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Homelessness could be among the social problems that university and college students tackle under the Recode social innovation project. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Homelessness could be among the social problems that university and college students tackle under the Recode social innovation project. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

BUSINESS SCHOOL NEWS

Startup funding helps innovators tackle social problems Add to ...

The Globe’s biweekly business-school news roundup.

A growing number of colleges and universities offer incubation space and other support to students who are keen to bring high-tech startup ideas to life.

Now social innovators and entrepreneurs are getting a chance to shine, too.

“You need the same personal qualities, the same skills and the same tools whether you are trying to create a tech startup or address systematic change in health care or poverty alleviation,” says Wendy Cukier, vice-president of research and innovation at Ryerson University. “The technology-industrial innovation focus has really dominated the discourse, but innovation is a process that can be applied in a number of areas.”

Ryerson in Toronto is one of 18 postsecondary institutions that received funding in 2014 from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation under its $5-million, multiyear Recode project to promote collaborative approaches on and off campus to social problems.

“We are looking to address and find solutions to some of our country’s toughest challenges,” says Brigid Shea, director of strategic communications for the Montreal-based McConnell Foundation. Given the piecemeal state of social entrepreneurship and innovation on campus, she asks, “How do we, using recoding as a metaphor, put the pieces back together and recode how universities [and colleges] work with business and the public sector?”

This week, the foundation held the first meeting of Recode grant recipients, with students, faculty and administrators from each school brought together to exchange ideas and help build a national movement of social innovation and entrepreneurship.

Each postsecondary grant recipient had to raise matching funds from private and other donors. Business schools were either the lead or secondary partner in 12 of the 18 projects, which range from development of new study courses to seed funding for student or faculty-led startups.

Ryerson, which more than matched its $500,000 Recode grant, plans to offer seed funding for up to 60 social innovation startups over the next two years. Along with a new social venture zone, led by the faculty of arts, Prof. Cukier says MBA students will carry out interdisciplinary research, with other institutions, to disseminate knowledge about social innovation, identify examples of success and failure and measure results.

Not all Ryerson business students aspire to become traders on Bay Street, she says. “More and more young people are looking for that combination of meaning and reward in their careers.”

The same aspiration holds true at Memorial University, says Wilfred Zerbe, dean of the faculty of business administration. “People are recognizing that consumers and customers are interested in not just buying a project or service but contributing to social good,” he says.

With a $250,000 grant from McConnell and $1-million raised privately, Memorial plans to open a social innovation incubator, expand partnerships with business and non-profit agencies and develop new curriculum. The business faculty is developing a specialty MBA in social enterprise and social entrepreneurship to be offered in 2016. A proposed centre for social innovation and social entrepreneurship would expand co-operative education placements with non-profits.

In British Columbia, three postsecondary institutions share a $201,000 Recode grant to work with each other and with business and non-profit partners on thorny social and environmental problems on Vancouver Island.

“It’s a nice place to live but we have the same problems as everyone else in terms of homelessness, poverty and the gamut of social problems,” says Brock Smith, a professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at the University of Victoria’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business. With nearby Camosun College and Royal Roads University, Victoria will use Recode funds for a Vancouver Island social innovation zone.

Tom Roemer, vice-president of strategic development at Camosun, says the proposed zone is a way to connect with local social entrepreneurs and innovators. “If you have an idea for a sustainable, socially-valuable project, where would you go with that?” he asks.

Camosun plans to offer social innovation topics for all students on campus, while a specialization in social enterprise for undergraduate business students is in the works by the business faculty.

The focus on social innovation is a welcome development, says Tina Dacin, director of the Centre for Social Impact at Queen’s School of Business in Kingston.

With a $100,000 grant from McConnell and matching funds from donors, her university is taking a cross-sector, interdisciplinary approach to encourage co-operation on campus and expand the toolkit for social change.

“There are pockets of interesting people and opportunities across campus,” says Prof. Dacin. “How do we bring them together?”

Among its Recode projects, Queen’s plans to establish a “social impact academy” for students and faculty to tap traditional and online courses on social innovation and explore new options for social impact investing.

The ultimate goal, says Prof. Dacin, is to graduate students who, whether they work for themselves or others, “are ready to be change-makers.”

Three Canadian schools make finals of ‘clean capitalism’ case competition

There will be a Canadian winner in the Business for a Better World Case Competition being judged Friday in Davos, Switzerland.

MBA teams from three business schools in Canada – York University’s Schulich School of Business, Victoria’s Gustavson and the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University – defeated more than 20 preliminary-round competitors from around the world to advance to the three-team final.

The case competition, now in its second year, is sponsored by Schulich and Corporate Knights magazine to promote “clean capitalism.” The teams were asked to present a business plan for Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis to boost its standing on Corporate Knights’ global ranking of corporate sustainability. This year’s competition attracted 26 teams from eight schools in four countries.

The winning team receives a prize of $6,000.

Scholarship named for Schulich professor

Schulich has named a new MBA scholarship for the late Brenda Zimmerman, founding director of the school’s health industry management MBA program. The scholarship, available to those entering MBA or international MBA programs at Schulich, has an initial fund goal of $25,000.

In announcing Dr. Zimmerman’s death in a car accident last month, Schulich dean Dezso Horvath described her as one of the school’s “brightest stars” who built the specialized degree in health management from scratch. Schulich held a memorial for her last Tuesday.

Follow Jennifer Lewington and Business School News by subscribing to an RSS feed here.

Contact Jennifer at jlewington@bell.net.

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