On March 16th and 17th, Social Venture Partners Rhode Island (SVPRI) and Brown University’s Social Innovation Initiative and Entrepreneurship Program launched their first Social Enterprise Ecosystem and Economic Development (SEEED) Summit at Brown University. Approximately 450 social entrepreneurs, business leaders, local and national government officials, academics, and students attended the 2-day conference, coming together to discuss the role of social enterprise in economic development.
The keynote speakers of SEEED offered a diverse perspective on the challenges and opportunities for developing the social enterprise sector; John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, discussed the need for student involvement in the field, and stressed the importance of excellent design and creativity in education. “Students are not afraid to experiment,” he noted.
A panel of successful Rhode Island-based entrepreneurs examined the challenges facing start-ups, and how they have seen their own work grow to create national and global impact. Panelists included Aaron Horowitz and Hannah Chung, creators of Jerry the Bear, a teddy bear that helps kids with Type 1 Diabetes adjust to their new lifestyle; Felicia Delgado, the founder of Esther’s Well, a faith-based home for women who have previously been victims of prostitution and human trafficking; and Dennis Littky, founder of The Met School, an innovative, experienced-based model for high school education. The MET model has inspired an international network of over 80 similar schools.
The conference closed on Saturday afternoon with esteemed speaker, Representative David Cicilline (D-R.I). Cicilline brought exciting news to attendees with the announcement that he is drafting national legislation to support the growing network of social enterprises. The “SEEED Act”, would amend the Small Business Act to better assist mission-driven social enterprises. It would also establish a federal Office of Social Entrepreneurship. “Social entrepreneurship is not a Democratic approach or a Republican approach, it’s a mutual endeavor”, Cicilline said. “Our social entrepreneurs are transforming our society in ways traditional systems and programs cannot”.
The Northeastern Social Enterprise Institute was represented by Gail Batutis (‘16) and Allie Smith (‘16).