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FORSE 2007: Forum For Social Entrepreneurs

Raj Melville

On November 2nd, 2007, TiE Boston’s Social Entrepreneurship SIG (Special Interest Group) together with Boston University and the Deshpande Foundation hosted the first regional conference for social entrepreneurs – “ForSE 2007: Forum for Social Entrepreneurs”.  The event was a great success attracting over 225 attendees consisting of budding social entrepreneurs, veteran organizations and working professionals. All the participants were very interested in learning more about opportunities to connect and help emerging players in the social sector. The conference was structured to address the needs of both young startups, with workshop oriented sessions, as well as the needs of professionals interested in engaging with social entrepreneurs, with keynotes and panels.  

Kristen McCormack, conference co-chair and Jonathan Rosen, Executive Director of BU’s ITEC welcomed the attendees to the conference. In his opening remarks, Ned Rimer, founder of Citizen Schools, drew on his startup experience to highlight five key steps to taking an idea to fruition. They include:
•    Developing a clear vision of the concept and validating it from a core group of advisors
•    Understanding the market to make sure that there is a demand for your idea.
•    Be bold asking for money. To get money you need to specifically ask for money.
•    Aim high and don’t miss. Set a great example with your first pilot and do everything to make sure it is successful.
•    Have Fun. If you don’t enjoy your work consider working for a regular establishment instead of a startup.

Four startups – Common Impact, Akshaya Patra, Fitness Forward and RemesaTel - had a chance to pitch their ideas and get critical feedback from a panel consisting of Juleby Hirsch from New Profit, Nishith Acharya from Deshpande Foundation, Susan Musinsky from Social Innovation Forum,  Kelly Campbell from Bridgespan and Ned Rimer.

A series of workshops on topics ranging from “Nuts and Bolts of Organizing Your New Venture” to “Securing Start-Up Funding for Your Venture” helped navigate young entrepreneurs  through the issues facing most startups. Moderators for the sessions included Lisa Nitze, Vice President, Ashoka; George Gendron, former editor of Inc. Magazine and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Clark University; Andrew Sears, Founder and Executive Director, TechMission; and Peter Russo, Director, Entrepreneurship Programs, ITEC, Boston University among others.

Dean Louis Lataif introduced Boston University’s President Brown. In his remarks, President Brown welcomed the attendees and highlighted the role that Boston University and its students have played in nurturing social entrepreneurs in Boston. He pointed out how in the early 1900’s, one of their alumni, Edgar Helms, a theology student and social innovator, founded Goodwill Stores, now one of the leading non-profits in the US.

A series of four panels highlighting the major social themes of Health, Education, Sustainable Growth and Building Micro-Enterprises allowed the audience to hear from an international selection of practitioners. The panels showcased leading edge implementations from around the globe and kept the audience engaged through energetic discussions. Some of the panelists were Chetna Gala Sinha, President & Founder of Mann Deshi Mahila Bank in Mhaswad, India; Prof. Bill Moomaw, Professor of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University and one of the authors of the IPCC report; James Cleveland, President, Jumpstart; Satish Jha, Chairman, eHealth-Care Foundation; and Russell de Lucia, President & Founder, S3IDF.

Alan Khazei, co-founder and former CEO of City Year - one of the leading national service organizations, closed the conference with an inspirational speech charging the audience to become citizen advocates and to get involved with the next wave of entrepreneurship. He drew on Mahatma Gandhi’s words to “be the change we wish to see in the world” for inspiration for his new endeavor.  

The conference was made possible due to generous support and sponsorship of the Deshpande Foundation. The event was also sponsored by TiE Boston, a non-profit organization with a mission to foster and support entrepreneurship; the Boston University School of Management, Executive Leadership Center; the Boston University School of Management, Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC) and the Boston University School of Management, Public and Nonprofit Management MBA Program.

The co-chairs for the event were Kristen McCormack and Paul McManus from Boston University, Raj Melville and Vikas Goyal from TiE Boston and Nishith Acharya from the Deshpande Foundation. Volunteers who helped manage the event and organize the panels and workshops included Jeff Blander, Vithal Deshpande, Rebecca Gloe, Steven Lee, Heather Levy, Elizabeth Nasser, Srinivasan Sankar, Rishi Shukla, and Raman Sivasubramanyam.

The strong turnout and interest in the event validated the planning committee’s original assumption that Boston was ready for a conference to address the needs of young social entrepreneurs and the team is already planning next year’s conference. People interested in getting involved in planning next year’s conference or related social entrepreneurial activities, are welcome to contact the TIE SE SIG Co-chair, Vikas Goyal at vgoyal@exterapartners.com.

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Members of the core planning team

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