Can college students help start your SE?

A question from Mark Redmond, about how to get local university students to help their nonprofit develop a social enterprise, elicited a large number of responses.  Mark noted that his organization (Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington VT) was in the beginning stages of developing an enterprise, as part of their program to serve at-risk and homeless teens, and that they were following the Venture Forth manual step by step.
1) From Ken Harrington <>     Here are two links to things that are done out of Washington University in St. Louis.  The first is for academic credit and the second is not. Experiential learning programs vary widely with individual schools and professors.  This is because learning goals differ and student capabilities/ages differ.  The best thing to do is just call the schools and find the right folks so they can explain their goals to you. Hope this helps.
2) From Bruce Curtis <>I was on the MBA student side of this a few years ago at Babson.  Here's how it worked for us:  1.Students answered some questionnaire (background, career goals, etc.) before arriving at the beginning of the first year. 2.Babson placed us in groups of 4-7 students with roughly similar career goals and matched us with a company/organization. 3.The first half of the year, we worked on a project determined by the organization (in my case, a sort of strategic planning question).  4.The second half of the year, we created a marketing plan for one component of the organization.  Both projects involved presentations to org. representatives, faculty, etc. All full-time 1st-year MBA students did that.  In addition, 2nd-years could take a semester-long "class" that was a self-assembled group to work with an organization in a similar fashion.  In both cases, there was no cost to the organization other than staff time for periodic meetings and some incidentals.  I'm sure things vary from school to school, so I'd suggest just contacting the schools & asking how it works there.  I suspect they are always looking for new possibilities to present to students (especially for something a little more unusual like working with a NP) & would be happy to talk things through with you.  Tuck/Dartmouth has a Net Impact chapter (and perhaps more interest in NPs than average), but that may be too far away.  There don't appear to be any chapters in VT yet.
3) From Jina Paik <> I can't speak to the nonprofit's experience, but I have experience on the other side of the fence.  I'm a graduate student, and I've actually participated in two different semester-long projects that involved a university and nonprofit venture collaboration.  In one case, the entire class worked on a single project, and in the other, it was a team within the class.  The number of students working on the project was appropriate to the proposed scale.  In both instances, the team developed a business plan, including the product/project description, market analysis, and financial projections.  We never did market testing, because it wasn't possible within the timeframe of a semester.  From what I saw, it seemed that the collaboration environment and open communication between the nonprofit, the professor and the students was very, very important.
4) From John Yantis <>I recommend you look at the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry at Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.  Although not specifically connected to business ventures, it is an example of how universities are envisioning the development of an enterprise with undergraduates and the connection to project-based learning. A book that is really helpful in exploring models of possibility especially around youth and the creative industry is The Creative College: Building A Successful Learning Culture in the Arts by Graham Jeffries.  I think you will find it very inspiring as a model for future partnerships between universities, cultural organizations and at-risk youth.  I have been a teaching artist for 30 yrs and have worked with many youth organizations.  The one I suggested you explore for some examples of engaging youth through creativity and peer collaboration is The Power of Hope.   They are starting a program in Maine which might be of interest to you.
5) From Norris Krueger <> Lots of options - I've done a ton of these. It's a great learning experience for the students if it isn't grunt work and the students typically do a bang-up job. Sometimes you have the whole class involved, sometimes there is a specific (smaller) team will be dedicated to you. Often, the best strategy is to have the first team devoted to figuring out what projects need to be done, then you have a natural segue into future semesters. It's a ton of work for faculty, if it's done right - but it's a natural fit for entrepreneurship classes or for the senior capstone course. You can sometimes get a market research class to, well, do market research, but I recommend more generalist classes (those just mentioned).  You need to start with either the entrepreneurship faculty (they are the experts at this) and/or the student entrepreneurship group/club. Maybe volunteer to the social-entrepreneur-in-residence?   Simmons College is Boston is moving forward on this (they have great faculty) & Dartmouth should be a good possibility. Ashoka, et al. have created a university network (see that could point you to other possibilities. Close by is good, but NOT necessary. My students have worked with clients in other states, even overseas. Your key is to find the RIGHT students (and faculty) who are psyched to help you.  If all goes well, you could get sufficiently 'adopted' that projects continue, then you aren't stuck with a "cookbook" approach to starting (shuddering -ugh), instead you'll get a richer planning experience. Take advantage of that expertise out there that the students (and their passion) can connect you to.  Finally, this is a genuine startup, the best business plan contests out there are for social ventures and your venture could become a contestant.
6) From Stacey Cox <> We have worked with New Mexico State University and they have done marketing research for us through their master's program.  I found the trick to be sitting down with the professor and jointly developing something that works for their curriculum and actually moves your project along.  In my experience, the professors really want your input.
7) From Terry Wiens <> As a former ED for a non-profit in Canada that went through this (and successfully I thought) this can be a mutually beneficial exercise.  What worked for me was to develop an outline for the results I was looking to find.  There were double benefits here in that it put the board in a position where it really took a hard look at what they were doing.  After consulting with a number of colleges and universities (in the area) we put together a "request for papers" for local students (primarily grad students but in one case a second year college class).  The request asked for a solution(s) to an issue identified by the Board.  I found that the better the challenge the more interest we received. This resulted in the development of a number of successful revenue generated programs.  In no circumstance did a complete program result of "one" project.  A number of classes (or students) could be involved from any number of perspectives.  The challenge to the agency was putting the various components together.  It was a great learning experience for the community and the whole process certainly helped to develop a positive network of community members.  If done well this is a great approach.  Good luck.
8) From Harriet Stephenson <> This can be an excellent idea. I am a prof who runs such student teams as teaching methodology for credit: a) For the senior capstone course -- a quarter to a third of our projects are non profits and of those about half are start ups and half are plans for existing non profits, b) As the required projects in an MBA course:  Social Enterprise/Triple Bottom Line, and c) As the business plan for the New Venture Creation -- Business Plan course at MBA level which also has the teams submitting the projects for business plan competition. (Our business plan competition has an award track specifically for social enterprise and one for Triple Bottom Line/Sustainability.  Today several universities are engaged in competition specifically for social enterprise and they probably mean non profit though some include for profits in the social enterprise competition as well). Other models may have half the class or the entire class taking on one "enterprise" -- possibly half the students do a feasibility study for a coffee cart, and half do a feasibility study for a dog walking business or whatever combination the client, students, and prof agree to.   If we can't place the project in any given quarter, we might also set up an internship --possibly with an Entrepreneurship student -- grad or undergrad.  We can even create independent study credit.  Great experience.  During the course, there are often outside mentors who also work with the teams.  If your project is one that goes for business plan competition, there can be additional feedback from outside judges, exposure to potential social investors. In some classes there is little interaction with the client.  In others, the client/organization is totally involved with the client and the client's clientele.  This might be viewed as a capacity building opportunity in which you would want as much involvement as possible with your people and the student team.  The "quick and dirty" way is usually more costly time and money wise in the long run.  Count on investing time helping dig out information and giving feedback to help keep the team on line.  You ultimately are the one that has to make it work.  Makes it much better to have been as involved as possible.   This is an in time to be looking to colleges and universities for such partnering. Might start with a call to Entrepreneurship Center if the college or university has one.  The Dean's office could also direct you.  We view this experiential approach to learning as a valuable learning tool as well as a definite contribution/give back/being a responsible business citizen ... a mutually beneficial win-win situation.  Glad you are thinking about it.