Spark: A space for social innovators to combine ideas with networks
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.
If you are interested in joining the Spark mailing list, please click here.
Upcoming Spark Workshops:
Save the dates - Spark Workshops will be held this fall.
Past Spark Workshops:
Ed Tech Workshop
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!
Defy Ventures Workshop
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.
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.
Social Sushi Workshop
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.
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.
Building the Ecosystem for Social Ventures Workshop
with Elisa Miller-Out, Singlebrook; Vince Ponzo ’03, General Assembly; Owen Davis ’08, NYC Seed; and Professor R. A. Farrokhina '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.
Global Mental Health@Columbia University Workshop
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.
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.
This event is supported by the Social Enterprise Program, the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center and the Social Enterprise Club at Columbia Business School.