Teams from sixteen UNC system campuses presented their solutions to various social challenges at the 2014 UNC Social Entrepreneurship Conference at NC A&T State University on February 28th. The conference, sponsored by Wells Fargo with additional support from Lincoln Financial Group and Jennifer and Kevin Trapani, brought together more than 400 students, faculty and community members for a day to discuss how they could identify important social challenges, then take a business-oriented approach to solving them. Along the way, students practiced critical thinking skills and clear written and oral communication.
The competition involved 26 undergraduate teams and 14 graduate student teams who presented detailed business plans and five minute oral presentations to small groups of judges. Undergraduate teams outlined their ideas to solve a community challenge that was not being addressed and propose a solution. Graduate student teams worked with North Carolina nonprofits to advise them on how the nonprofits might expand services to new areas or generate revenue for their work. The team from UNCP, an NC Campus Compact member institution, edged out NCA&T and Appalachian State to win the graduate competition. UNCP’s team worked with the STARworks Center for Creative Enterprise, a business incubator in a former textile mill in Star, NC, to design a new retail shop the nonprofit could use to support local artists. UNCP MBA students Lewis Adams of Lilesville and Daniel Bougt of Stockholm Sweden shared the $5000 prize, and plan to use the money to begin implementing some of their ideas.
The team from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, the youngest team in the competition, finished just ahead of UNC Charlotte and Fayetteville State with a new mobile app called “Freshspire,” that brings together grocers, consumers and food banks. The app would notify low-income individuals when a grocery is about to mark down fresh produce, ensuring that they can get healthy food at an affordable price. The two plan to use the $3000 first prize to develop the app and start signing up grocery stores.
The competition also included a keynote address from Tom Szaky, who started his recycling company company, TerraCycle, as a college sophomore.
“As a public university, we need to remember our obligation to serve our communities, our state, our nation and our world,” said Tom Ross, UNC President, at the conference. “We desperately need new ways of thinking, new approaches to old problems. We need to produce graduates who see themselves as responsible for creating the future – and who know they have the knowledge and capacity to make it happen.”
– This excerpt is modified from an article in the March 2014 issue of UNC@Work: Engagement & Economic Transformation.