Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

The Young Entrepreneur’s New Business Value

I’ve had the great pleasure of being involved with Babson’s Summer Study for High School Students in some capacity for the last six years, ranging from co-teaching modules about social responsibility with Cheryl Kiser to helping design and manage the overall program. I beamed with pride as I watched members of our first high school class walk across Babson’s Commencement stage this May with their Bachelor Degrees in hand. While the program design, curriculum, and living/learning environments have certainly evolved over time, the biggest eye-opener for me has been the change in our high school students and how aligned they all are with Babson’s core mission to create economic and social value simultaneously, not sequentially.

This summer, we welcomed 88 rising high school juniors and seniors from 20 countries to Babson for a four-week residential program where they took a college credit-bearing course, The Babson Entrepreneurial Development Experience, and experienced Babson’s methodology throughout our living and learning community. Each student had the chance to pitch his or her own idea and, ultimately, the entire group was broken down into 16 entrepreneurial ventures. On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to review and provide feedback to all 16 teams during their venture pitches, and I was blown away by the results.

While this course has always taught about economic and social value, many of our past students had a hard time embracing these concepts simultaneously and incorporating them directly into their ventures. We’ve seen them focus on social good, but struggle with identifying the business value and vice versa. This year, all 16 ventures had clearly articulated business and social value propositions. All of them focused not just on the financials, but on their greater impact to society and the world. We saw the first B-Corp venture this year, several nonprofits, and even more for-profit LLCs that had a clear social mission and agenda. Their passions varied – from the environment to children’s safety to human rights and beyond – but all of them equally discovered that they could address these issues through entrepreneurship and see social issues as market opportunities.

The biggest takeaway for me: young people who are attracted to business (and Babson) are oriented differently than they used to be. We have been noticing this trend with both our undergraduate and graduate students, but it’s becoming even clearer in younger and younger populations. These students believe, deep in their core, that the role of business is to create more than money. When asked why their venture chose a B-Corp model, one team member said, “all businesses run on incentives, but those incentives can be about more than just money.” Another venture noted social value as their #1 strength in their SWOT analysis slide. And, when asked about the biggest learning they had as a group, another team reflected that “it was really important for our venture to have a social or environmental focus in order to rally around our ‘why.’”

While these students may still need to learn the tools, skills, and methods to create this type of value, the belief and desire is there. This is what we know to be true at The Lewis Institute – that putting Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® in the hands of younger and younger populations will help us address economic and social issues simultaneously, not sequentially. I’ve just said goodbye to all 88 of our students, but will continue to watch their progress at Babson and beyond. I’m already excited to see how our next group will be oriented.