Axiom News: At RADIUS, Students are Launching Social VenturesJul 18, 2013
The following article was published by Axiom News on July 15, 2013.
Twenty-one-year-old Xinyan Chen took her first social entrepreneurship class at RADIUS (RADical Ideas Useful to Society) last spring. Now, she and four co-founders are launching EnableLife, an online community for people with disabilities and their support network to share tips and tricks to enable easier living.
It’s this quick turnaround, from a useful idea to establishing a social venture, that a new Vancouver program at Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Beedie School of Business aims to advance. Working with students and the community, RADIUS was started in March by adjunct professor and social entrepreneur Shawn Smith and award-winning management educator and consultant David Dunne.
Shawn had already been teaching social entrepreneurship and social innovation to SFU business undergrads since 2011. That’s where he met David, a former professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, who joined the Beedie School of Business as an expert in applying designed-based approaches to solving wicked problems.
The two partnered to create RADIUS, which is one of the first university programs to offer the full spectrum of support for social innovation and venture incubation, from idea to start-up and accelerated growth.
As a result, young people don’t just learn about the value of creating new types of businesses that achieve social or environmental goals, they act, skills Shawn says they’ll carry with them for the rest of their careers.
“Our ability to help students recognize their own agency and to change things is pretty inspiring,” he tells Axiom News.
“I see universities in some ways as these latent platforms that as of yet haven’t been fully activating all of that potential, and we’ve got a real chance to do that.
” The founders of EnableLife are a prime example of this nascent opportunity. The group of five are all in their early 20s, and met in class when they were tasked with creating a social enterprise based on something they were passionate about.
Four people in the group wanted to do something related to the disability sector. The fifth student was a web developer, which led them to create an online community for people who have a disability and their support networks.
At the end of the introductory course, the group continued on with their idea, taking SFU’s Social Venture Accelerator course where they put their ideas to the test, working with a mentor with experience in their field and conducting live market research with 25 different disability organizations to refine their model.
Two weeks ago, RADIUS held a community pitch night where EnableLife took the $3,000 first prize. They also have several companies interested in advertising on the platform.
“It feels like the stuff that you learn in school is actually applicable. It’s not like you’re doing something that someone else is telling you to do. You’re doing it from your own passions, and that’s what makes it work so well,” says Xinyan.
EnableLife is one of 16 ventures that have participated in the Social Venture Accelerator through RADIUS — which is already sharing its model with other universities. Shawn says they hope this will encourage new models of learning.
“The world faces some pretty critical challenges and universities and business schools are this ideal platform to create those leaders and ideas we’re going to need,” he says.
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