By Sarah Schmid
Detroit's reputation as a one-of-a-kind proving ground for innovative approaches to solving social problems got a boost today with the announcement of the Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, a statewide competition offering $50,000 in cash prizes.
Billed as the nation's first coordinated, public-private effort to advance social entrepreneurship, the Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge is administered by a partnership between Michigan Corps, the Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest (GLEQ), and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Elizabeth Garlow, Michigan Corps' director of strategic initiatives, is eager to see how the entrepreneurial community will respond. "We believe this will be of national if not global interest," she says, noting that ideas hatched in Michigan could be scaled and replicated elsewhere. "We're the only state to do something like this."
Between today and March 27, social entrepreneurs who want to participate in the challenge should go online to submit their ideas for how to tackle issues like urban revitalization, access to healthcare, or failing schools, using sustainable solutions that provide clear societal benefit, Garlow says. Once individuals or teams submit their ideas, they'll be able to access coaches from GLEQ's network to help develop them. Online and in-person events will be offered along the way to further assist participants in refining their submissions before the final May application deadline. On June 18, a social entrepreneur showcase and pitch event will take place at the Entrepreneur Connect event, where the winners of the cash prizes will be announced.
Garlow says that through its work with the MEDC on the Kiva microlending initiative, Michigan Corps started an ongoing dialogue with state officials about what kinds of entrepreneurs the group was encountering on the ground. "It emerged that we needed to think about sustaining an ecosystem and creating an environment to help social entrepreneurs thrive," she adds. GLEQ came into the picture because of its "incredible work galvanizing a network of volunteers" and its statewide footprint.
Garlow explains that the intent is to cultivate a community of social entrepreneurs in Michigan while simultaneously soliciting fresh, outside-the-box ideas to solving our recession-weary state's most persistent social problems. Garlow points out that the competition is also a way to attract and retain young professionals interested in coming to Detroit and other parts of Michigan to test their entrepreneurial mettle. "Through the challenge, entrepreneurs can expose their ideas to impact investors, which is really exciting," she adds. "And they can take advantage of mentorship and educational programs in between."
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