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Spark provides Social Innovators with an opportunity to explore resources, connections and potential solutions to help their social ventures, by tapping the collective knowledge within Columbia University, and the larger entrepreneurial and social impact community in the New York area and beyond.

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History of the Spark Workshops:

The inaugural Spark Workshop was held on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 with Manmeet Kaur '12 and her venture, City Health Works. City Health Works is a prevention-focused healthcare venture in Harlem. Manmeet had her classmates gather together to listen to a brief presentation about City Health Works, and then she had the group engage in an interactive break-out session dedicated to helping her work through some of the challenges she had been facing.  The session was helpful not only to Manmeet, but to others in attendance as they were able to make connections with fellow social innovators. From this, the Spark Workshop series has evolved to a monthly event dedicated to providing New York City's social innovators with the opportunity to explore resources, make connections and learn about potential solutions to challenges they are facing through the collection knowledge of Columbia University and the larger entrepreneurial and social impact communities. 

Upcoming Spark Workshops:

Spark Workshop on Terraly, Inc.
with Seth Harlem ’15, co-founder & CEO, Terraly, Inc; Mo Mobarak,  co-founder & CTO, Terraly, Inc.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Register here

Terraly is a mobile application that raises money for clean water around the world.  Terraly makes a connection between having an alcoholic drink and raising money for clean water.

How does it work?
Using Terraly, a user confirms their location and enters what they are drinking. So, if you are at the Amsterdam Tavern drinking a Blue Point Toasted Lager, you tell the app where you are and what you’re drinking.

In exchange, Terraly donates money to a clean water charity. Each donation funds one day of clean water for one person. Donations are funded from the revenue generated by providing alcohol producers with consumption data and real-time consumer engagement opportunities. 

Terraly keeps users engaged by showing the impact of participation on global clean water efforts and allowing the sharing of impact with friends.

For additional information, please visit


Past Spark Workshops:

Spark Workshop on Education Technology: Can Education Technology Close the Achievement Gap?
with  Ryan Betts, Teacher, Darien Public School District; Stanley Buchesky '02, Managing Partner, The EdTech Fund; Daniel Konecky, Director of Online Development, Relay Graduate School of Education; Alia McCants '13, Director of Operations, New York City, Relay Graduate School of Education; Terrence Robinson, Teacher, CASA Middle School, Bronx, NY; and Kevan Ottochian, Teacher, Warwick Valley Central School District
Saturday, May 10, 2014

Technology has become a critical part of how today’s school children are educated. From individual classrooms to broader district-wide systems, technology’s integration into established learning systems increasingly raises questions and poses challenges to the status quo. This Spark workshop is dedicated to brainstorming ways that technology can be leveraged to close the achievement/opportunity gap in low-income communities in the US by discussing key problems related to data tracking and reporting, school and school-system operations, classroom learning, and scaling successful solutions.

Potential topics for discussion:

  • Data: What are the current challenges of tracking and reporting on student-, classroom-, school-, and system-level data?School/system operations: What are ways in which technology can provide solutions to the inefficiencies and pain points in running a school or a school system?
  • Classroom learning: What are the current challenges to classroom learning in low-income communities in the US and how can technology provide solutions? (e.g. Teacher quality, appropriate curriculum, access to resources, etc.) 
  • Innovation: What are the current challenges of incubating, identifying, funding, and scaling technological solutions that have proven to be effective in a very fragmented national education system? 
Spark Workshop on Drive Change
with Jordyn Lexton, Founder and Executive Director, Drive Change; Roy Waterman, Culinary Arts Mentor, Drive Change; and TJ, Marketing Director, Drive Change
Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In New York State, the age of adult criminal responsibility is 16 years old. Each year, thousands of kids leave the criminal justice system with adult felony convictions that are made public to future employers and academic institutions. As a result, opportunity for change is limited and re-offense is common: the recidivism rate for adolescents treated as adults in the criminal justice system is nearly 70%. The adult system has a devastating impact on young people. 

Mission: To build and operate state-of-the-art food trucks to hire, train, and empower formerly incarcerated youth ages 16-25. We generate opportunities for youth coming home from adult jail/prison so that they can live crime-free, bright futures. 

Drive Change is a hybrid for-profit/non-profit organization. All of our food trucks are for profit LLCs that are wholly owned by the non-profit 501c3. That being said, all sales from the trucks recycle back into the organization so we can subsidize the cost of running our Drive Change re-entry program.

The re-entry program is eight months long and consists of three distinct phases: a 2-month pre-employment training phase, a 4-month employment phase, and a 2-month transition phase. As participants graduate through each phase, they will see an increase in pay scale, from $8/hr up to $12/hr. 

Drive Change will provide three concrete services that are proven to lower recidivism:

  1. ​Paid, transitional, quality employment.
  2. Concrete transferable skills and credentials. 
  3. Community building and outreach.

Throughout the entire program, young people will be provided with mentoring and counseling from licensed social workers.

Health For All, representing Columbia University for the 2014 Hult Prize, was formed by five Columbia students who came across these astonishing statistics from India’s Bharat Health Organization: "More than 61 Indians go below the poverty-line every MINUTE due to spending on treatment for diseases already occurred.” At the same time, WHO indicates that at least 80% of premature deaths in India are from cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Recognizing the potential to improve the lives of generations to come in slum communities across India and the world, Health For All brings communities together to enjoy the health benefits of dance while learning strategies for healthy living and tracking their impact. The goal is to reach 25 million slum dwellers by 2019. Building on the popularity of television dance competition shows like Dancing with the Stars, Health for All aims to use dance competitions to promote health, scholarship and work opportunities to those living in slums.

This break-out discussion workshop will focus on Health For All’s value proposition, growth strategy and funding model, as well as impact measurement. The Health For All team will outline the business model, explain the goals for Health For All’s future and discuss their thought process as it relates to the value proposition of the business.

Areas of discussion:

  1. What unique value proposition of Health For All will appeal to potential funders and target customers?
  2. What five-year growth strategy will enable Health For All to reach its goal of impacting 25 million slum dwellers by 2019?
  3. Will the funding model be donation-based, revenue-generating, or a blend?  
  4. How will Health For All measure its impact?
Spark Workshop on Inspiring Capital
with Nell Derick Debevoise ’12, Founder & CEO, Inspiring Capital; Yael Silverstein ’13, Director of Products & Marketing, Inspiring Capital
Tuesday, December 3rd  

“To be or not to be… a 501c3?” This workshop will focus on finding solutions to whether Inspiring Capital should be structured as a nonprofit or a for-profit venture. Nell and Yael will outline the Inspiring Capital business model, explain the goals for Inspiring Capital’s future, and discuss their thought process as it relates to picking a business structure for the firm. Each participant will be prepped on the different business structures (i.e. 501c3, LLC, L3C, B Corp, etc.) prior to the workshop as background information for brainstorming.

Breakout topic areas for discussion:
Attendees will breakout into groups based on different business structures (i.e. 501c3, corporation, LLC, L3C, benefit corporation, B Corp, etc.) to help Inspiring Capital (IC) determine which business structure will be most beneficial to them in terms of taxation, client relations, funding opportunities, etc.

Given the background and goals of IC, what are the pros/cons of each of the different business structures as they relate to IC?
Topics to consider for each breakout business structure:

  • Tax implications
  • Client perspective and consumer behaviors
  • Organizational culture: operational and/or governance considerations
  • Funding: What are the most promising sources of funding – individual contributions or foundation grants? Fees paid by customers? Private investment?

About Inspiring Capital
Inspiring Capital is a network of entrepreneurs and investors who use their financial, intellectual, human, and social capital to change the world. Having earned income rather than relying on donations and grants allows high-potential not-for-profits to improve and grow their work efficiently. Eventually, many not-for-profits may be able to develop a business model that generates all the revenue they need to support their operations and grow. This creates an optimal social enterprise business model that is inextricably linked to its social mission.


Spark Workshop on Kangu
with the 2013 Winner of Social Venture Pitch Competition at Columbia Social Enterprise Conference with Casey Santiago ’07, Founder, Kangu; Co-Facilitator: Anu Khosla, Marketing and Community Director, Kangu
Tuesday, November 12th  

This workshop will focus on finding solutions to the challenge of financing and customer growth. Areas of discussion: Financing to support growth and scale: angel investors, impact investors, foundations, and business development Customer growth: driving footfall and conversion

About Kangu
Leveraging the power of technology, Kangu is a crowdfunding start-up that aims to reduce the 250,000 women that die each year from pregnancy and childbirth globally. Nearly all of these deaths are preventable when women have access to basic healthcare services. At our website,, anyone with $10 to give can connect with a specific high-risk pregnant woman in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and sponsor her access to care. Kangu is making the world a smaller, healthier, safer place for women and their babies. In less than 3 months, Kangu brought together 1000 people who funded healthcare services for over 150 women.

Spark Workshop on Ed Tech
with Damon Kornhauser, INCITE Creatives; Andrea Coleman, Office of Innovation at the New York City Department of Education; Esteban Rodriguez, Education, Entrepreneurship; Zak Malamed, Student Voice Live; Holly Pavlika, MOMentum Nation; Stanley Buchesky '02, The EdTech Fund

Tuesday, August 9th  
The Ed Tech workshop discussed the various issues that affect six key stakeholder groups in the education-technology space: education policy makers, education entrepreneurs, students, parents, business partners, and educators. Each stakeholder group discussed the barriers that they encounter from their perspective and brainstormed about how to overcome these hurdles to effectively integrate technology into the classroom.

Each group shared the internal and external factors that impact their sector’s success, and many commonalities were discovered, including bureaucratic challenges, lack of familiarity with technology and its benefits, concern about costs—both financial and time resources—for implementation, a generational gap between the technologies that students are comfortable with using for learning and what the teachers are comfortable with using for teaching, and a need for open discussion among all types of decision makers.

Ultimately the group concluded that there is a great need for ongoing conversation that includes all stakeholders, but especially policy makers, school officials, teachers and students, in order to reach an agreement about the best ways to better the integration of technology into the classroom environment. To continue the discussion with “Spark-leaders” on education technology please join Rethink Learning NYC for their first Meetup on August 28!

Spark Workshop on Defy Ventures
with Catherine Hoke (Rohr)
Tuesday, July 23rd

“What would it be like if you were known for the worst thing you’ve ever done?” asked Defy Ventures founder Catherine Hoke as she started the workshop. In this session, Catherine explained how Defy Ventures provides carefully selected, ambitious men and women who have criminal histories with life-changing entrepreneurship, leadership, and career opportunities. Its mission is to transform the lives of business leaders and people with criminal histories through their collaboration along the entrepreneurial journey.

Attendees were asked to explore questions around scaling nationally by examining models currently used by other organizations and adapting them for Defy. The group felt that Catherine’s involvement in Defy was crucial and needed to remain a priority. It was also suggested that Defy Ventures create local “chapters” in expansion cities with headquarters in New York. Certain attendees thought that a franchise model may not be suitable for Defy, given the strong ties needed for the mission and the difficulty of standardizing processes and activities.

One breakout group tackled the issue of whether they should create a for-profit/hybrid structure to improve their current business model. Ideas varied from partnering with Macy’s to create fashion lines with graffiti lining for a percentage of proceeds, to ideas around creating a structure that drew from organizations such as Accion, Endeavor and Acumen. Attendees also suggested developing an online course for prisons as an opportunity to increase revenues as well as help identify key individuals for the full-scale program. For information on how to get involved, please click here to see the upcoming events and to sign up for: Taste of Defy, Mocktail Day, and Sales Expo events.

International Social Entrepreneurship Workshop
with Selen Ucak '03, The American Turkish Society; Nell Derick Debevoise '12, Inspiring Capital; Tami Kesselman, Vision2Action / IvyGirl Advisors; Shireen Khan '02, Virtue Consulting, Shubio; Decker Ngongang, Echoing Green
Tuesday, July 9th

After attending the Spark Workshop on Building the Ecosystem for Social Ventures; Selen Ucak proposed a workshop focused on International Social Entrepreneurship. This workshop also served as a place for international social entrepreneurs to meet peers within the network and build relationships that will hopefully help advance their venture. This community shares some challenges with social entrepreneurs in the US; however, international social entrepreneurs face additional challenges including cultural differences when scaling, differing government regulations and compliance restrictions, marketing and branding challenges given cultural differences, among others factors.

Attendees broke out into groups to generate solutions to these challenges and identify the types of platforms needed to help implement these solutions. Among the many suggestions were the strengthening of existing mentorship programs, online platforms for questions to help entrepreneurs, best practices for tapping into diaspora funding, developing benchmark metrics, and more. Facilitator Nell Derick Debevoise mentioned the importance of pitching a social venture to investors and emphasized the aspects that investors will be looking for. To read more details about Nell’s suggestion, please click here.

Spark Workshop on Patronicity
with Chris Blauvelt, moderated by Rachel Jacobs ’02, Detroit Nation
Tuesday, June 25th  

Patronicity is a localized crowdfunding platform that enables anybody to make a difference in their community by supporting local businesses, organizations and events while simultaneously offering incentives to do so. They accomplish this by helping these local entities—for example a small business—raise small amounts of capital through online donations for specific growth-related projects. In return for their support, the business offers value-adding rewards to the donors.Workshop attendees discussed the potential to scale Patronicity in major cities or whether geographic focus was the best strategy, as well as how to best develop a brand identity that differentiates them from competitors. Attendees focused on creating a strong marketing and social media campaign which in turn could bring brand awareness to the communities Patronicity has projects in. Suggestions were provided on how to use news articles, blogs and media mentions of successful Patronicity projects to create a demand for their more projects, as the organization continues to expand.

Spark Workshop on Social Sushi
with Jay Rayford, moderated by Rachel Jacobs ’02, Detroit Nation
Tuesday, June 11th

Social Sushi was founded as a social event to bring together professionals who enjoy sushi, want to meet other professionals in Detroit, and have a common interest in local community projects. It soon became clear that Social Sushi founder Jay’s special sushi sauce was a crowd pleaser at each networking event. During his workshop, Jay worked with attendees to determine what his next step should be, and how to scale the organization. The workshop determined that Jay’s key assets are his connections and the ability to bring together large networks of Detroit citizens interested in working on social change. Attendees proposed that Social Sushi become more like an event planning company, with a social mission dedicated to connecting those interested in change in Detroit. As his network increases, he can also start selling the addicting Social Sushi Sauce for additional revenue, brand recognition and additional donations back into the local community.

“If it weren’t for the excellent feedback that I got from my Detroit Nation session with Columbia Business School, it may have took me a long time to drill down on my focus and see clearly how we could be effective in a way that benefits everyone,” said Jay Rayford in an article on Detroit Nation

Spark Workshop on De-Tread
with Audra Carson, moderated by Rachel Jacobs ’02, Detroit Nation
Tuesday, May 28th

Illegal tire dumping accounts for a large amount of blight in urban communities and Detroit’s residential communities are continually plagued by this problem. Illegal tire dumping also opens the possibility for the spread of disease and threats of fire hazards caused by rubber tire disposal. De-Tread’s purpose is to promote healthy and safe communities by solving Detroit’s problem of illegal tire dumping.

Audra used the workshop for help to create a marketing campaign to raise brand awareness within the local community. As a result of the workshop, Audra was steered toward partnering with local auto, waste management and recycling centers for financial backing to get her social venture up and running. It was also suggested that Audra work with the local community and schools in a campaign to get everyone involved in the collection of tires for disposal through a competition. This would bring brand awareness into the community as well as encourage community members to get involved with De-Tread. Partnering with a local organization called D-Tread which repurposes the tires into sandals was also suggested as a potential revenue model. Audra is currently in the development stage of her social venture and is using the ideas generated from this Spark Workshop. 

Spark Workshop on Building the Ecosystem for Social Ventures
with Elisa Miller-Out, Singlebrook; Vince Ponzo ’03, General Assembly; Owen Davis ’08, NYC Seed; and Professor R. A. Farrokhnia '04, Columbia Business School
Tuesday, April 23rd

Elisa Miller-Out of Singlebrook facilitated small group discussions on the strengths and weaknesses of the current social venture ecosystem with the goal of brainstorming how we can help to build a stronger network for the future. Some of the strengths included: resources, fellowship programs, and government resources. Weaknesses were related to measurement challenges, a lack of governmental support, and a need for mentorship opportunities.

To build a stronger ecosystem, attendees brainstormed solutions to these weaknesses. Some solutions included creating an angel list for social ventures, educating investors both on social ventures as well as an understanding of ROI measurements, creating a support network to help social ventures scale and streamline these connections with an online rating website, developing a digital hub of social venture resources similar to “Craigslist” in format, and more. 

Spark Workshop on Global Mental Health@Columbia University
with Professor Kathy Pike, Columbia University
Wednesday, April 17th

The GMHP@Columbia is an interdisciplinary program aiming to be a world leader in global mental health through pioneering initiatives that promote mental health and reduce the burden of mental illness worldwide. To this end, the GMHP@Columbia is committed to education, training, advocacy, clinical and research capacity-building in low income communities around the world. The program has partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as academic centers in countries including Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Nigeria. In addition, the program aims to grow its internet-based global network of mental health practitioners from 4,000 to 10,000 members worldwide.

Attendees advised Professor Pike to work with local governments in order to receive grant funding to create a source of revenue for this project. Participants suggested that GMHP@Columbia leverage their educational programs with membership groups that require Continuing Eeducation Unit’s for practitioners, e.g. universities, government departments of mental health, hospitals, private practitioners, etc., as a long-term revenue model. 

Spark Workshop on BlocPower
with Donnel Baird ’13, Columbia Business School
Tuesday, April 2nd

BlocPower markets and finances solar and energy efficiency retrofits to churches, schools, nonprofits and small businesses in America's underserved communities--and hires local low income people to do it. BlocPower's online platform connects philanthropic investors to project microfinance opportunities.

During this session, attendees provided feedback to Donnel regarding BlocPower’s investment platform as well as the microfinance risk model. Participants advised him to steer clear of crowdsourced investing and focus on institutional investors. In terms of scaling the venture, the workshop concluded Donnel should increase the amount each retrofitted building is required to pay. This will create a revenue model where revenues are reinvested into the next project.

BlocPower was awarded $1.9 Million in matching funding from the Department of Energy to development a website as well as help market, finance and install energy efficiency retrofits for 1,500 small buildings including churches, schools, small businesses, and nonprofits in low-income communities across the country. For more information please click here

For more information, or if you would like to suggest a future Spark workshop, please contact: Diana Rambeau.

Supported by the Social Enterprise Program, the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center and the Social Enterprise Club at Columbia Business School

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Program Brochure

View the Social Enterprise Program brochure, Empowering Leaders to Change the World