The excitement is building for the 14 semi-finalists of the inaugural Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Competition, co-sponsored by Washington University and the YouthBridge Association. Thursday, March 30 the competitors will make two-minute presentations about their business ideas before a panel of judges, who will evaluate the teams and select the finalists. The finalists will be announced at 5 p.m. at an event that is free and open to the public in Simon Hall on Washington University’s Hilltop Campus.
The selected finalists will remain in the running for $65,000 of funding. Social entrepreneurship is defined as using entrepreneurial skills to craft innovative processes, approaches, and solutions to help resolve social issues.
The evening will lead off with a keynote by Theresa Wilson, founder of The Blessing Basket Project, a company that reduces poverty by providing sustainable jobs at prosperity wages to basket weavers in impoverished developing countries. To date, Blessing Basket sales are up 182% and they are now nationwide in Whole Foods Market, in addition to having been selected for the Official Gift Program for the Daytime Emmy Awards. Plan to attend the ceremony on Thursday to hear more about Theresa’s project, challenges, and successes, including a new partnership with the Missouri Botanical Garden in Madagascar.
The Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Competition (SEIC) is the first of its kind in the region. The competition was launched in September, 2005 as a joint venture sponsored by Washington University and the YouthBridge Association. In the months following, participants have attended workshops and networking events where they received feedback from a variety of people who are experts in social entrepreneurship and innovation. The goal of the workshops is to assist participants in developing sustainable plans for their concepts. Both existing and new not-for-profit organizations are eligible to participate.
The 14 semi-finalists are:
• ArtWorks Enterprise: Part of an existing nonprofit organization, the project will sell products such as note cards and calendars designed by at-risk teenagers who are apprentices to artists.
• BWorks: Will provide incentives and opportunities to at-risk youth to develop their academic, vocational, and social skills through programs that reward students with a free, refurbished bicycle or computer.
• BUILD St. Louis: Businesses United for Independent Local Development is a coalition of St. Louis area business owners, residents and community development organizations that provide support for homegrown entrepreneurs.
• Creating Change: Seeks to empower caregivers of young men, ages 13 to 17, who have mental health or behavioral needs, by providing 24-hour respite care for the youth.
• Generations STL: Developer of family-oriented subdivisions which allow older adults to live independently while in close proximity to caregivers and support services.
• The Haven of Grace: A residential facility serving the homeless, children, and pregnant women is increasing its capacity by building a 12-unit apartment complex. The organization will provide retail training through an on-site resale shop.
• La Loba Life Services: Brings writers to the bedside of hospice patients to assist the patients in turning their memories into written legacies.
• Meds & Food for Kids: Produces and distributes an innovative, nutrient-rich peanut butter paste, called Ready-to Use Therapeutic Food, for children dying of malnutrition in Haiti.**
• Old North St. Louis Grocer Cooperative: A community-based, full-service grocery store to provide affordable and healthy food to an underserved market. The store will include a demonstration kitchen and a seating area.**
• The Mid Rivers Wireless Broadband Initiative: An organization aiming to facilitate dialogue and collaboration within the wireless technology industry through a series of innovative conferences and summits.
• One Bright Day Foundation: Plans to create an education center and organic food market to address the health challenges posed to families who live in underprivileged neighborhoods in the city of St. Louis.
• Panda Athletic Club: A full service boxing gym geared toward teaching boxing to underprivileged, at-risk teens. The gym will also provide mentoring and tutoring.
• Redevelopment Opportunities for Women: Provides victims of domestic violence with assistance to develop knowledge and skills needed to increase the economic empowerment of women.
• The Wyman Center’s Peak Performance Profile Initiative: Helps organizations locate and develop potential employees to lead the children and youth the center serves.
The Skandalaris Center stimulates a campus-wide environment of collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurial creativity. This expands learning, understanding and economic opportunities for students, faculty and the St. Louis community. The Center supports entrepreneurship in all academic disciplines and defines it as “the process of seeing novel opportunities, acting energetically, and using limited resources and collaboration to create new value for others.”
The YouthBridge Association is a 135-year-old organization that was previously known as the General Protestant Children’s Home for children. YouthBridge’s mission evolved to fund and support multiple innovative youth-focused social ventures, some of them located on its 19-acre Creve Coeur campus. YouthBridge has supported and funded ventures designed to operate as independent entities following the association’s initial support. YouthBridge’s goal is to support more ventures that can benefit from the organization’s initial support and then grow into self-sufficient entities.
** Indicates one or more founder is a Washington University Student