Mark Oppenlander from the Center for Applied Learning recalls one Social Venture participant who discussed his experience with the competition. The first thing the student said, Oppenlander remembers, was “Thanks for ruining my college career.”
According to Oppenlander, the then senior student was quick to explain that his experience had been so amazing and unrivaled by any other in his college career that it had consumed all of his time from his sophomore year onward in the best way possible.
The Social Venture Plan competition is a contest in which teams curate an idea that tackles an important social issue — such as homelessness, poverty or amputee needs — and combines that with a cohesive business plan and product to work on solving that issue.
On Thursday, Nov. 9, a group of prospective competitors gathered in McKenna Hall for the first informational meeting about the Social Venture Plan Competition. They were hoping to express their interest, learn important details and possibly meet their future teammates or opponents.
The competition began 12 years ago as a small event put on by the Center for Applied Learning, with just a dozen teams made up of a couple SPU students each. Since then, it has expanded and flourished in ways that the first teams and leaders could never have imagined.
“We’ve had over 120 students in a single year … other schools have participated, we’ve had interest from UW, we’ve had people from Northwest Nazarene University, there’s a school in Vietnam that we have a collaborative relationship with and they’ve flown some students over … and we’ve had students from 24 different academic disciplines,” continued Oppenlander, recounting past years.
Past participants highlighted the undeniable impact that this competition has had on their lives, from international friendships to the launching pad for career opportunities.
Charles Hopper, a competitor from last year, took a quick break from work to come speak to the group of potential competition participants. His project was an organization called “Artline.”
Artline does art based workshops for adults in the community, in mediums such as dance, theatre, poetry and drawing. The classes strive to involve the community and teach their respective disciplines, but their motivation is much more generous.
“We give scholarships to youth who want to pursue higher education but may not have the resources at their school to do so,” Hopper explained.
Artline also offers opportunities to past scholarship winners to teach Artline classes once they graduate with their degree, allowing them to put their art into practice while also giving back.
The process of creating this layered and complex company was incredibly beneficial for Hopper, as it has been for so many others.
“Some of the positives that I’ve taken away from competing in the Social Venture Competition and also taking the class [Business 3628] are a real good, in-depth understanding in a wide breadth of how a business operates,” Hopper said.
He explained that he learned to look at business plans from a holistic viewpoint, and then micromanage it down to the finest detail after the large scale idea has been attended to.
He advised any prospective competitors to find a diverse group of teammates and to focus less on working with one’s friends and more on working with a group whose combined talents can help the group reach its goal as effectively as possible.
Hopper, however, was not the only past competitor with advice for the group on Thursday. Last year’s second place winners, Deanna Hines and Abigail Jenson, made an appearance at the meeting to share their past experience in the competition and what they learned on their journey putting their business plan on paper and showcasing the physical product to hundreds.
They began working on a plan involving textiles in Ethiopia, but the team changed to an entirely new plan thanks to the influence of Ethiopian friends.
“We had a couple of girls from Ethiopia in our group, so we really wanted to focus on issues that hit home for them, and one of those was malaria,” Hines explained. “So we ended up formulating a lotion recipe, using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s essential oils that have proven to repel mosquitos, and blended that into coconut oil.”
Overlander asked the pair to impart the lessons that they had learned with the group gathered in McKenna 111, hoping to help this year’s candidates avoid some of the challenges that they faced and were forced to overcome as a group last year.
“You get out of it what you put into it, and we put a lot of hours into it,” Jensen stressed.
Their hard work was not in vain. Hines’ and Jensen’s group won second place and the People’s Choice Award at last year’s competition.
“You could say it went pretty well,” Hines joked.
In addition to their success, the girls made lasting relationships that they won’t soon forget.
One of the most impactful part of the project for Jenson was the friendships she formed with her Ethiopian teammates, friends that she says she would “never would have gotten to know if it weren’t for this project.”
The students in attendance, from scattered academic disciplines such as business, global development, engineering and more, are more than ready to get started on this ambitious but rewarding adventure.
Student Benjamin Smith, for example, was undaunted by such a difficult, time-consuming competition.
“I want to make a difference in the community, and spread the good news that is the gospel. Those are the number one things for me,” Smith explained.
For Oppenlander, the best part of this competition is seeing the hard work of students pay off.
“I think what I love about it is watching the process as students evolve from having these very simple ideas … to really a complex holistic grasp of both the social issue they’re working on, as well as how a business or organization runs. And seeing them go from having this lack of confidence, or fuzzy idea, to having something concrete, tangible, and exciting. The transformation of students is what’s really exciting for me,” Oppenlander said.