look at [the center's] business operations to make it more efficient in providing drug addiction and alcoholism counseling services," says Freeley. "We created an entire business plan for this organization." Students came up with ideas such as updating software and the accounting system, and making the organization's van service more efficient.

From rebuilding New Orleans' business community to helping a struggling local business, these kinds of programs illustrate the benefits of using your entrepreneurial education to organize and promote a social cause. "[The program] opened [the students'] eyes to a whole area of social entrepreneurship," says Freeley. "The entrepreneurial culture is now moving toward operating a business for profit while doing social good."

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This article was originally published in the November 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: To The Rescue.

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