Social entrepreneur grad student pitch. Photo by Paul Wetenhall
Social entrepreneur grad student pitch. Photo by Paul Wetenhall

One graduate and two undergraduate teams from UNC Charlotte participated in the UNC Social Entrepreneurship Conference at N.C. A&T University on Feb. 11. The UNC General Admission sponsors the conference, which encourages students to identify a critical social issue in the state and develop a business-oriented plan to address it.

This is the third year UNC Charlotte students have competed, and students from the Lee College of Engineering won second place in undergraduate competition last year for their solar traffic light proposal.

Ventureprise, a venture development organization located in the PORTAL building, in conjunction with the Small Business and Technology Development Center organized UNC Charlotte’s involvement in the conference and aided the teams in their preparation. Paul Wetenhall, director of Ventureprise, said teams were selected to represent UNC Charlotte based on the level of need for their proposed plan as well as its incorporation of academic disciplines.

“We reviewed five team submissions and selected two undergraduate teams and one graduate team to represent UNC Charlotte,” Wetenhall said. “German American Student Placement (GASP) addressed connecting area high school students with apprenticeships, while Royalty for Loyalty addressed incenting public transit ridership through a rewards program. JoinUp addressed enabling college students to join entrepreneurial teams for employment and possible wealth creation.”

All three UNC Charlotte social entrepreneur student teams. Photo by Paul Wetenhall
All three UNC Charlotte social entrepreneur student-teams. Photo by Paul Wetenhall

 

The one-day conference included a talk about the importance of entrepreneurial spirit by Tom Ross, president of The University of North Carolina, as well as four-minute presentations by each of the 44 teams in attendance followed by questions from a judging panel. Ten finalist teams were then chosen to present to the whole conference based on a combination of factors including market analysis and sustainability, social impact potential and likelihood of success.

Students from UNC Asheville came in first place in the undergraduate competition, and Fayetteville State University won the graduate competition. UNC Charlotte’s JoinUp team, led by juniors Neil Emmett and Christian Wilks, was one of six finalists for the undergraduate award, which Wetenhall attributed to the ingenuity and practicality of their plan.

“JoinUp was distinctive in two ways. First, JoinUp presented a concrete implementation of their website that was currently operating and accessible,” Wetenhall said. “Importantly, JoinUp addressed the issue of students wanting to join or create entrepreneurial teams that could potentially become a business venture. This is an issue that not only they have personally experienced, but it is an issue that many other students in North Carolina are currently facing and that has a high level of importance to the UNC System.”

While the conference is business-oriented, Wetenhall said students from all majors are encouraged to participate in order to build a well-rounded team.

“The conference is open to students of all majors, years and backgrounds. Our two undergrad teams included only one student majoring in business. The other undergrads majored in computer science, information technology, history, economics, sociology and mechanical engineering. The grad students were all Ph.D. candidates in geography and in computer science.”

Students interested in participating in next year’s competition can contact Ventureprise at their website, www.venturprise.org, or visit the 49er Foundry in the PORTAL Building. More information regarding the 2016 conference will be available in October.

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