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Doing Good: StartUp Spring Seminar Focuses on Social Entrepreneurship

by Sari Judge Thursday, February 7, 2019

Every year the StartUp Learning Community—a residence hall-based group of 64 self-selected first year students with a professed interest in entrepreneurship—have the opportunity to take two seminars open only to Learning Community members, one in the fall, the other in spring.  Both courses, taught by StartUp Faculty Director John Surdyk, expose students to entrepreneurship concepts from different points of view content wise. While the fall seminar is a true “Entrepreneurship 101” with students designing new ventures, identifying markets and funding sources, and developing founding teams, the spring seminar, which is taught right on the second floor of Sellery Hall, where the students live, is more focused on the world of startup activity as a force for societal good.

The seminar, MHR 321: Social Entrepreneurship, is a low-risk, 1-credit opportunity for StartUp students to explore in a casual and conversational format how innovative thinking and entrepreneurial action can help improve communities. Using a combination case study and applied approach, students get hands-on experience working with the greater Madison-area non-profit community to identify personally motivating mission statements. StartUp is thrilled to have Jay Weisman, principal of Legacy Philanthropy Group, a national expert in mission-driven approaches to giving, return this year to join the WSB’s Surdyk in co-facilitating the class after an extremely successful pilot in 2018.

Weisman, who is New Jersey based, joins the students in person three times during the semester to guide them in best practices to identify and assess non-profit organizations that deliver on personal philanthropic goals. Always available by email or phone, he coaches students through structured and interactive workshops that are fun, thought-provoking and educational. 

Last year, seminar participants chose to focus their philanthropic efforts on three Madison-area non-profits: the Greater Bucky Open, the Early Childhood Learning Center and the Forest Stewards Guild. The seminar culminated with representatives of the organizations visiting campus to allow the students to explain how they had evaluated their success and impact. The StartUp Learning Community very much looks forward to hearing which societal issues on which  this year’s participants will choose to focus. Regardless though, StartUp’s spring seminar will leave our students with a better understanding of how creative and innovative thinking can help to address some of society’s, and Madison’s, most pressing issues.