SIL Bootcamp Inspires Budding Social Entrepreneurs to Move Forward
James Shamul’s idea for bringing positive change to Baltimore grew out of shaggy hair and a lack of options for a quick, reasonably priced clip. A member of The Johns Hopkins University’s class of 2017, Shamul noticed many of his peers had similar feelings about the inconvenient walk, bus ride or Uber to an off-campus barber that charged $20 or more for a haircut.
University student enterprise regulations made an on-campus barber shop a near impossibility, Shamul learned, but a vehicle outfitted with chairs, scissors, clippers and licensed talent could provide a convenient solution. Furthermore, it could have a nonprofit component where it provides Baltimore’s homeless with haircuts and access to other support, such as employment opportunities.
With the idea set, a name (BarberFleet) and partners (Jamie Chen, a freshman at The Johns Hopkins University, and Louis DeRidder, a Johns Hopkins visiting student), Shamul was off to a great start, but he had little idea about next steps.
On April 29, he, along with about 20 others interested in developing a social venture, attended the Social Innovation Lab’s (SIL) Bootcamp. The event condensed SIL’s six-month curriculum into a single day to show participants how to lead change as a social entrepreneur, develop an idea into an actionable plan and identify and secure funding.
Shamul says some of the best lessons covered “small details that could end up making a big difference,” such as identifying funding sources and learning how to ask questions, address challenges and forecast future problems. However, the camaraderie between the like-minded attendees also proved beneficial.
“Being around others who are undergoing the same challenges or who have similar questions as I do made me feel better about where I was,” Shamul says. “It also made me a lot more passionate about what we’re doing.”
SIL Director Darius Graham designed this year’s Bootcamp, about a quarter the size of the first, to provide more one-on-one feedback and to help attendees cultivate relationships.
“We created this Bootcamp to help very early-stage changemakers gain skills and to think strategically about launching their social venture,” Graham says. “Our first Bootcamp in October 2016 served about 100 Baltimore area residents, but we intentionally made this one smaller so attendees could connect more with each other and develop relationships to help carry their work forward.”
Sabrina Dépestre, an educator and writer with Technical.ly Baltimore, attended the Bootcamp to move forward an idea she says she hasn’t fully fleshed out. She envisions building a venture that connects the area’s movers, shakers and policy makers in the health and wellness space.
“I want to bring together all the faces of health and wellness in Baltimore to see what they’re working on and to create this blueprint of collaboration other cities can use to strengthen their cities,” Dépestre says.
With such an ambitious idea, Dépestre was unsure of where to start, especially considering the early stage of her venture. After only a few hours at the Bootcamp, though, that uncertainty disappeared. Dépestre says she has a better idea for how she and her business partner, Karlene Graham, a Johns Hopkins University alumnus, can move forward.
“What the Bootcamp provided me was the momentum to keep going. I realized I wasn’t alone in this very infant state of my idea,” Dépestre says. “Darius was able to provide very specific action plans and action items that I could take home and run with.”
With a clearer path to create a successful social venture, both Shamul and Dépestre are eager to put their ideas into motion but understand they may need help along the way. Over the next few months, each intends to take action based on information from the Bootcamp and will seek further support by applying to SIL’s 2017-2018 cohort in August.