What does the term “social venture” mean?

Social venture is a term used to describe entrepreneurial activities that address two bottom lines: social and financial. A social venture develops a project, organization, or business that addresses a felt social need and provides sustainable revenue to do so.

Are there different kinds of social ventures?

Social ventures take many forms:

  • FareStart in Seattle trains homeless persons to become chefs and kitchen staff. It operates as a typical restaurant but its purpose is to train homeless persons for work.
  • An international example of a project comes from the University of Washington’s Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition, where a winning team from Korea proposed a project to manufacture self-powered, hand-cranked AM radios for use in rural Mongolia.
  • Krochet Kids sells caps in the U.S. made by people in impoverished countries (e.g., Uganda). This provides jobs, education, and business training for families in these communities.

What is a social venture plan, and how does it fit into this competition? 

A social venture plan is a systematic way of evaluating, planning, and organizing a project. For this competition, students develop their written plan based on the Social Venture Planning Template. Readers from the community evaluate the plans, rate them, and assign points.

Later, student competitors present their projects at a table display event called the Showcase Round. Here they pitch their project and its benefits in conversations with official Judges and other visitors. Judges allocate points to their favorite teams, while visitors can vote for their favorite project. We combine scores from the Readers of the written social venture plans with scores from the Judges during the Showcase Round. Those projects with the highest cumulative point totals will earn prizes. The project that receives the most votes from faculty, staff, students, and other visitors to the Showcase will receive the People’s Choice award.

Is this an individual or team competition?

We encourage students to form teams. Developing a good plan requires a lot of brainstorming, research, and writing; it’s a big effort and having more people will make it more manageable. In addition, the Showcase is a multi-hour event and teams are better able to manage and respond to inquiries from the high volume of students, faculty, staff, and judges who will visit during that time-period.

We encourage students to work together and seek teammates with a variety of skills from different disciplines; we recommend that at least two students represent each project. Teams may have a maximum of six students.

What kinds of students does the competition attract?

Historically, about half of the students who participate in the SVPC each year are Business Administration or International Sustainable Development majors. However, a great number of other disciplines also get involved, including students in Accounting, Apparel Design, Biology, Communications, Economics, Educational Ministries, Engineering, Political Science, Psychology, and Social Justice and Cultural Studies, just to name a few.

Is the competition open only to SPU students, or can students from other universities also enter?

Students from other schools can, and have, entered the Social Venture Plan Competition. Some teams have even been comprised of students from several schools.

Who should participate?

Are you a student with an idea to bring a valuable service or product to people who don’t typically have access to it? Do you have a device that could be adapted for underserved communities? Have you come up with an idea of how to use an underused resource for social good? Do you have a business idea that could raise money to fund positive change? Then you should participate in the Social Venture Plan Competition!

The competition exists for any student interested in implementing an innovative project that would address a social need. We offer an opportunity to develop your idea and present it to people who may be able to help you launch your project.

Not all students who enter the SVPC intend to launch their business idea. That’s OK! The competition provides an opportunity to learn more about business planning, explore social issues, network with outside professionals, all while learning valuable skills.

What kind of support do students receive?

We offer a 2-credit course (BUS 3682) that walks students through the steps of creating a social venture plan. By the end of the course, students should have a draft of their written social venture plan. Experts in specific aspects of venture planning make short presentations during the course, and then work with teams to apply the concepts that have been presented.

What kinds of projects are you looking for?

Projects may be very diverse in terms of social need addressed, product or service offered, or organizational strategy. Be creative! Here are a few sample categories:

  • Nonprofits that sell goods and services to address a social need (e.g., farestart.org).
  • B-corps or other for-profit businesses with a social impact component (e.g., miir.com). 
  • Outreach or ministry organizations — local, national, or global — that also generate revenue through selling goods and services (e.g., rainierhealth.com).
  • Companies that develop engineering devices to address a social good (e.g., kickstart.org).
  • Ventures that direct scientific research to a social purpose (e.g., benetech.org).
  • Businesses that apply profits to forward a social need (e.g., bombas).
  • Organizations that transfer technology to developing countries (e.g., www.path.org).

What are the competition’s goals?

Our primary goal is to help SPU students learn how to evaluate, create, develop, and launch an enterprise that addresses a social need. The development of business planning skills is paramount. Second, we seek to identify students who possess an entrepreneurial nature and cultivate their gifts. Third, we want the event to highlight innovative projects and the creative students behind them to community leaders in nonprofit and for-profit organizations. The competition provides students with an opportunity to network with potential investors, advisors, mentors, business executives, and other community leaders.

What criteria will be used to judge the plans?

Projects will be judged and scored on three broad criteria:

  • The significance of the social need being addressed and the likelihood that the plan, if implemented, would make a measurable difference on this social issue.
  • The likelihood that the plan can be successfully implemented, including the project’s overall financial viability.
  • The quality of the written and verbal presentation of the plan.

Internal revenue generation will have a greater value in the scoring than grants and contributions as a sustainable income stream.

What do the winners receive?

The Herbert B. Jones Grand Prize is $10,000. There is also a $5,000 runner-up prize and three honorable mentions at $2,500. The Donald B. Summers People’s Choice award is $1,500. We attach no strings to the prize money, so winners may use the funds as they wish. Prize money is considered taxable income.

Where can I learn more?

Learn more from the 2024 Official Rules, by contacting the Center for Applied Learning at cal@spu.edu, or by consulting these resources:

  • SCORE offers tutorials on putting together a plan, especially helpful with financials. This site includes links to sample business plans.
  • The U.S. Small Business Association has advice on how to write a business plan on their site.
  • A case study of a business that includes a business plan developed by the owners. Written by long-time SBGE faculty member Dr. Herb Kierulff.
  • The University of Washington’s site for its Dempsey Startup Competition.