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.”