Category: Social Ventures

Social Ventures

SIL Bootcamp Inspires Budding Social Entrepreneurs to Move Forward

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.

SIL’s Bootcamp helped social entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life.

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.

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Social Ventures

Impact Hub Event Showcases Social Innovation Lab and Ventures

Impact Hub Event Showcases Social Innovation Lab and Ventures

The energy flowing through Impact Hub at 7:30 a.m. on February 22 had nothing to do with coffee-fueled caffeine rushes and everything to do with passion for social entrepreneurship.

That morning, dozens and dozens of people packed the Station North-based innovation lab for SocEnt Breakfast #29, a re-occurring morning meeting filled with brainstorming and networking to support emerging social ventures.

This iteration featured three Social Innovation Lab (SIL) teams (The Whole Teacher, Touching Young Lives and B-360), and began with SIL Director Darius Graham providing an overview of the program’s mission to develop nonprofits and mission-driven for-profits to better communities in Baltimore and around the world.

After Jenna Shaw of The Whole Teacher, Shantell Roberts of Touching Young Lives and Brittany Young of B-360 explained the issues their ventures intended to solve, each met with a focus group of 15-20 attendees to identify ways to strengthen their organizations.

“The questions were really great, and I felt that people were engaged and interested in what we were working on and very quick to offer community resources,” says Shaw, who established The Whole Teacher to increase the health, happiness and retention of Baltimore teachers.

The focus groups exposed the social entrepreneurs to diverse perspectives presented through a lens shaped by a variety of professional and life experiences.

“My group had so many people interested in Touching Young Lives,” says Roberts, who founded her nonprofit that provides education and tools to reduce the occurrence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) after her 1-year-old daughter died. “One mother in my group lost her baby to SIDS, and she was able to extend her thoughts in any capacity I needed.”

In the case of B-360, a group dedicated to changing the perceptions of engineers and dirt bike riders and using dirt bikes to teach Baltimore children STEM, it not only received feedback but used the time to educate the group.

“We talked a lot about my students who by the age of 5 either ride dirt bikes or want to become dirt bike riders,” Young says. “The group was valuable because they had raw opinions, but they left viewing riders differently.”

Though the event officially lasted only about 90 minutes, many members of the focus groups lingered to meet and exchange business cards with the other SIL entrepreneurs.

“I left with a lot of business cards, and I have a lot of upcoming meetings because of that day,” Roberts says, noting specifically an opportunity to work with the International Rescue Committee to discuss how a relationship between their two organizations might look like.

Shaw and Young echoed that sentiment. Less than a week after the event she had reached out to about a dozen people she had met and had several more reach out to her.

“I made a lot of connections just from that morning,” Shaw says. “People have been offering to make introductions on behalf of The Whole Teacher and others have discussed how they approached similar challenges.”

“We made a lot of great connections, including mechanics, business interests, motorcycle riders, and STEM experts,” Young says. “The best part was that the event was unscripted but had a great flow, so everyone left feeling empowered. B-360 left having more concrete validations on the importance of our work and the need in the community.”

The advice, inspiration and connections derived from this event, which included past SIL cohort members, may turn out to be indispensable. At least one of the entrepreneurs looks forward to paying the support she has received forward.

“(SIL alumni) have all been really inviting and willing to help in whatever they can,” Roberts says. “I always joke with (Graham), ‘How great do I have to be so that I can come back and help future teams?’ I’m always willing to lend assistance.”

Want to learn more about the Social Innovation Lab? Click here.

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