Boot Camp Helps Student Entrepreneurs Focus on Social Innovation
For five days in January, 15 teams of 38 students from schools across the country participated in the University of Texas-hosted Social Innovation Boot Camp. The Dell Social Innovation Challenge and the McCombs School's Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship co-hosted the camp, which was aimed to help students develop their social ventures.
Designed by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), the camp was created for both undergraduates and graduates who have a venture past the idea stage. Students from universities including Rice, Virginia, Michigan, UC Davis, Fordham and UT Pan Am participated, and those from UT had their costs subsidized by the school.
Some participants were motivated to participate because the boot camp helped them prepare their projects for the Dell Challenge, which offers more than $700,000 in cash and in-kind awards to university students worldwide who present Dell with revolutionary social innovation projects.
Seven of the teams were from UT, and five individuals from McCombs: Jonathan Van, David Isquick, Andrew Koperwas, Daniel Driscoll, and Michele Boland. Other majors participating included computer science, advertising, liberal arts, physics, and architecture.
Isquick, a second year MBA student, is part of a group of students that founded reQwip, a mobile app that helps users buy, sell, rent, and donate used sporting goods. Isquick said he and his team participated in the boot camp in order to improve their business plan and develop business strategy.
“We came in with a lot of ideas in regards to how to market our product but [NCIIA boot camp coordinator] James Barlow provided a framework for us to prioritize and evaluate our ideas,” he said. “The boot camp benefited us because it helped us refine our strategy and provided our team with the tools to evaluate potential opportunities.”
Barlow served as a student mentor along with IC2 Progect Manager Kyle Cox and McCombs Entrepreneur-in-Residence Melinda Garvey.
Garvey said the event was an opportunity for her to continue working with McCombs’ young entrepreneurs, including one team she has worked extensively with already.
“Hands down, it is one of the most phenomenal programs I have ever seen,” Garvey said. “It really is a boot camp and it really forces students to consider all aspects of starting their company.”
The three mentors, Garvey said, worked to challenge the students on their specific projects by asking participants questions and helping them find the right solutions. The NCIIA gives grants for social innovation projects, she explained, but the program was a huge help for all different types of ventures.
“The program was really about taking that business idea and deconstructing it to the very beginning to really understand the challenges you might face in your business,” Garvey said. “Our role was really challenging them to think through all the steps. Regardless of what their business is, there are really some basics in the business model they have to go through.”
Event organizer Kelly Iverson said the boot camp is an opportunity to encourage students to consider social entrepreneurship, even if their business plan didn't originally focus on social impact.
"[McCombs students] spent an entire day at the boot camp exploring how they could enhance their business models through adding social components,” Iverson said. “It was great to see shifts and growth in their thinking.”