Santa Clara University

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 Santa Clara University has quietly become a well-respected hotbed for social entrepreneurs around the globe, in numerous ways:

* The 9-year-old Global Social Benefit Incubator improves the prospects of about 200 entrepreneurs from around the world each year. These entrepreneurs are leaders of organizations working on problems such as clean energy, clean water, food production, and health care, that affect the 4 billion people in the "Base of the Pyramid."

In addition to 20 entrepreneurs chosen for an intensive, fully funded training program each year, GSBI’s application-feedback process helps hundreds of entrepreneurs worldwide through the Skoll-based Social Edge website. The  applicants complete business planning exercises, and get MBA-level feedback that help them develop financially sustainable business plans for their organizations.

“One of every two people who don’t get accepted nonetheless thank us for the application process,” said SCU professor of social entrepreneurship Eric Carlson.

The 20 entrepreneurs selected annually participate in additional online exercises and a 2-week, in-residence program at the university, where they learn how to develop and execute a financially sustainable and scalable business plan. The online exercises are mentored by MBA students and graduates. The in-residence program is mentored by carefully matched VCs, entrepreneurs and consultants from Silicon Valley.

In its first nine years, more than 1,000 social entrepreneurs have applied or participated, with 121 attending the in-residence program. Feedback from the vast majority of the 121 entrepreneurs indicates that attending the GSBI has significantly improved their organizations. Ninety-five percent are still in business, about half have experienced significant growth and several are already reaching over 1 million beneficiaries.

The mentoring is done by executives like Carlson, a retired SV exec, and his students. He teaches an MBA course in business plans, and a practicum social entrepreneurship course, in which his students spend hours poring over and improving GSBI applications.

“From the start is has been clear that GSBI is a world-class program that makes a tremendous difference in the lives and organizations of the entrepreneurs who participate, and to the students who take my MBA class It’s exciting to be part of this movement,” says Carlson.

* GSBI is run out of Santa Clara’s Center for Science Technology and Society, (CSTS) which for the past 10 years has used its vast network of social entrepreneurs to solicit, identify and judge the nominees and winners of the Tech Awards, a program of  Tech Museum of Innovation, Applied Materials and SCU. Past winners of the Tech Awards – all of whom were evaluated by SCU’s judges – include many now-prominent social entrepreneurs, such as the 2010 Tech Award Laureates.

*  Santa Clara sponsors research into how the VC model works for social entrepreneur startups. It’s unique in that some investors are actually investing in infrastructure – building roads so a product can be distributed or installing water supplies. Researching the phases of this process is GSBI mentor and retired Redleaf Venture VC John Kohler.

* CSTS is developing the Frugal Innovation Initiative, which funds research to create and develop products and services that can be replicated in resource-starved corners of the world. In contrast to products for developed nations, goods for such countries must be rugged, simple, use low-cost raw materials, be hyper-focused on the needs of users, and employ earth-friendly practices. They also frequently require manufacturers to look for “good enough” solutions over perfect ones. 


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