Contest Encourages Progressive Entrepreneurs

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Business students across the country are honing their entrepreneurial skills for the upcoming National Social Venture Competition, held at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

The competition attracts both for-profit and nonprofit business proposals that combine financial success with a social or environmental mission.

With a grant from the Goldman Sachs Foundation, considered "one of the biggest names in capitalism," the business schools of Columbia and UC Berkeley are able to organize this annual competition that judges business plans. The competition is now in its fourth year.

"This innovative program is an important milestone in the social enterprise field," says Stephanie Bell-Rose, president of the foundation.

"What we're really trying to do is develop methodologies for entrepreneurial projects to make serious social and environmental changes," says Murray Low, director of Programs for Columbia University.

Aside from the $100,000 award that goes to the winning group, contestants agree that feedback from judges, media attention and interest from potential investors are the primary motivations for entering the competition.

With a 141 percent increase in submissions, this year's proposals numbered 77.

"The increase in participating teams shows that resourceful entrepreneurs around the world are re-evaluating the purpose of business to serve the common good," says William Rosenzweig, a professor at the Haas School of Business and an advisor for the competition.

Submissions came from 31 different business schools across the nation and worldwide. The Haas School of Business is well represented in this year's competition.

"Each year the competition draws incredibly innovative plans from a very diverse set of industries and sectors," says Catherine Clark, Columbia faculty advisor to the competition.

Business proposals include energy-efficient appliance technology, low-income healthcare franchising in India, and public, inner-city, elementary charter schools.

First-year UC Berkeley student Robert Ornstein and his partners submitted a proposal called CARE System Technology. For four years Ornstein has been developing this company to allow elderly people to live independently.

By placing sensors in discreet locations throughout the house, CARE System Technology allows a doctor or family member to monitor the health care of the patient in an unobtrusive way without affecting the appearance of the home in any way, Ornstein says.

Another UC Berkeley student, Diane Lee, and her group submitted the Alliance for Science, Ethics and Technology. The company plans to provide ethics information for biotechnology firms through workshops, conferences and advisory meetings.

Environmental proposals from the Haas business school include Regale Corporation, which provides environmentally friendly packaging material as an alternative to foam and plastic, and Energy Savers International, which supplies leading edge controllers that can be attached to appliances for energy regulation.

Judges make their decision based on possible financial and social return on investment, capability of growth, skills and leadership of the management team and how well the company promotes their financial and social mission.

Grand prizes are awarded to companies in which the judges, acting as potential investors, would most likely invest.

Former judge Gil Friend says he was involved in the competition to help change "the way business does business."

Bell-Rose said the competition encourages "outstanding students to develop the tools that help them become the global leaders of tomorrow."

The success of former winners illustrates the competition's significant potential in the real world.

Last year's winner, Sea Power and Associates, produced a plan to utilize power from ocean waves to supply coastal communities with electricity. Based in Berkeley, the company now provides nonpolluting energy for coastal economies.

Ross Evans, Stanford graduate and winner of the competition in 2000, co-founded Xtracycle, a nonprofit organization that developed a high-cargo utility bike for distribution among other nonprofit organizations.

Semifinal judging begins March 8, and the final round will be from April 5 to 6 at Haas.


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