Social entrepreneurship for students, by students

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A vaccine that doesn’t require refrigeration, expanding its reach to potentially millions more rural people. A clean sanitation system that could actually create energy and raise revenue for Indian villages. A streamlined distribution network that works directly with mom-and-pop shops in the developing world to get technology in the hands of people who need it most.

Every great business starts with a great idea, and those were just a few I heard last year in Dell’s work with the Dell Social Innovation Challenge. Dell was founded almost 30 years ago in a University of Texas dorm room, so we understand the power a student entrepreneur holds to change the world. That’s why today we strive to create a movement and understanding that entrepreneurs are not “born,” but can be created through the right community, support, tools and inspiration.

This week, DSIC Executive Director Suzi Sosa and I will be traveling to the Social Enterprise Conference, one of the world’s leading forums to explore the intersection of business and social impact. The conference is entirely student-run, jointly hosted by students from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

This year’s event, held Feb. 9-10, will focus on “Creating, Connecting & Committing:” creating solutions to problems such as access to affordable health care and education; connecting student entrepreneurs with government leaders, Fortune 500 companies and venture capitalists; and committing to real change that promotes economic, social and environmental good.

Dell and DSIC are excited to be the title sponsors of the event, which has established an impressive track record. In 2009, the Social Enterprise Conference was covered by as one of the most influential executive gatherings, an honor shared with the World Economic Forum at Davos, TED and the Clinton Global Initiative; it was the only student-run event to make the list. At this year’s conference, young social entrepreneurs from around the world will compete for $12,500 in cash prizes in the annual Pitch for Change contest.

“Partnering with Dell and the Dell Social Innovation Challenge has had an incredible impact on our conference,” says Christina Kelleher Knoll, conference co-chairwoman and a joint business and policy student. “Dell’s financial support has broadened the scope of our programming, which now includes 32 topical panels, 15 skill-based workshops, a social innovation pitch contest and a career fair. Dell has also equipped the winners of our pitch contest with crucial technology awards, and the Dell Challenge has provided strategic support to improve the ventures of our student entrepreneurs.”

I’m particularly excited to hear from keynote speakers such as Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of the global development venture group Acumen Fund; Tracy Palandjian, cofounder and CEO of Social Finance U.S., which is crafting public-private-nonprofit partnerships to raise private investment capital for proven social programs; and Ben Rattray, founder and CEO of social action platform

You can follow along as well, via @SEimpact and To learn more about Dell’s support of social entrepreneurship, visit or @dell4good

About the Author: Deb Bauer

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