World’s largest Business plan competition looks to help social entrepreneurs

To help jumpstart job growth in Massachusetts, a unique public/private partnership, Masschallenge.org, was launched earlier this year. By unveiling what it claims is the world’s largest business plan competition; the folks at MassChallenge are hoping to attract hundreds if not thousands of interested entrepreneurs. While most business plan competitions have been university based in the past, MassChallenge intends to go mainstream with entries accepted from all quarters. With the intent of raising serious money – a target of $25 Million for the first year – it hopes to change the way plans are run by providing the winning teams with $1 million in seed funding. It hopes to run six parallel competitions in the following areas:

  • Healthcare, and Life Sciences
  • IT, Software, and Gaming
  • Clean Technology and Energy
  • Social Development and Non-profit
  • Open Category, Seed Stage
  • Open Category, Expansion Stage

The one on Social Development and Non-profit caught my eye as it is along the lines of what we have been discussing on this blog. As I had said in some of my earlier posts, early stage social innovators sorely need a jumpstart as they face a tougher time raising funds than a for-profit. More importantly, Massachusetts has grown to be a focal point for social innovation attracting the best and brightest to the exciting programs offered in all the leading universities. Coupled with the incentives from MassChallenge and the Massachusetts Government, we have the opportunity to create a new growth cluster in the state. We have an opportunity to retain the top talent attracted to the programs in the area and to channel them to building the next generation of innovative social enterprises here in Boston.

I recently wrote a more detailed article for the MassChallenge.org blog that outlines this and am excerpting it below.

Around the world, a new breed of entrepreneurs has emerged. They are change agents who bring a fresh set of skills combining business acumen, innovative field work and operational excellence to build large scale sustainable organizations. Fueled in great part by the growing citizen sector, these social entrepreneurs tackle seemingly stubborn global challenges –whether working to improve basic education for inner city children, or fighting disease in the developing world – and they face daunting organizational challenges.

No place better nurtures this new breed of social entrepreneur than Boston. Boston has grown to become a center for Social Entrepreneurship education and activities. Several universities in the Greater Boston area offer courses in Social Entrepreneurship. Boston University offers one of the oldest non-profit management programs. MIT, Harvard, Tufts all have programs or courses focusing on citizen involvement and social impact. Boston has also been the birthplace of several innovative non-profits like City Year and Citizens Schools. Nearly a fifth of the Fast Company Social Capitalist awardees are from the Greater Boston area.

With such a rich local pool of social entrepreneurial talent, there is a major opportunity to create a Social Entrepreneurial Cluster in Boston. Like the technology and biotech clusters around the Boston/Cambridge/Route 128 axis that have sprung up from the rich educational and research programs; we have an opportunity to build a new center of excellence in Social Entrepreneurship around Greater Boston. We have an opportunity to retain the top talent, which is attracted to the terrific selection of Social Entrepreneurship programs offered by the major universities in the area, and channel them to building the next generation of innovative social enterprises here in Boston.

To do so one needs to create an local ecosystem that brings together practitioners, academics and students; that allows young entrepreneurs to learn from the successes and lessons of the existing leaders; that facilitates sharing of innovative concepts and implementations; and that allows philanthropists and foundations to make game changing investments in emerging talent.

Over the past three years, ForSE: Forum for Social Entrepreneurs has provided such a collaborative forum. Under the aegis of the TIE Social Entrepreneurs Group, this annual conference brings together social innovators with leading business professionals, investors, donors, government officials, academics, and students. It facilitates the sharing of new technology and business ideas along with hard-earned management learnings and fosters informed discussion and action on new social venture concepts.

This year the annual conference, ForSE 2009: Forum for Social Entrepreneurs, will be held on Friday October 23rd at Babson College. In addition to several panels on cutting edge topics, the forum also includes in-depth case studies that dissect the daily workings of a social entrepreneur and help brainstorm solutions and ideas for the challenges they present. And, new this year, a pitch contest for aspiring social entrepreneurs that has attracted entries from all around the USA.  You can click on this link to the conference site for further information and details. Click here to learn more about TIE Social Entrepreneurs Group.

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