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Enactus Chapter at ODU Seeks to Create Entrepreneurial Social Capital

ENACTUSStudent volunteers create boxes for the Project Sole shoe collection organized by social entrepreneurial organization Enactus.

In the formal boardroom of the dean's office at Old Dominion University's College of Business and Public Administration, construction paper, tape and markers are fanned out across the ornate wood table.

A dozen students chat happily as they use the supplies to decorate cardboard boxes. It's a campaign to collect running shoes, and the first project taken on by ODU's brand new social entrepreneurship group Enactus. The shoes will be collected and donated to Project Sole, a humanitarian organization that takes shoes collected by partner organizations and distributes them to impoverished or disaster-stricken communities throughout the world.

The project is a modest one, but it's designed to help generate interest in the club. The field of social entrepreneurship is exploding in popularity, including on college campuses. Enactus was created to help tap into the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in everyone to spur progress on human causes, helping create common good in the world.

Yvonne Kienast, a senior international studies student from Austria and Enactus student team leader, said the project is designed to get students a taste of the how an entrepreneurial spirit can merge with social causes. "There are so many issues that require people with real passion," said Kienast.

The student organization was formed at ODU last fall. This spring, a small team of members attended the 2014 Enactus United States National Exposition March 31-April 3 in Cincinnati as observers. There they saw real-life projects that are being tackled creatively, and with an entrepreneurial spirit, by student teams from all across the United States.

The winning team, from Texas State University-San Marcos, developed an app for small businesses hit hard by the recent economic recession to reduce marketing costs while simultaneously promoting their initiative against larger, more established, competition. It's the goal of the ODU Enactus organization to take on a project of that nature for next year's National Exposition.

"The goal is to take a project beyond the case study level, to apply the skills we are learning in classroom to improve the lives of others in a sustainable way. That means, when Enactus steps away from the organization we have been assisting, there has been a sufficient transfer of knowledge to allow that organization to continue making a difference," Kienast said.

Social entrepreneurship is a passion of Connie Merriman, assistant dean of the College of Business and Public Administration, and faculty adviser for Enactus. The club has joined forces with ODU's Student Entrepreneurship Club to find projects of mutual interest, as part of the burgeoning entrepreneurial initiative at ODU.

"With the primary purpose of enabling progress through entrepreneurial action, Enactus is an international non-profit organization that brings together student, academic and business leaders who are committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to improve quality of life and standard of living," Merriman said.

In its first full academic year, the organization worked on three large-scale projects, in addition to the shoe collection - working with a community performance music non-profit called Cantabile; Project PATHway, an early-stage nonprofit seeking to find ways to clear the path for underprivileged adolescents to access healthy-lifestyle programs; and Student Veteran House, an early-stage nonprofit working on accessible campus housing for disabled single veterans who want to continue their education at ODU.

At a student entrepreneur competition in April hosted by the College of Business and Public Administration, called Start Up, Enactus members listened intently to presentations by aspiring student entrepreneurs, to look for an avenue to push a cause forward in a social entrepreneurial or non-profit sphere.

"We are actively seeking new projects and events like the recent Start Up competition are a great source of opportunities to identify possibilities," Merriman said.

Lee Entsminger is an alumnus who has donated $100,000 to support the creation of an entrepreneurial culture at Old Dominion University. He feels like entrepreneurship for a cause, promoted by organizations such as Enactus, is a key part of the university's entrepreneurial thrust.

"The same principles that can help a company succeed in a competitive marketplace are vital for organizations like the ones that Enactus will support, organizations whose good work will benefit all of us," Entsminger said.

To get involved in Enactus, contact Merriman at cmerrima@odu.edu or Akeyla Barbour, 2014 student president of Enactus, at abarb018@odu.edu.