Background: During my first year at Booth, I took advantage of a wide variety of resources Booth offers to students interested in social enterprises to take what started as a potential opportunity through to creating a business. After assembling a team with three other fellow Booth first years, we entered and tied for second in the Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) last spring. I had the opportunity to write a couple of blog posts in the spring about my experience going through the SNVC. Today, LadderUp Housing is working to bridge the wealth gap by providing an alternative path to homeownership. After competing in SNVC, we completed an initial round of fundraising and acquired our first five properties in our pilot market, Toledo, OH.
I’m excited to share with you the Booth resources that made LadderUp’s launch possible. These resources helped me to transform an idea into a business.
Resources: Booth has an enormous amount of resources available to people interested in pursuing careers in social ventures, whether that interest lies in impact investing, social entrepreneurship, or nonprofit/foundation work. These resources are housed primarily in the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Before speaking on some of the different specific programs at the Rustandy Center, it’s important to note that the greatest resources at Rustandy are the people who work there.
After going to a Rustandy Center Open House, I learned about a variety of awesome resources. So many that I didn’t know where to start. So, I took Caroline Grossman, ‘03, Executive Director of the Rustandy Center, at her word when she encouraged us to “reach out” if we had any questions, telling her about my initial idea and my interest in social entrepreneurship. I received a lengthy email that pointed me to specific people within the Rustandy Center and The University of Chicago community who could help, along with references that I should look into for further research. As I proceeded to contact all the people that she copied on the email, I learned a ton and experienced the passion and depth of knowledge across the entire staff. There were no dead-end conversations. When someone couldn’t help, they always pointed me to someone who could.
Below I’ll highlight some resources that I (or my classmates) utilized. Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list.
- Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR): The Rustandy Center has an EIR program that allows aspiring social entrepreneurs to engage people who have founded their own social ventures. My conversations with EIR Dave Ellis were very helpful in a multitude of ways. We talked through questions like, “How should I approach fundraising?” and “Are my growth goals realistic but still appealing to potential investors?” To this day, I still speak with Dave regularly.
- Classes: There are a variety of classes that involve social ventures, whether from an impact investment angle, nonprofit operations, or social entrepreneurship. I took Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, a course that is designed to help potential social entrepreneurs build an idea around a social venture. This class, taught by Professor Rob Gertner and SNVC alum Kalyan Ray-Mazumder, ‘19 was invaluable in helping our team hone in on an actionable business model. I consider myself lucky to have Rob and Kalyan as mentors.
- Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC): The Social New Venture Challenge is a new venture competition where nonprofits and social for-profit companies compete for initial investment. The competition is also a class, where Rustandy Center teachers and staff are coaches for the duration of the quarter. The advantage of having multiple coaches in this course is that you get a diverse set of perspectives that help make your business plan and pitch even better.
- Impact Investing Competitions: There are multiple nationwide MBA impact investing competitions where Booth students can compete. They are listed here. It’s worth noting that participation in these competitions does not require a prior investing background. The teams formed typically hail from a multitude of professional experiences. This not only allows for the creation of the best investment thesis or output for the competition, but it also allows for students to learn from each other.
- Social Impact Consulting: There are, again, multiple avenues to take advantage of social impact consulting. There are lab courses where, as a part of the course structure, you take on a specific client and work on a consulting project throughout the quarter. There are also student groups, like Net Impact and Booth Social Impact, where you can work with nonprofits in a consulting capacity. With the Net Impact Board Fellows program, you are a non-voting member of a nonprofit’s board of directors while you complete a consulting project of the nonprofit’s choosing.
I listed a lot of resources and tools above, and, for those interested in social ventures, you have an extraordinary opportunity at Booth to add to a legacy that matches rigor with compassion to provide real world outcomes. What type of legacy is that? I had the chance to meet Tandean Rustandy, the namesake for the Rustandy Center. He has an extraordinary background himself, yet his work is grounded in treating people with respect and dignity. Besides taking advantage of the resources I listed above, I encourage you to look at the alumni list for the Social New Venture Challenge, research the backgrounds of alumni/donors who enable the various programming at the Rustandy Center, and email the folks who work there. You’ll not only learn a lot but also be extraordinarily humbled and impressed by the people you’ll encounter.