By Amrutha Sivakumar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 18, 2013
Changing the world needs to start somewhere. Through their Social Innovation Showcase, the entrepreneurial organization optiMize hopes that change begins with them.
optiMize connects aspiring entrepreneurs with the resources and skills needed to build a business with a social conscience. After a semester dedicated to constructing pitches, analyzing consumer markets and developing products, optiMize members came together Thursday evening to present new social innovations to a public audience.
As winter semester commenced, so did preparations for what would become optiMize’s first Social Innovation Challenge. Nineteen teams of students, representing a range of schools and colleges, came under optiMize’s umbrella to be connected with resources that would help them create sustainable business models.
As the process neared an end, five teams of social entrepreneurs were selected out of the 19 to present their pitches on Thursday evening.
The teams who presented and competed at the Social Innovation Showcase included Beyond Bounds, a program helping University underclassman be more proactive and make better use of university resources; Volunteer Buddy, a mobile application connecting prospective volunteers with non-profit organizations; ReSource Fund, a program helping low-income community members avoid financial exploitation through one-on-one coaching; ReGrow Detroit, a branch of the Michigan Union Urban Farming Initiative that proposes to turn blighted homes into agricultural hotspots; and the Detroit Entrepreneurship Network, an organization revitalizing entrepreneurship among Detroit youth.
The optiMize cash prize was awarded not through a conventional selection process but through the calculation of the volume of the crowd’s cheers. The Detroit Entrepreneurship Network collected the loudest audience reaction and swept the award.
Each of the five finalists were awarded $5,000 from optiMize sponsors. Sponsors included United Way of Washtenaw County, Graham Sustainability Institute, and LSA.
In an interview at the event, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, said University administrators would continue to support a growth of social ventures on campus by “encouraging students to try to think in a social entrepreneurial way.”
“I was extremely impressed and surprised to see their hearts and their passion for making a difference in the world,” she said. “What I want to try to think about is, ‘How can I help?’ ”
Vic Strecher, the director for innovation and social entrepreneurship in the School of Public Health, said his work with optiMize showed how small pitches could grow and develop to have “social and meaning and impact.”
“As a faculty member, I want to make a real impact,” Strecher said. “Students really want to do that and it’s my role to help facilitate that.”
Rishi Moudgil, managing director of the University’s non-profit and public management center, hoped the social entrepreneurship spirit would spread over the University.
“We need more students, more faculty and more staff involved,” he said. “I think we have this innovative culture here. We just need to create a couple more frameworks for people to get involved.”
--Correction Appended:A previous version of this article misstated a sponsor of the event.