University Launches GWupstart: Social Innovation Lab + Prize

The social entrepreneurship program is the university’s commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative.
GW Upstart
September 18, 2013

The George Washington University announced the launch of GWupstart: Social Innovation Lab +Prize, a three-year, $350,000 program that will offer resources, workshops and prize money to support students with socially conscious ideas and ventures.

 GWupstart is outlined in the university’s “Commitment to Action” to the Clinton Global Initiative and establishes GW’s membership in the CGI University Network, a consortium of colleges and universities that provides opportunities for student innovators.

"By joining the Clinton Global Initiative and launching this innovative program, we will be giving our students the tools and resources they need to become successful social entrepreneurs and, in turn, help them shape the future of our nation and the world,” said George Washington President Steven Knapp.

The program is housed under the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service and will support student entrepreneurs through co-curricular programs, special events, mentorship from experts in the field and a new track in the Business Plan Competition.

 “It is exciting to be able to bring more focus and expertise to GW's work in social entrepreneurship and bring a social problem-solving focus to the GW Business Plan Competition,” said Executive Director of the Center for Civic Engagement Amy Cohen.

Melanie Fedri will serve as the coordinator for social entrepreneurship.

“GWupstart helps students create effective solutions to the most pressing global and local social and environmental problems,” Ms. Fedri said. “It supports the university’s student social entrepreneurs and connects them to a wider community of passionate faculty, alumni and external partners.”

Ms. Fedri will work closely with the Office of Entrepreneurship and the School of BusinessCenter for Entrepreneurial Excellence on programming for the GWupstart Prize Track in the GW Business Plan Competition. This track is focused on nonprofit companies that aim for financial stability while using innovative ideas to tackle social issues and for-profit ventures that prioritize the value of the social or environmental bottom-line equally with profitability.

Ms. Fedri will guide students as they compete for “Best Nonprofit Social Venture” and “Best For-Profit Social Venture” for a total of $15,000 in prize money. The social entrepreneurship prize money will increase to $25,000 in years two and three of the program.

Throughout the competition social entrepreneurship teams will be judged by a panel of social entrepreneurship judges and a panel of commercial entrepreneurship judges. Those teams that progress to the final oral presentation round of the competition will have the opportunity to compete for the top prize, which will be decided by a mixed panel of judges.

The GWupstart workshop series will begin Oct. 8 and includes sessions held twice-weekly  on topics such as “Defining Your Vision for a Better World,” “Building a Team and Key Relationships” and  “Writing and Pitching Your World-Changing Venture,” among others.

“The workshop series is designed to give students the tools they need to define a precise social or environmental issue, make concrete plans to address it and put their plans into action,” Ms. Fedri said. “Each workshop covers a single topic, but the topics are sequentially linked and students are strongly encouraged to attend as many as possible.”

In addition to managing the GWupstart workshops, Ms. Fedri will co-teach the series of lean start-up workshops offered through the Business Plan Competition with Executive Director of the Office of Entrepreneurship Jim Chung.

Students who are preparing applications for the Clinton Global Initiative University, the Steven and Diane Robinson Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning and the GW Public Service Grant Commission will also find the workshops useful, Ms. Fedri said.

In 2012, GW hosted the Clinton Global Initiative University featuring speakers President Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart and Usher. More than 1,000 students from all 50 states and 82 countries attended the event centered on encouraging students to make a "commitment to action."