Campus to host social business plan competition

Leu and Snell provide potential contestants advice

By William Ruben
Special to the Tribune

If you have an idea or vision that could inspire change, Marquette’s first social entrepreneurship business plan competition might pique your interest.

Social entrepreneurship is defined as a combination of “the passion of a social mission with an image of business-like discipline, innovation and determination,” according to J. Gregory Dees, a professor of the practice of social entrepreneurship and nonprofit management at Duke University.

Jane Leu, social entrepreneur-in-residence at Marquette, discussed what it takes to present a winning business plan during an open discussion about the competition on Saturday.

“The best business plans are really focused on one thing,” said Leu, who will be on campus until Nov. 7. “The business plan must be well-articulated and well-researched, with a supported written idea.”

Crafting a business plan may seem like a formidable task for a student, especially an undergraduate. Students should focus on the problem they want to tackle and identify what resources are needed as a starting point for a business plan, said Jeff Snell, special adviser to the president. He is assisting Leu with the social entrepreneurship effort at Marquette.

And with an idea and focus, help can be more readily accessible.

“Once you start to develop a brand, then faculty will be more willing to help,” said Leu, founder of Upwardly Global, a national nonprofit organization that connects skilled immigrants with employers.

After the creation of a business plan, it is important to be able to concisely articulate the main ideas and goals of the plan, Snell said.

“You’ve really got to master that elevator speech; one to two minutes where you just knock someone off their feet,” Snell said.

Undergraduates should not be scared to get their feet wet while venturing into social entrepreneurship, they said.

“When you’re younger you’re afraid to ask questions to expose your lack of knowledge, but when you’re older, the way you can advance your ideas is to do just that,” Snell said.

The ideas that stand out are from those students who have a connection to their problems, they said.

“The world does not need more ideas for raising money on the Internet for charity,” Leu said.

The process of creating a business plan is a learning experience, Leu said, and not winning the competition doesn’t mean you lost out on the experience.

“Producing something gives you credibility,” Leu said.

The winner of the competition will receive a cash prize to put his or her plan into action. The competition will begin late this year or in early 2010. An award ceremony is scheduled for late next semester.