I woke up very early (for a weekend) for a little adventure in Uris Hall last Saturday, February 16. I attended the National Social Venture Competition's Mentoring Day. It is an event where social entrepreneurs who enter the competition present their business ideas to an audience. Many people in the audience were Mentors: "seasoned, high-profile professionals who provide indispensable advice, guidance, and networks that endure beyond the competition." They will pair up with entrepreneurs to help them develop a formal business plan, (to be submitted to the NSVC by February 28) one of the requirements to enter the competition. The winners of the final round will receive funds to help in the creation of the new socially minded company.
I have to admit that I did not know what to expect from the event, but mainly due to ignorance. The whole whirlwind of the summer job search process had completely sucked me up, unfortunately dominating my "school" life. Nevertheless, I thought that at a minimum, attending the Mentoring Day would be a very fruitful and interesting experience.
And it was interesting, because it's amazing and uncommon to have the opportunity to listen to and get to know about thirty-something new business ideas from very enthusiastic people, all in a short 3-hour span. On top of that, these were people with a positive, unselfish, and forward-looking attitude: their projects were not simple business ideas, but ideas that aimed to help society. Excitement filled Uris Hall. From medical advances, to technology breakthroughs, to process reengineering, to education and the environment, the participating social entrepreneurs truly put much effort and brains into both their plans and the 5-minute presentations they each prepared for the day. The projects were not only aimed at developed economies, but significant stress was also placed on starting businesses in emerging countries.
The event was a fruitful one, because I learned a lot and had the opportunity to meet many different people (and, of course, many members of the fully committed, well-organized Columbia Business School National Social Venture Competition - responsible for the coordination of the event). It is critical to point out that in 2003, our school, as one of the 3 partners of the NSVC (the others being the Haas School of Business and The Goldman Sachs Foundation), will host the Finals of the NSVC.
In the finals, the best business projects will be presented to a panel of judges, who will carefully study and scrutinize the business plans and the management teams. Winners will be awarded funds to start their business. During the next few months, support from the mentors and the NSVC organizers will play a crucial role in the success of the finalists!!!
One of the entrants I met was Darren Bodem. He drove 20 hours, all the way from South Florida, to come to the Mentoring Day. He has just started his company, TransMart, which has found a creative way to reduce the number of homeless people in the U.S. A lawyer by training, Mr. Bodem is totally convinced about social entrepreneurship: "If we could change 20-30 of the American public by making them understand the benefits of social entrepreneurship… People will learn to become compassionate again… and they will take this to their children and grandchildren… to transform America."
I think it makes sense. If we were all compassionate again, then crime, drugs, and homelessness would decrease. Back in my senior year of college, one of my professors, Vice Dean David Noel Ramirez, boldly told us on our last day of classes: "There is a social mortgage behind every piece of private property." My classmates and I were stunned and confused at the same time. Being very fortunate to have an education, many of us knew little about the social needs of our surroundings. I believe the same is true for a Columbia MBA. We have a social responsibility to society, because we are part of a favored group within a society that has many needs; it is just a matter of opening our eyes and listening well.
That is what social entrepreneurship and the NSVC are all about: doing good things for society. The Mentoring Day was one important step in that direction, where experienced persons and entrepreneurs paired up to tackle the challenge. In total, 32 entrepreneurs found a mentor that day. These mentors will surely provide beneficial advice to the entrepreneurs and their teams, not only for the upcoming rounds of the NSVC, but also for the set up and running of their businesses in the coming months. It was definitely a great day for everyone!