I was really impressed with the group of young social entrepreneurs who participated in University of Washington’s Foster School of Business Global Social Entrepreneur Competition (GSEC) last week in Seattle. All of the team members are currently enrolled in higher education. Many of them are in graduate school. All of them are extremely passionate about building an ambitious social enterprise.
What impressed me:
- Home-grown. The majority of the social entrepreneur teams live in developing countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda. Being in-market is so valuable for understanding the nuanced challenges and opportunities for building a successful business of any kind.
- Serious business. Most of the participants are serious about building a strong, profitable business which inherently delivers impact. They’re not just building NGOs with some hopeful revenue streams or commercial businesses with a CSR marketing add-on.
- Beyond concept. All of the teams I met with have made progress beyond a concept. They’ve scraped together some resources, partnerships, volunteers and applied a bunch of sweat equity while not in classes to run a pilot, build a prototype, collect research, etc. While they still have more questions than answers, they are on the right track to understand demand, pricing, operational challenges, business processes, unit economics and more.
- Listening matters. Most of them were good listeners and are absorbing the barrage of feedback with a positive attitude. Like most entrepreneurs, most of them have ever started a business, so they are navigating the waters of fundraising in addition to refining their strategies and operational implementations.
Congratulations to the finalists and prize winners:
Grand Prize Winner – $12,500
Ruby Cup, Denmark — menstrual cup for developing markets; better health, more affordable, less environmental waste
Technology Prize Winner – $10,000
SasaAfrica.com, USA — online mobile-powered marketplace empowering African artisans to sell their products globally
Global Health Prize Winner – $5,000
Greenovation Technologies, Bangladesh — new, patented, locally-produced, eco-friendly, longer-lasting, affordable building material for basic housing
Srujna, India — low-cost, fashionable jewelry business which employs ultra poor women
Project Akshar, India — eco-friendly, notebook binding business providing livelihoods for disabled women and education aides for rural children
Seraab, Pakistan — solar-powered, affordable water distribution service for small farmers in Punjab
Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering, USA — small-scale, hydro-power, electricity generation system for villages
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