Social Entrepreneurship: A Smarter Way to Save the World


Social Entrepreneur: A person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change.

Social Entrepreneurship winning teams and judges

The main focus of social entrepreneurs is building businesses along two bottom lines. The first is making a profit to support their company and its employees and the second is taking a portion of those profits and using them to address a social issue such as hunger, homelessness or sustainability issues.

Phillip Gary from the Office of the Provost served as a mentor for Pro(tech)tIn fall 2014, UNC Asheville offered a one-credit hour course in social entrepreneurship, IST 271, taught by a team of five faculty members and three faculty and staff mentors. The course meets amongst five different groups once a week for seven weeks to brainstorm, put together ideas, and create business plans for their models in preparation for a first-ever campus competition on Dec. 1, judged by entrepreneurs Tommy Dennison, a counselor at the North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center; Bradley Cain, founder of three businesses; Jodi Rhoden, owner and founder of Short Street Cakes in West Asheville; and Caroline Fisher, creative director of Seeded.

What’s even more exciting is that the teams will travel to Greensboro, N.C., in February for a state-wide social entrepreneurship conference at North Carolina A&T. The two winning teams will compete with social entrepreneurs from the 15 other UNC schools and be judged by real social entrepreneurs from around the country on a four-minute pitch and two-page business plan—including financials.

“My favorite part of the class is the challenge; I am learning a great deal about trouble shooting and creating financial statements and plans. It is pretty difficult at times, but I’m excited for the experience that this is giving me” said student Ashleigh Hillen. “The thing I enjoy most about this class is that we are literally just trying to make something that was once a rough idea work and stand strong in front of a group of people who understand entrepreneurial business and how to actually make it successful.”

Not only does this class serve as great experience for students looking to become entrepreneurs one day, but it also promotes the fundamental liberal arts curriculum embodied by UNC Asheville. “The beautiful thing about this is that students from different disciplines get into this classroom and start hashing out these problems… Everybody is looking at it from their own perspectives” said Mary Lynn Manns, professor of management at UNC Asheville and one of the five IST 271 professors. “Students came from economics, engineering, management, the sciences and other majors too. It’s a very interdisciplinary approach and... They’re all working on real world problems that they’re going to be judged on by organizational leaders and social entrepreneurs.”

Five teams presented their ideas at the campus competition.Their real problems include electric car rentals, saving lives through CPR training, lowering the number of high school drops outs, offering transformative apprenticeship and scholarship programs in Asheville, and utilizing technology to help reduce sexual assault on college campuses. As winners of the campus competition, the CPR-training business HeartRacers and the wearable technology company Pro(tech)t will compete at the state level.  The winning student teams include Ashleigh Hillen and Lance Mills for HeartRacers and Donna Al Melhem, Benjamin Eisdorfer and Madison Eddings for Pro(tech)t.

-story by Lillian Mercho ’18