Companies like TOMS, Janji, and Grain4Grain are great examples of social entrepreneurs and the impact they can have on local and global communities. Closer to home here in Iowa, we have social entrepreneurs like Billie Asmus, founder of Repaint Studios, which creates reusable, silicone, paint trays, liners and lids. This helps cut overall cost and time to the consumer while also reducing landfill waste and build-up.
This is just one example of the abundant opportunities in social entrepreneurship. Each of us can bring ideas to market and discover new customers by applying entrepreneurial mindset and modeling solutions that benefit others. This is where social entrepreneurship intersects with opportunity: the opportunity to create products that create global and regional benefits.
Creating something to solve a problem is part of the entrepreneurial process. Entrepreneurs ask themselves, "is it marketable? Is this doable?" Social entrepreneurs echo the same concerns. The difference is that students today are increasingly thinking about ways to solve current and future problems and are nurturing these ideas into entrepreneurial social ventures.
As institutional leaders, we can help aspiring social entrepreneurs put these new revolutionary ideas, like the Repaint Tray, into action. By sharing models that are replicable and scalable and putting people with similar interests or goals together, we can create a pathway and shine a light on it.
The timing is right to thoughtfully provide greenhouses, or incubator spaces to address community problems, to innovate in that space and help and encourage students to connect to a bigger cause. This is an area of growing opportunity for community colleges and it doesn't require a significant financial investment.
Most community colleges already have some business coursework in the social entrepreneurship space. By applying the problem-solving nature of the entrepreneurial mindset across these courses, the culture of social entrepreneurship will grow. If you have an advocate at your college, then you can do it. Culture drives the need.
Having a culture that celebrates entrepreneurs who are contributing to the local community in important ways, provides an opportunity to solve issues by tapping the innovative minds and hearts of social entrepreneurs in our midst, perhaps unknown to us at the moment, but nonetheless there. We just have to look for them.
To follow Repaint Studios journey with the reusable, resealable paint tray, visit repaintstudios.com to learn more.
Steven Shulz, Ph.D.
Board Chair, NACCE
President, North Iowa Area Community College