Students host first En2Em social enterprise conference

Entrepreneurs from all sectors spoke to students about their business philosophies. (Photo by Sharad Gopal)

“Making profit and helping society are not and should not be mutually exclusive,” said Paul Sasone, CFO of Better World Books on Oct. 30, 2010, at the first annual Enterprise 2 Empower (En2Em) conference.

Two Tech students, Melissa McCoy, a third-year ChBE major, and Ryan Westafer, an ECE Ph.D. student conceptualized En2Em in Spring 2010. Its purpose? To empower and to connect Atlantans who are interested in social entrepreneurship.

En2Em hosted over 20 speakers, 15 of whom were CEOs or Presidents of their businesses. Located at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) Conference Center, guests spoke to medium-sized crowds at the all-day event. With two panels running during each of the four sessions, attendees had many topics to choose from.

Social enterprise was covered in a panel, “Social Ventures Serving International Markets,” composed of MedShare and GlobalSoapProject CEOs.  “How to Finance Your Social Enterprise,” with representatives from Gray Ghost Ventures and Ashoka, was another largely attended panel.

“While most businesses answer only to their shareholders, [they] answer equally to all of our key stakeholders,” Sansone said. “By accounting for and supporting their long-term viability, profit takes on a much broader and richer meaning.”

Students and working professionals alike questions concerned with a vast array of topics from securing an internship to dealing with failures.

Speaking on how to secure an internship, the entrepreneurs recommended that people develop networks relating to personal interests.

“Keep a strong relationship with professors. Make sure you keep it after graduation,” said Jeff Woodward, a business partner at Sites & Harbison. “Shoot high.”

Failure was talked about in more depth.

“If you haven’t failed at anything, you’re living a life of mediocrity,” said Chris Hanks, a professor at the UGA Terry School of Business.

The speakers focused on the fact that people should try things, such as getting a dream internship or starting a business, rather than being afraid because fear stunts successfulness. Failure, according to the speakers, can create a stronger, more well-rounded person.

For those unsure of where to start with social entrepreneurship, Hanks suggested the Corridor Principle, which is the idea of simply starting something and adapt as different opportunities present themselves.

“Once you start walking down the pathway, new doors of opportunity open. If you would’ve never walked down the corridor, you would have never seen the opportunity,” Hanks said. “Many of you say you don’t know where to start to be successful. Just start.”

Nearly 250 people registered for the event.

“The speakers are phenomenal. I was impressed that it was free or only $10,” said Chris Quintero, a fourth-year ME major.

En2Em was free to register for until Oct. 1, 2010, including the costs of food, free T-shirts, parking, informational packets and quality speakers. After that date, registration was 10 dollars.

Co-creator McCoy, who was initially inspired by Muhammad Yunus and the idea of microfinance, wanted people students to realize that social entrepreneurship offers a more efficient way to solve social problems than charities or international need.

“I wanted the conference to show attendees what the potential of social entrepreneurship and be educated on what they need to do to pursue an venture of their own. Working with our free market system can most effectively help others,” McCoy said.

Due to this, the conference had two different tracks—one inspirational and the other a practical teaching on how to successfully start ventures.

En2Em was made possible by the help of several campus and professional organizations who served as sponsors, including Tech’s Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship and the business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi. The founders also sought out much advising contribution from experienced entrepreneurs.

The event was developed and run by a team of 10 Tech students, each chosen by McCoy and Westafer for their high skills in respective areas. The student team covered a wide range in school level from freshmen to grad students.

Overall, En2Em focused on connecting people and informing students about social entrepreneurship.


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