Sara Standish

StartingBloc: Inside Edition

Q. What do young social innovators do for fun?

A. Hang out at StartingBloc’s fall seminar, of course.

About two months ago, while I was waiting for a phenomenally delayed plane at the Dulles Airport, I picked up a copy of the summer edition of Fast Company. Beyond the excellent article about the ?Rise of the Aerotropolis?, a short description of StartingBloc caught my eye. It was a fellowship for college students and young professionals who were interested in the intersection of the private sector, sustainability and social change. My first thought was ?Wow, this is fantastic, where do I sign up??

Back in DC, I visited their website to learn more. Founded four years ago, by two recent college grads, the program is designed to convene young leaders from across academic & professional disciplines to learn, question, and put into action social innovation concepts. I also found out that they were accepting applications for their fall program in the greater NYC area, so, I applied (it would be a rather lame blog if I hadn?t). This weekend marked the first one-day event, which was hosted at Columbia Business School. The day’s seminar was jam packed with panel sessions, two keynotes and a few group brainstorming sessions.

The morning began with a keynote from Joe Sibilia, who is a serial social entrepreneur and board member at Social Venture Network. After taking his shoes off and getting comfy with the 70 or so fellows, he candidly shared his concept of sustainable business ethics, and why he has started organizations like the Gasoline Alley Foundation. He also invited everyone to come to his home, come to his office, or join him at meetings in NYC, which is just one of the amazing things that StartingBloc is creating–a community of people who are so invested in the concept of empowering young social innovators that they are willing to share any resource, regardless of how personal, to encourage someone to actively participate in sustainable entrepreneurship.

Building off of Joe’s inspiration and a quick lunch, we met in small groups for what can only be described as the heart of the Starting Bloc experience?the opportunity to put theory into practice by creating a business plan for a socially responsible business. Fellows were matched in group of 6-8 people by interest and given a challenge ranging from lack of childcare services for low-income families to obesity. From this each team will develop a social enterprise to address the issue and the winners will be incubated by the organization for up to a year with the goal of getting their concept off the ground. NextBillion readers may be interested to note that the majority of the challenges selected addressed BOP issues?a hopeful sign that young people are keyed into the concept and the importance of it in a developed and developing country context.

Tom Szaky, the co-founder of TerraCycle, was the day’s last speaker. He detailed the incredible rise of his entirely sustainable worm poop (his words) business from its genesis during his freshman year at Princeton to a $6 million dollar business that supplies its product to Home Depot and Walmart. For me, what is remarkable about TerraCycle is that it has developed its products entirely from waste materials–from the garbage that is fed to the worms to the used soda bottles that the plant food is package in. And that despite advances from venture capital firms offering money and connections, he had maintained the independence and authenticity of the business.

Given the caliber of the fellows and the speakers, I look forward to the next event to be held at Wharton.