Kids in 100 California schools are munching healthier lunches, artisans in developing countries are paid fair wages for their wares, and troubled students are using software that helps improve their behavior — all thanks to businesses launched by teams that have competed in the Global Social Venture Competition.
Founded by Berkeley MBA students in 1999, the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) is the world's largest student-led competition of its kind. It is co-sponsored by the Haas School's Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Center for Responsible Business.
This year, a record 317 teams from 23 countries competed in the GSVC preliminary rounds, including 130 US teams and teams from Singapore to Switzerland and Canada to Cambodia. Participation has doubled since 2007, when 160 teams competed overall.
The competition culminated with the 10th annual global finals held in April at the Haas School.
Focus on Founding Ideals
The popularity of the idea of "doing well by doing good" — and the broader goal of sustainability — is driving the competition's growth, says Jerome S. Engel, executive director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Haas. "The idea that life, when well lived, and business, when done well, is a win-win proposition resonates across cultures," Engel says. "The students that initially came to me 10 years ago to organize the first Haas Social Venture Competition understood this."
Those student co-founders — Lia Fernald (MBA 00), Nik Haas-Dehejia (MBA 01), Alison Lingane (MBA 00), Sara Olsen (MBA 01), and Denise Yamamoto (MBA 00) — wanted to build a business plan competition for companies that would make money and serve a social or environmental mission.
Everyone who has participated in GSVC over the past decade shares a bond, says Olsen, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Social Venture Technology Group, which measures the ROI of social ventures. "The same ideals that were so inspiring to the first year's students are equally inspiring to successive generations," she says. "Every single student who has been substantially involved in the leadership over the years has been a rock star."
New Partners Fuel Rapid Growth
GSVC has grown at a quick pace since its founding. Initially called the National Social Venture Competition, the event went global in 2003, when the London Business School joined, and the name changed to GSVC. The expansion continued in 2007 with Yale's School of Management joining Haas, London, Columbia Business School, and Indian School of Business as partners.
Last year, Thammasat University in Thailand and ESSEC Business School in France joined the University of Geneva and a consortium of business schools in Korea called Social Venture Competition Korea as outreach partners. This year, the competition also welcomed the ALTIS Postgraduate School Business & Society, Catholic University of Milan, Italy.
Since its inception, the GSVC has awarded more than $500,000 to budding social ventures and nearly a quarter of past GSVC entrants are still running companies. Winning teams receive prize money to seed or continue their ventures — more than $45,000 total in 2008 — as well as valuable face time with industry leaders.
Launched Startups Have Lasting Impact
Alice Ray, who co-founded social learning software company Ripple Effects with Sarah Berg, said garnering second place in 2000 gave her company greater institutional credibility. "When we did go out for funding it seemed to reassure some investors," she said. More important, she said, was that the competition taught her to persevere — a lesson that helps her today as her company navigates the economic downturn. Ray's son, John Ray-Keil, then a graduate student at the University of Washington, initiated the team's participation.
Many more winners and finalists have found success after GSVC. Revolution Foods, an Alameda, CA-based company that provides healthy food for San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles school kids, won the $25,000 grand prize in 2007. Founded by MBA 06s Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, Revolution replaces "mystery meat" and french fries with healthy choices like brown rice and fresh fruit in school lunches and snacks. The business has grown from serving just four schools in 2006, the company's founding year, to serving 20,000 meals a day. Since its inception, the company has served over 2.5 million meals, 75% of them to students in low income communities.
World of Good, started by Priya Haji (pictured above at the 2005 GSVC) and Siddharth Sanghvi, both MBA 03s, won the 2005 GSVC. The company recently partnered with eBay to build Worldofgood.ebay.com, an online marketplace for thousands of sellers and products that are fair trade certified and often made using recycled, reclaimed or sustainable materials. (EBay founder Pierre Omidyar supports GSVC through his Omidyar Network, which in 2007 gave a $300,000 gift in 2007 to support the GSVC competition for three years.) Worldofgood.ebay.com is yet another GSVC company doing well by doing good, one bamboo bowl, fair trade bracelet and recycled clutch at a time.