College promotes refreshing capitalism contest to fix social problems; anyone can win seed money

If you’re an entrepreneur looking to do well by doing good, Florida State University is looking for you.

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Photo: Global Peace Exchange
Volunteers with Global Peace Exchange work with local children in in Nepal. Joanna Douglas, former director of Global Peace Exchange, is the project manager of the Diehl Family Social Enterprise Competition.

You just have to move fast.

FSU’s DeVoe L. Moore Center, with funding from the Ohio-based William and Helen Diehl Family Foundation, is taking applications for grants starting at $5,000 to assist business plan development — and up to $50,000 to help finance the first year of operation — for start-ups in any location across the globe, so long as they are aimed at addressing social needs while eventually turning a profit for the entrepreneurs.

The idea behind the Diehl Family Social Enterprise Competition is to spread seed money to help grow profit-making businesses that will meet pressing social needs on a permanent basis problems like poverty, disease, hunger, rape victim care, or a general lack of economic development instead of simply supplying a need for however long grant money remains available.

The goal is also to avoid government interference with the project which, however well intended, can end up in a centrally planned, top-down, socialistic approach that can end up harming the intended beneficiaries more than it helps.

To use the old expression, it’s not just giving a hungry man a fish, or even teaching him to fish – it’s setting up a fishery that will sell fish to others.

In the DeVoe Center’s phrase it’s “social entrepreneurship.” In business terms, it might be called capital for budding capitalists.

“Innovation and the pursuit of excellence are the cornerstones of vibrant economies,” DeVoe Center Director Sam Staley said in a news release announcing the project.

“This support from the Diehl Foundation shows the strength of the social entrepreneurship concept and recognizes there is a tremendous amount of talent here at Florida State and a wealth of resources that can be leveraged for major initiatives like these.”

To submit your grant proposal
to The Diehl Family Social
Enterprise Competition,
go to www.socialenterprisecompetition.com.
Deadline is May 31.

But applicants aren’t limited to those connected with FSU – in fact, proposals are coming in from around the United States and around the globe. “From Kansas City to Katmandu,” as one of the organizers put it.

Anyone with a two-page business proposal can apply for 10 available grants of $5,000 each to develop a full business plan, along with a chance to be one of 4 to be awarded $50,000 to make that plan a reality.

Time is tight, though. The deadline to submit the proposal is May 31.

To be successful, applicants must describe the social problem their business plan can solve; include an honest assessment of the likelihood of success and realistic methods of measure it; realistic potential for profitability and growth; and, above all, the business management team’s familiarity with the local population.

In short, pretend you’re setting up a standard government aid package and do exactly the opposite.

“We all want to make the world a better place, but throwing money at an inflexible, top-down development project can be catastrophic,” wrote Matthew Kelly, blog writer for the official competition website, in a post that describes the practical philosophy behind the DeVoe Center and Diehl Foundation’s grant-funding approach.

FSU administrators are looking at the project with an eye toward the university’s future.

“This pilot project comes at a time when Florida State University is establishing itself as a national leader in entrepreneurship and innovation,” David Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy.

“The university has funded two social entrepreneurs-in-residence and is aggressively expanding academic and practical opportunities for students interested in pursuing social entrepreneurship as a career.”

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