New SERVE program boosts entrepreneurs with a social impact focus

November 18, 2021 Fran LeFort

Paper cutout people coming together for good

A new program through Washtenaw Community College’s (WCC) Entrepreneurship Center supports social impact-minded businesses.

SERVE: Social Impact has launched with webinars led by WCC’s new entrepreneurs-in-residence who specialize in helping or creating businesses that thrive and give back to the community.

The program is free to the community and offers one-on-one mentoring with industry experts, webinars, a pitch competition, books and other resources.

A Tuesday, Nov. 30, webinar from 6:30-7:45 p.m. will focus on demystifying grants and crowdfunding. Grant writer and environmental artist Leslie Sobel will present a high-level introduction to proposal writing and options to fund projects for creative entrepreneurs. Click to register.

In October, Millie Chu, CEO of Global Entrepreneurship Business Lab, led an introductory webinar centered on leveraging resources, systems and solutions to create success.

An increasing number of entrepreneurs are building social responsibility into their business model from the ground up rather than waiting to give back to their communities years after they’re firmly rooted and profitable, said Kristin Gapske, WCC Entrepreneurship Center director.

A restaurant, for example, may commit to using only compostable carry-out packages or sourcing only locally-grown organic ingredients and will promote it from the get-go as part of the fiber of their being.

“The older model was maybe to make money first and strive to become profitable, then think about giving back. There is more interest now in building it in all the way from the beginning,” said Gapske, who points to early webinar registration numbers as demonstrating the demand for SERVE: Social Impact programming support.

So far, more than 50 people have registered for the Nov. 30 webinar, and more than 50 signed up for the inaugural event in October.

Chu said people are increasingly more mission minded since the pandemic. “The pandemic has caused people to examine options and do what speaks to their heart, which often includes helping people and the planet,” she said.

As new entrepreneurs-in-residence this year at WCC, Chu and Sobel also offer free 40-minute mentoring sessions for current or prospective business owners in need of support.

“Whether it's an art project, a community garden or a new product, lots of people have amazing ideas and they don't have the resources to make them happen. Grants can be a great way to fund a project or at least get it off the ground,” said Sobel, who helps entrepreneurs understand where to find useful grants and the important elements of grant writing.

Teddy Dorsette III is founder and CEO of TeddyBoy Films & Entertainment, which provides accessible and inclusive opportunities for clients, deaf and hard-of-hearing artists, creatives and filmmakers. He participated in Chu’s October workshop, “4 Vital Areas for Creating a Thriving Social Impact Business,” to learn how his company can help other businesses better serve.

“This is the first step toward more opportunities for myself and the deaf community to have their access needs met by any business providing these important support services,” Dorsette said.

Gapske said younger generations, especially, are bringing up new businesses with an eye on social impact, and nearly 40% of the businesses served at the Entrepreneurship Center are owned by people under the age of 34.

“People are asking and people are caring. They want to know where they are spending their money,” Gapske said.

Tags: Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship Center