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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Social Entrepreneurial Symposium Attracts Nonprofit Startup Ideas

Freshman Mason Donahue came to Old Dominion University from Levittown, Pa. with big ideas.

The 18-year-old economics major has a dream to create an athletic complex where the kinetic energy produced by the individuals working out, and from renewable sources like solar and wind, would power the facility itself.

Donahue knows he can use all the help he can find to make his dream a reality. That led him to become one of the participants in Power Up Your Nonprofit, a social entrepreneurship symposium hosted at Old Dominion's Strome Entrepreneurial Center, as part of Public Service Week.

During the three-hour event Sept. 18, Donohue and other social entrepreneurs went from table to table, talking to business and academic experts in areas like human resource management, strategic planning and marketing.

"This is a really great help. I had no idea about a lot of the suggestions that are being made," Donahue said.

Following the roundtable discussions, Donahue and the other two finalists in the non-profit competition presented their pitches to the experts. Connie Merriman, assistant dean of the Strome College of Business and faculty adviser for social entrepreneurial club Enactus, said these sessions weren't designed to be a "Shark Tank" style competition with cutthroat judges offering cutting critiques.

"The point of this was for it to be a relatively non-threatening event," Merriman said. "These are young social entrepreneurs with ideas, so the point of this event was to provide advice and encouragement, not to scare anyone. This University, and this community, needs all of the social entrepreneurs it can get."

Local business leader Lee Entsminger, an ODU alum who financially supports the Entsminger Fellows program of faculty entrepreneurship at Old Dominion, provided strategic planning advice to the event participants. He said the simple act of sitting around a table can be invaluable for proponents of a start-up idea.

"They get a lot of people talking to them about the problems. What we are trying to do is point out areas they need to be aware, but also to point out the opportunities that exist. When I teach entrepreneurship myself, I stress the importance of communicating your idea in as many venues as you can."

The other experts who provided information to the social entrepreneurs included Keith Curtis, president of The Curtis Group, speaking about fundraising; Nancy Grden, executive director of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, speaking about human resources; David Kamer of Kaufman & Canoles, speaking about legal considerations; Katrina Miller-Stevens, assistant professor of nonprofit management and public policy at Old Dominion, speaking about working with advisory boards; and Matt Paddock, general manager of GROW Interactive, speaking about social media.

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 the quality of life and standard of living for people in need.