How to start a business with Earlham entrepreneurship director Gene Hambrick

Gene Hambrick believes in “people, planet, and profit,” the unifying principles of social entrepreneurship. Starting a business with those three ideas in mind can lead to a business that solves an issue and serves a community, while also financially sustaining all its stakeholders, including employees and target audience being served.

Hambrick, executive in residence and senior executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity, has it down to a science. And Earlhamites, with their entrepreneurial spirits and social awareness, are particularly drawn to businesses that meet a need, he says. But starting a business of any kind is difficult, so Hambrick makes sure that his student entrepreneurs have a proper foundation for their socially beneficial ventures.

Hambrick, an Earlham graduate from the Class of 1973, suggests that those wanting to start a business consider a series of questions: What am I passionate about? What needs do I see? How can I use my skills and resources meet that need?

“Passion is where the head and heart overlap,” Hambrick explains. “By matching one’s skills and resources to a need, there emerges a social venture.”

“Passion is where the head and heart overlap. By matching one’s skills and resources to a need, there emerges a social venture.”

— Gene Hambrick, senior executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity

Earlham students are often passionate about many topics, and it is important to “take a huge concept and make a specific goal,” he says. This combination of questions allows entrepreneurs to identify a passion, recognize an issue, and apply the appropriate resources to any social venture, profit or not-for-profit.

Next up: Make a business plan, a process that requires some trial and error. Earlham’s Ennovation Lab course offers students help to think things through, whether they have a particular business idea in mind, or simply want to learn more about starting and running a business.

In the Ennovation Lab students form groups and develop queries to form hypotheses that they research to develop informed business models. At the end of the semester, they decide whether to “pivot or proceed,” Hambrick says, to move forward or go back to the drawing board based on how well their business plan is projected to work.

Kiara Kamara, a senior environmental sustainability major, took the course during their junior year.

“I found the class to be empowering,” Kamara said. “I learned about the importance of building a network of people interested in similar kinds of work to collaborate with. I also learned that even a failed project is a lesson, and you can do better next time around.”

One of the challenges of starting a business is funding, so Earlham also has created opportunities for students to get support for their ideas through programs and partnerships.

Earlham’s Epic Grand Challenge, a competition that encourages social entrepreneurship and innovation, offers workshops that take students through topics like social entrepreneurship, investment and finances, elevator pitches, and measuring impact. The resulting business plan aims to “improve the quality of life for 25,000 citizens of Wayne County.” And the winning team receives a $10,000 award to start their social venture!

Another significant business plan competition hosted by the College is the Earlham Prize for Creative Capitalism, which has a global focus.

Earlham students also compete annually for the Hult Prize, one of the largest student social entrepreneurship competitions in the world. Earlham provides business workshops in the fall to prepare students for the spring competition. In 2016, a group of Earlham students won the $1 million to optimize transportation systems in 11 African countries.

In addition, students at Earlham are also working to provide opportunities for younger entrepreneurs. The Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity works with Innovate Within, a non-profit sponsored by the state of Indiana that works with high school students. Through Innovate Within, students from Earlham and other colleges reach out to local students to get them involved in the program and give them the tools they need to develop a business plan.   

“These competitions and community partnerships have resulted in outstanding synergy on campus,” Hambrick said. “Unsurprisingly, Earlham College students prove time and time again that they are motivated to bring about meaningful change by sharing their talents and creativity with the world.”

Editor’s note: This story was written by Somer Eckert, an Earlham College graduate from the Class of 2017.

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