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How Business Schools Are Creating Social Entrepreneurs

Posted October 11, 2016 by Giselle Weybrecht - Author, Advisor, Speaker - Sustainability and Business

Many MBA students state that they hope to become entrepreneurs at some point after graduation. A growing number of these students are interested in becoming social, or environmental, entrepreneurs, creating nonprofit, for-profit, or hybrid business ideas that aim to change the world.

Whether you already have an idea for a social enterprise or you are simply interested in learning more, business schools today have a growing number of programs and resources to help fuel your ambitions. These include not only courses but also mentorship opportunities, office space, and funding. Here are some examples of schools supporting social entrepreneurship education and initiatives.

Events: Most business schools now put on at least one event per year that brings social entrepreneurs to campus. These events are often organized through students clubs such as Net Impact or responsible business clubs and entrepreneurship clubs. Some are university-wide events. For example, the University of Western Australia’s Social Impact Festival brings together over 1,000 people annually to discuss social impact and celebrate local social entrepreneurs.

Centers: Many business schools around the world now have a center focused on social entrepreneurship or social impact. The Centre for Social Impact, for example, is a collaboration between the University of New South Wales, Swinburne University of Technology, and the University of Western Australia that focuses on social entrepreneurship. The at Stanford University brings together students and faculty from engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education to tackle world problems together. Additionally, a growing number of schools, such as Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico, have been named Ashoka Changemaker Campuses, meaning they provide a range of opportunities in social innovation education.

Courses: There are a growing number of courses not just within business schools but also organized by business schools and open to anyone. For example, the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley launched Philanthropy University, a series of free online courses focused on social entrepreneurship and how to scale social impact. Copenhagen Business School ’s MOOC on Social Entrepreneurship had over 22,000 students sign up. During this course, students have the chance to form groups and identify opportunities to create social change, develop a business model, and outline ideas in a business plan that they submit at the end to possibly receive startup funding.

Degrees and Concentrations: Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business has provided a concentration in social entrepreneurship since 2006. Babson College, as another example, has a social entrepreneurship concentration organized by its Social Innovation Lab. With a lesser focus, Kogod School of Business at American University offers a minor or certificate in social entrepreneurship. INSEAD offers its own unique format with one-week Social Entrepreneurship Program.

Experiences: Students at Georgetown University have the opportunity to learn more about social entrepreneurship by getting involved as employees or board members of The Corp, the largest student-run nonprofit organization in the world, consisting of seven subsidiary companies generating annual revenues in excess of 5 million USD. Other business schools, such as the University of Washington Foster School of Business, have board fellow programs in which students can sit as a non-voting board member on a local nonprofit board.

Consulting: Even if you don’t have your own idea for a social enterprise, you can learn more by working with other social entrepreneurs and helping them develop their ideas. Campus Catalyst is a program at Northwestern University that pairs students with nonprofits in the Chicago area. At the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, students are paired with social entrepreneurs from a local social innovation center that hosts aspiring and established social ventures.

Competitions: The Global Social Venture competition at the University of California, Berkeley, provides aspiring entrepreneurs with mentoring and over 50,000 USD in prizes to transform ideas into businesses that will have positive real-world impact. Additionally, a growing number of schools hold pitch competitions where students can gather additional support for their business ideas. For example,INSEAD and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology paired up to create the Sustainable Investing Challenge for businesses that seek positive environmental or social impact and competitive financial returns. Some competitions are for ideas in specific industries, such as the Health and Wellness Challenge at Northwestern University in the U.S., or the London Business School and University of College London CleanTech Challenge.

Mentorship: Many of these competitions and programs provide more than just funding. They provide mentorship, support, and even office space. The Hult Prize Foundation is a startup accelerator for budding young social entrepreneurs emerging from universities worldwide. Winners receive over 1 million USD in seed capital as well as mentorship and advice from the international business community. Each year’s challenge focuses on a specific topic.

Funding: Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has a social entrepreneurship award of 80,000 USD for a student launching a social venture after graduation. Similarly, the University of Michigan Ross School of Business has a 200,000 USD fund for students to invest for social impact—as well as loan forgiveness of up to 20,000 USD for graduates to pay their loans.

Office Space: Business schools also have incubators to help support social entrepreneurs. For example, the Social Incubator at ESSEC, in France, provides strategic, managerial, technical, and financial aid to social entrepreneurs in the starting phase of their project.

Regardless of which business school you choose to attend, you will find a growing number of opportunities to explore social entrepreneurship and plenty of inspiration and tools to help you develop your own ideas.

Giselle WeybrechtGiselle Weybrecht is an author, advisor, and speaker on sustainability. Her most recent book is The Future MBA: 100 Ideas for Making Sustainability the Business of Business Education. Follow her at and on Twitter @gweybrecht.