This post was contributed by summer intern Jack Bodell
John Carroll University’s Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship -- The Importance of Teaching Social Innovation Skills and Entrepreneurial Mindsets
When you read the word “entrepreneurship,” what do you think? Money? Capitalism? Rich individuals? Stock prices and shareholder values? This is historically what comes to mind for most people. The focus on wealth and creating value has resulted in individual success but also led to economic inequality and a general lack of investment in society and the community.
As our population continues to swell, we face more concerning global challenges. Challenges such as lack of food, water, healthcare, education, and social and economic inequality are massive, complex issues. We need organizations that can attack these challenges with innovation, and we need leaders focused on community and society, not just individual success.
Where will social innovators and entrepreneurs come from and how will they get the skills to impact the greater good? John Carroll University (JCU) understands this increasing need to focus on societal problems, creating academic and extra-curricular social entrepreneurship and innovation programs within its Edward Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship. The Center’s mission is to equip others to confidently explore their possibilities. Students leave with strong creativity and decision-making skills, and a deeper sense of how to create value for their community and for society as a whole.
Preparing For The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs
Gen-Zs are primed to attack these global challenges with a very different approach. This generation demands change, which they are pushing for on issues like climate change, social justice, and public health. This younger demographic is tired of selfish leaders and are fearful of a future destroyed by climate change.
Because of the growing urgency around these global issues, Gen-Z and future generations are more socially minded and are eager to solve bigger problems. They look to enrich the world, not just enrich themselves. As a result, their approach to business and entrepreneurship will be fundamentally different and focused on purpose.
About 41% of GenZ-ers plan to become entrepreneurs. “Almost half believe they’ll invent something that changes the world” (Entrepreneur). GenZ-ers need quality education to fuel and push these ambitious goals into reality.
The Value of New Mindsets in Entrepreneurship
While being skillful in financial management, product management, and marketing are essential business skills, having mindsets such as resilience, rigor, curiosity, collaboration, inclusivity, and creative problem solving are often just as critical to success. And in education, these skills are often left out of the curriculum or pushed to the side.
“The original framing of social entrepreneurship education was to drive students towards launching ventures while in school and becoming full-time social entrepreneurs upon graduation. However, in reality, that post-graduation trajectory rarely holds true. Instead, it is the skills of entrepreneurialism and change-making (such as creativity, empathy, and teamwork) that stay with students long after graduation” — Marina Kim
Company cultures are shifting to emphasize these mindsets for success, and there is more of an emphasis on the team over the individual.
“Social entrepreneurship has been said to glorify the “hero”: entrepreneurs who found and lead social ventures. However, when you look at what makes organizations and social movements successful, it is more often a series of dedicated teams that have a range of skills and are committed over the long-term.” — Marina Kim
This is where community-based learning can come in handy. Community-based learning in conjunction with learning social innovation nurses students’ potential to have a large impact on a societal problem.
John Carroll University Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship's Unique Approach
The Muldoon Center is working on projects addressing significant social issues in the local Cleveland community. As part of the Social Innovation Fellows (SIF) mission-based scholarship program, each year a handful of students work as a cohort in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood (only about 6 miles from campus). These students help residents and business owners solve problems and create more opportunities to thrive. SIF is a scholarship and growth opportunity for incoming JCU first-year students dedicated to becoming social innovators and entrepreneurs who have a desire for the greater good.
The Muldoon Center is working with the Boler College of Business & the Donnelly School of Leadership and Social Innovation in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood to develop a permanent presence with a satellite campus where JCU faculty, staff, students, and alumni can work with residents and business owners to solve problems and create more opportunities to thrive.
Another project JCU students are undertaking is a food buggy, one of many food insecurity projects in the works. Purchased by the University to operate as a student-run social enterprise, students would run the buggy as a business - making profit during the day selling lunch to corporate clients, then delivering a choice of hot food to hungry and homeless at night.
Eventually, this will become a course at JCU where students take the course for 1, 2, or 3 credits (depending on how many hours they want to work) and run the food buggy as the course. The idea is to have a suite of these student-run businesses for credit, so our students solve local problems while practicing entrepreneurship and business skills.
Another project is tackling food insecurity by developing food products for Cleveland kids living in poverty. JCU students are developing several nutritious snacks with a long shelf life for schools that the kids can take home and enjoy a high-protein and nutritious treat.
Meet Olivia Gilbert and Heather Lewis, rising JCU seniors minoring in entrepreneurship who are Wenk Foundation Fellows currently leading the food insecurity project. Jack was able to interview them and gather some info on their experience with the JCU entrepreneurship program:
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from the program?
Olivia: Networking. We really got to learn the power of it and how important it is in both personal and professional ventures. Our professor, Doan Winkel, also opened up his network to students, which has been incredibly beneficial to us.
Heather: I think being able to put yourself in a realistic and more hands-on learning environment has taught me a lot. You learn about your own strengths and weaknesses through this program and how you can leverage the strengths and weaknesses of the teams and people you work with.
How has the program changed your mindset?
Olivia: The program really made me reassess how I approach a task to work smarter, not harder.
Heather: I thought the program made me rethink how I could structure what’s considered a “normal” classroom environment given the various hands-on and in-person experiences that we participated in during this program.
Tell me a bit about the food insecurity project you guys have been working on. What’s it all about?
Both Heather and Olivia drew inspiration for their two-year food insecurity project from Rebel Crumbles, a small company based in Philadelphia providing healthy and nutritious meals to students. Rebel Crumbles are known for their seemingly unhealthy but healthy spiced apple cakes.
Heather and Olivia worked on nutrient and protein snacks for supplements and looked for local partners in Cleveland who could help them make, package, and distribute the snacks they are developing. They were supported by the Wenk Foundation that guided them with some recommendations through this entrepreneurial process.
They were able to test and bake test products during spring 2020 semester while collaborating with high school students to test the products. From this experience, both students significantly amped up their product design and research skills.
Setting Students up for Long-term Success
The JCU entrepreneurship program prioritizes team-based projects and experiential learning over more traditional textbook learning and lecturing (‘teach and preach’). It is important for their students to develop a mastery of certain entrepreneurial skills by practicing them in a real-world project-based environment.
Organizations like these are increasing in demand as Gen Z students come of age with their growing social awareness. We must take this next step in adequately teaching this new generation and aid them in solving the world’s biggest problems.