The New Generation of Social Entrepreneurs

The explosion of social enterprise programs at the university level is radically changing the evolution of entrepreneurship.

When Investors’ Circle opened its doors to mission-driven companies in ‘92, for-profit social entrepreneurship was still in its infancy. Many IC entrepreneurs had ground-breaking ideas with the business experience and passion to break out from the pack and transform their respective industries (e.g. Stonyfield Farm, Zipcar, and Evergreen Solar). These companies came to the Investors’ Circle community because access to capital and general support for social entrepreneurship was largely underdeveloped.  These companies didn’t benefit from today’s progressive business networking groups like Net Impact, internship opportunities at world-renowned mission-driven businesses, and green MBA programs.

We are now on the brink of seeing a new generation of entrepreneurs who are armed with better access to resources and educational opportunities tailored to support their social endeavors. We tip our hat to a few (of the many!) stand-out universities and non-profits working to increase student interest in social entrepreneurship through competitions:

Academic Institution Competitions

1.) Carnegie Mellon: McGinnis Venture Competition

Prize: $20k, Sustainable Technology track

This competition revolves around new technologies and helping MBA students move from the dorm room to the board room, bringing new businesses to life.

2.) Duke: Duke Start Up Challenge

Prize: $5k, Social Entrepreneurship track

This entrepreneurship competition runs the course of the academic year and provides teams with feedback to help with development of the business concept into the next phase and beyond.

3.) Georgia Tech: Business Plan Competition

Prize: $4k (divided between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places), Ideas 2 Serve track

In the I2S Competition, teams develop an idea concept, initial business model, and feasibility analysis for venture concepts focused on the triple bottom line.

4.) Harvard: HBS Business Plan Contest

Prize: $25k for 1st place and $10k for 2nd place, Social Enterprise track

The Social Enterprise Track of the HBS Business Plan Contest aims to educate about the process of creating and evaluating new ventures that have a central focus on social value.

5.) James Madison University: Sustainable Business Plan Competition

Prize: up to $50k

This competition provides a forum for entrepreneurs to refine sustainable business concepts for ventures in seed, start-up or early-growth stages.

6.) MIT: MIT Enterprise Competition

Prize: $100k grand prize, features Development and Energy tracks

This competition encourages its participants to act on their talent, ideas and energy to produce tomorrow’s leading firms.

7.) Notre Dame: Social Venture Competition

Prize: $15k for 1st place and $2k for 2nd place

This competition focuses on business plans with social missions/purposes and fosters a spirit of collaboration between business and social ventures.

8.) NYU: Social Venture Competition

Prize: $100k

The NYU Stern Social Venture Competition was started to recognize and support the use of business and entrepreneurial skills to create innovative approaches to tackling social problems.

9.) Rice: Rice University Business Plan Competition

Prize: $20k, Dow Sustainability Award; $10k, Sheafor-Lindsay Social Venture Award

The Rice University Business Plan Competition (RBPC) simulates the real-world process of soliciting start-up funds from early-stage investors and venture capital firms.

10.) Seattle University: Harriet Stephenson Business Plan Competition

Prize: $2500, Social Venture Award

Seattle University’s annual Business Plan Competition is designed to helps launch new business ventures by providing an enhanced learning experience, generating feedback on ideas, and developing networks.

11.) Stanford: Stanford University Entrepreneurship Challenge

Prize: $50k

The Social E-Challenge is a business plan competition for entrepreneurial ventures whose primary goal is to effect social and/or environmental change.

12.) Tufts: $100k Business Plan Competition

Prize: $50k, Social Entrepreneurship track

The Social Entrepreneurship Competition was created to encourage thought on developing new ventures that benefit society.

13.) Tulane: Business Plan Competition

Prize: $20k, Social Entrepreneurship track

The Tulane Business Plan Competition has added a social entrepreneurship track to reward not-for-profit and for-profit organizations whose products or services serve the greater good.

14.) University of Colorado: Cleantech Venture Challenge

Prize: $25k

This competition features business plans that demonstrate venture-grade, for-profit business models that provide innovative solutions, services or products in the cleantech sector.

15.) University of Idaho: VIEW Business Plan Competition

Prize: $2k, Social Entrepreneurship track

The Social Entrepreneurship track is focused on developing innovative solutions for social or environmental problems at the local, national, and global levels.

16.) University of Michigan: Michigan Business Challenge

Prize: $5k, Erb Award for Sustainability

This competition stimulates the creation of new businesses that harmonize economic, environmental, and social considerations.

17.) University of Texas: Dell Social Innovation Competition

Prize: $50k for grand prize, $10k for environmental sustainability

This competition invites students to create change at home or worldwide with an innovation designed to tackle a significant social problem.

18.) University of Washington: Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition

Prize: up to $17k

The Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) engages creative minds around the world to encourage bolder and less conventional business solutions to global poverty.

19.) Wake Forest: Elevator Competition

Prize: $5k, Social Entrepreneurship Competition

The Elevator Competition for Social Entrepreneurship seeks socially-conscious entrepreneurs to share their world-changing ideas.

20.) Yale: Yes – Y50k

Prize: $1k, Social Venture Award

Each April, YES holds a two-day conference—the Innovation Summit—in New Haven to celebrate Yale’s dynamic entrepreneurship community.

Organizational Competitions

1.) AC-NET: Clean Tech Business Plan Competition

Prize: $25k for 1st place, $10k for 2nd place, and $5k for 3rd Place

The Clean Tech Business Plan Competition supports ideas in energy and water technology.

2.) Global Social Venture Competition

Prize: $25k for 1st, $10k for 2nd place, $5k for 3rd place

The Global Social Venture Competition provides mentoring, exposure, and prizes for social ventures from around the world.

3.)     Clean Tech Open: Clean Tech Open Competition

Prize: $100k to 6 CA semifinalists, $50k to 3 Pacific NW semifinalists, and $50k to 3 Rocky Mountain Finalists

The Clean Tech Open Competition seeks out early stage clean technology companies and provides unique resources to empower these start-ups to become viable businesses.

4.)     DTE (with U of Michigan): Clean Energy Prize

Prize: $65k for 1st place, $21k for 2nd place, and $3400 for 3rd and 4th place

This competition calls for the best plan for bringing new clean-energy technologies to market in Michigan.

5.) Green Spaces: Green Business Competition

Prize: $8k for 1st place and $1k for 2nd place

The competition rewards investment funds to companies that have the ability to revolutionize their industry and create economic opportunities by working with NY ecological resources.

6.) MIT Enterprise Forum: Ignite Clean Energy

Prize: not listed

The Ignite Clean Energy Competition’s objective is to foster, nurture and energize the emergence of world-class renewable energy technology firms.

7.) NCIIA (with ASME): Green Business Competition

Prize: $10k for 1st place, $7k for 2nd place, and $5k for 3rd place

ASME’s IShow provides the full experience of technology product commercialization, bridging the gap between engineering school practicum to business school theories.

8.) NCIIA (with U of Texas): IC2 Student Commercialization Plan Competition

Prize: $10k for 1st place, $3k for 2nd place, and $2k for 3rd place

The IC2 competition’s goal is to encourage graduate students to commercialize technologies developed at their universities and to facilitate the resulting new ventures in obtaining funding.

9.) Walmart: Better Living Business Plan Competition

Prize: $20k for 1st place, other $5k and $10k prizes

The Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge provides a forum for students to invent sustainable products or develop sustainable business solutions and present them to a panel of Walmart executives, suppliers, and environmental organizations.

10.) William James Foundation: Socially Responsible Business Plan Competition

Prize: $3k for 1st place, $2k for 2nd place, and $1k for 3rd place

This competition supports the evolution of a sustainable global economy.


2 Responses

  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing. The Clean Tech Open also awards a grand prize of $250,000 + at its Grand Awards Gala and Expo, which takes place on November 17th at the Masonic Center in San Francisco. Here is the link:

  2. wowsers! great resource!

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