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Connecting Innovation and Investment: Social Entrepreneur Fellows in Detroit

Last week, Michigan Corps brought together our group of Social Enterprise Fellows as part of a training program following the Social Entrepreneurship Challenge.  Fellows pitched their cutting edge models to impact investors.
Contests are great at surfacing innovation. They generate a lot of buzz, energy and excitement. When Michigan Corps launched the Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, we knew there would be many individuals hungry to share their innovative ideas. We were right. Two-hundred and seventy people shared a concept for a business model that would better local communities around our state.

But what if a contest stops there? There may be a tremendous spike in enthusiasm and energy, but it could just as easily disappear and fail to have any meaningful impact. To harness and amplify the momentum generated by the contest, Michigan Corps launched a Social Enterprise Fellowship beginning with eleven finalists from The Challenge.

Through the Fellowship, this top notch group of social innovators came together over a four month period to work together as a peer cohort and through individual coaching with The Public Squared to bring their models from ‘investment worthy’ to ‘investment ready’. The initial outcomes have been inspiring. Not only has the Fellowship helped build a strong sense of community among Fellows from across the state, it has also attracted interest from impact investors interested in scaling the most promising ideas.

Last week, our group of eleven Fellows met at Grand Circus in Detroit for a day long retreat with investors looking to blend compassion and business savvy in the form of social impact investments. The event began with an introductory seminar in design thinking and the intersection of traditional business practice and social impact; led by the president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Michael Brennan. Soon enough, the walls (which double as a dry-erase board) in the newly renovated space, were filled with diagrams and inventive terminology. By relaying years of experience and practice in expanding a socially responsible organization, Brennan armed the fellows with a new vision for their business missions.

As the day continued, Fellows pitched their social enterprises to guest investors. Pitches focused on sustainable solutions to social challenges ranging from chronic unemployment to degradation of the Great Lakes, from the digital divide to community health issues.

At the end of the day, Fellows, investors and facilitators left feeling inspired. “The motivation and training I received from The Challenge and Fellowship have not only helped my company, but also helped me to become a better social enterpreneur. I never realized the investment potential in my company, and now realize our mindset to help the environment and make a profit in the process is something an investor can appreciate", commented one Fellow. The group seems ever-more ready to pioneer social innovation with new-found partnerships and opportunities for growth and change across our state.
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