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Lofty Ideals

Smart and socially conscious students build businesses with high standards.
June 1, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/159884

Do you want to be socially responsible? Think about starting a business. Whether it's for-profit or nonprofit, you can harness all your youthful idealism and focus your socially responsible efforts with a business venture. "Social entrepreneurship is really about finding innovative approaches and solutions to some of society's most pressing needs, problems and opportunities," says Beth Battle Anderson, managing director at Duke University's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship. If you're a graduate or an undergraduate, this could be just the right time for you to find your altruistic entrepreneurial calling.

College was the right time for Matthew Gutschick and Ben Whiting, both 22, founders of the nonprofit MagicMouth Productions in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Coming up with the idea in late 2004 and fine-tuning it throughout 2005, the pair wanted to create a forum for performing and teaching theater and magic to young people. They had their first show this year. Gutschick and Whiting, both 2006 graduates of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, studied theater (Gutschick also studied communications). Some of their theater professors helped the pair make contact with the office of entrepreneurship at WFU. "We decided to go nonprofit because it gave us a larger measure of credibility and authenticity," says Gutschick.

Determining whether to go for-profit or nonprofit is a key step for socially responsible entrepreneurs in college, notes Battle Anderson. And while financing a business venture is always a challenge, she says it can be even more difficult for social ventures. "There is a really refined capital market for raising money, be it [for] a nonprofit or for-profit," says Battle Anderson. "But probably one of the biggest challenges is actually determining impact and how you're going to measure the value you're creating. In traditional businesses, there are very clear bottom lines. With a social venture, the bottom line is going to be different because your primary goal is social impact, and measuring that is a much more complex undertaking." Set goals and clear metrics for success in the beginning phases of your business--and seek out mentors who can help.

The founders of MagicMouth Productions found assistance from many avenues: Gutschick interviewed a theater company owner to learn more about how to make the venture long-running and self-sustaining, and the pair even received grants and contributions from The Kauffman Foundation and the Chambers Family Fund (Cisco Systems).

Other aspiring young social entrepreneurs can check out the Brick Award program from the Do Something organization, which offers $10,000 grants to winners. "[The program is] designed to support, inspire and celebrate young community service 'rock stars,'" says Emily Luke, who runs the Brick Awards and grant programs for Do Something. Go to www.dosomething.org/awards/brick for the application deadline and information.

With social entrepreneurship opportunities in wide-ranging realms such as education, eco-tourism, clean fuel technologies and the environment, running this type of enterprise can be particularly rewarding for students. Says Battle Anderson, "What is most exciting and compelling for business school students is the opportunity to take some of what they've learned and apply it to something they feel is going to make a demonstrable difference in the lives of others."