One of the most important aspects of entrepreneurship is adaptability. Being able to shift focus to meet the needs of ever-changing market trends, cycles and consumer interests at the drop of a hat is crucial for succeeding in the marketplace. When UC San Diego students expressed interest in learning more about one of the most popular current business models – Social Innovation — experts at the Rady School of Management launched a unique accelerator designed to meet the needs of these social entrepreneur hopefuls.
The Social Venture Accelerator housed at the Rady School supports students interested in creating social impact through entrepreneurship through workshops, mentorship sessions, pitch practice and more. Born out of a need to create more socially-conscious companies, the Social Venture Accelerator helps students scale and develop innovative companies addressing important social issues. The pilot program recently wrapped up, launching six business endeavors with companies ranging from sustainable farming to technology that prevents senior citizens from falling.
From November through February, more than 20 students gathered at six workshops to learn about relevant topics. Topics included creating the perfect pitch, developing business models, crowdfunding, key traits of social entrepreneurs and more. The pool of participants was diverse – from nascent state ideas to emerging companies, each team had the opportunity to grow their venture guided by experts from the Rady School.
“The Social Venture Accelerator is a vital part of UC San Diego’s entrepreneurial blueprint because we see social impact ventures becoming a much bigger part of the start-up ecosystem,” said Kim Davis King, Co-Director of Accelerator Programs. “We cover different social impact corporate structures so participants get a comprehensive look at what it takes to launch a successful social venture.”
Although the accelerator is open to the entire campus, the majority of participants were Rady School students eager to bring their innovative ventures to life. Mauricio Varon (MBA ’19) developed a luxury bed and bath linens brand where for every bed sheet purchased, a recycle fiber blanket will be donated to Peruvian communities located in the Andes region.
“I chose to get involved with the Social Venture Accelerator because I believed it was a good idea to gain knowledge, network and exposure to my idea,” Varon said. “Throughout the process of the accelerator program I learned about social venture business models. I am planning to leverage my time with the Social Venture Accelerator and lessons learned in my MBA classes to make this company successful.”
The program also caught the eye of Scripps Institution of Oceanography graduate of the Masters of Advanced Studies program Brant Chlebowski, who was searching for programs on campus in support of student ventures. His company, California Seaweed Co., provides a sustainable approach to developing high quality native seaweeds for the culinary market while supporting scientific research and development of aquaculture technology.
“The Social Venture Accelerator stands out on campus, as it was uniquely focuses around the social transformative component,” Chlebowski said. “I learned there is a wide range of models and methods available for businesses to include a social and transformational component in their strategy. A company has opportunities to support positive social outcomes at every stage of the business model from human resources, full supply chain management, marketing and end user engagement.”
The accelerator culminated with a pitch presentation where six teams shared their companies to JoAnne Starr, the Rady School Assistant Dean, Strategy, Curriculum and Rankings, and Ayelet Gneezy, a professor at the Rady School. The teams received feedback on their presentation and business ideas.
Due to the success of the pilot program, the Social Venture Accelerator will launch another program in the fall.
“Our participants really enjoyed the program, but also provided some feedback on what they would have liked more of,” said Lada Rasochova, Executive Director of the California Institute for Innovation and Development, housed in the Rady School. “Participants mentioned they would have liked more time with mentors and a broader audience to pitch to at the final presentations, so we will be incorporating their suggestions into our curriculum for the next cohort.”
Moving forward, King and Rasochova are anticipating the growth of the accelerator.
“UC San Diego and the Rady School are committed to providing innovative and relevant approaches to entrepreneurship,” Starr said. “The Social Venture Accelerator meets the needs of our socially-conscious and entrepreneurially-minded campus community and supports their ideas that will change the world for the better.”
The Social Venture Accelerator is funded by the Center for Social Innovation and Impact – a center dedicated to inspire students and alumni to address the big issues and big challenges our society is facing. The development and launch of the accelerator is one of the actions that Rady is taking as part of our role in the broader Changemaker Campus plan at UC San Diego, which encourages the campus community to actively engage in serving the global community.