Todd Bartos, adjunct assistant professor of business, organizations & society, and his Social Entrepreneurship class left an impression with three Franklin & Marshall College seniors, Aaron Hoffman, Colbey Davies and Fed Ruggiero.
The students decided to attend the Central Pennsylvania Consortium’s first “Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship” in February at Dickinson College. There, they took second in a contest, developing in 45 minutes or less a four-minute pitch for a profit-making business aimed at fixing a societal or environmental problem.
“Learning about different ways that the business world can address social and environmental problems sparked our interest in going to the symposium, but we figured we would just attend and learn from other people’s ideas without really engaging ourselves so much,” said Hoffman.
They soon felt otherwise. Bartos ’96, who studied chemistry in his F&M years but went on to work in various mission-driven business ventures, sufficiently inspired the students. Once they arrived at the symposium and talked to people, they decided to engage.
A panel featuring three alumni from F&M, Dickinson and Gettysburg College motivated them further. The alums each started social enterprises – F&M’s Ryan McGonigle ’08 talked about the Chris Campbell Memorial Field and how he became involved in coaching underprivileged South Africans. Afterward, the students attended a pitch-building workshop.
Roommates and brothers in the same fraternity, Hoffman, Davies and Ruggiero have disparate majors. Hoffman is a joint business, organizations and society and environmental studies major; Davies is a joint computer science and studio art major; and Ruggiero is majoring in neuroscience. Together, in casual conversation prior to the conference, they tossed around business ideas.
“We each bring different skills to the table, allowing us to learn from each other and combine our knowledge to make great innovation happen,” Hoffman said.
The students came up with sustainable natural-disaster relief for low-income communities, which entailed producing a more environmentally friendly drywall. The process would be less expensive than current methods and support the local community.
“The 45-minute time constraint and strict criteria made me thankful for the broad skills and knowledge we developed at F&M,” Ruggiero said. “Creating the idea, defining our values, and delivering a winning pitch not only gave me insights in pursuing an entrepreneurial career, but gave me confidence in the education that F&M fosters.”
The three students were part of a group of 17 F&M students who attended the symposium with Associate Professor of Organizational Studies Nancy Kurland and Ann Hughes, director of the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement.
“The students learned how to put together a pitch and deliver it publicly,” Kurland said. “They were posed with various problems of climate change, education, economics, community development, and were asked to put together a business proposal that addressed one of these issues.”
Hughes said the exercise challenged the students to consider the implications of their project.
“They thought about being part of solutions that affect specific peoples, specific communities and certain aspects that affect global issues, and that encouraged them to be creative,” Hughes said.
The students owed their success to their academic studies, Davies said. “Having the ability to craft and present a pitch was a rewarding experience, facilitated by the liberal arts background that I’ve acquired at F&M.”