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Top 5 Tips for Social Entrepreneurs from Van Jones

PSU Impact Entrepreneurs News - November 4, 2015 - 11:13am

Thanks to Portland State’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions, we recently had the honor of co-hosting Van Jones for a student seminar, dinner and keynote at Portland State University. With experience as a serial social entrepreneur, social justice leader, NY Times best-selling author, CNN commentator and former Green Jobs advisor to President Obama, he has positively impacted millions of lives and changed social and political systems through his work.

In his student seminar, Van Jones addressed the intimate group as a friend. “You all seem kind of weird,” he said. “I feel right at home.” Jones responded to questions and quandaries that ranged from fundraising advice to pedagogical theory, the whole time speaking from the heart. It was an inspiring afternoon with a lot of laughs and even a few tears.

“You can’t learn to swim [from a lecture.] You have to get in the pool.” Van Jones, Portland State University, October, 2015

Here are the top 5 social entrepreneurship tips we got from his talk:

  1. Do Something: Making a difference is harder than you think, but not as complicated as it seems. The way to make a difference is to do something. If you want to do something big, start small. If you start too big you will get paralyzed by it. For example: If you want to revolutionize education, start by teaching five kids something you know how to do.
  2. Salute Setbacks: Once you start doing something, if you do it long enough you will make a lot of mistakes. Everyone does, but you only ever hear about the successes. You will learn the most from the stuff that doesn’t work. Successes are important, but setbacks build character. Keep doing it over and over and you start to get results, staff and money. The next time around it will be easier.
  3. Get Out of the PC Thing: You can never be politically correct (PC) enough. No matter how much you are doing, people will attack you for what you don’t do. Focus on doing. If you try to do everything and help everybody, you will get paralyzed.
  4. Don’t Impress Yourself out of a Mentor. Competition is not the biggest motivator for people. Our strongest impulse is to nurture. Sometimes when seeking help, social entrepreneurs impress themselves out of a mentor. If you make yourself sound too successful or prepared, your potential mentor may not think you need their help. Share your successes, but also be willing to share your struggles. When someone helps you, they will want to keep helping you…for life.
  5. Know What Funders Want: You will need money. Other people have it. You need to know what they are looking for so they will give it to you. Funders are trying to identify three things: 1. That the problem is worth their time; 2. That your solution is plausible; 3. That you are the best person/team/organization to solve it.

Final thought: Our education system has taught us to be deconstructionists. We have become experts at breaking things apart and criticizing everything and everyone. We have forgotten how to bring people together to create and initiate solutions. We have to change this. Social entrepreneurship done correctly is about reconstructing, but we have to be willing to let all kinds of people in, find common ground and build together.

Do some of these ideas sound familiar? Helpful? What are your top 5 social entrepreneurship tips?

Check out more photos from our visit with Van Jones on our Facebook page:

Check out Van Jones’ keynote from later that evening.

PSU Student Consulting Program Launches to Support Local B Corps

PSU Impact Entrepreneurs News - September 28, 2015 - 10:05am

The Portland State University chapter of Net Impact, in conjunction with PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs, is offering free consulting services for Oregon companies engaged in the B Corp certification or recertification process. This program will give graduate students valuable, hands-on experience working with mission-driven businesses, while providing companies with affordable assistance in improving their social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency, or achieving recognition for their current efforts.

The program will select teams of two to three PSU graduate students to work with the client over the course of a 10-week school term, providing up to 25 total hours of work (an estimated value of $3000) free of charge. The work can focus on the assessment portion of the process (assistance with answering the assessment questions, compiling or analyzing results, providing recommendations for next steps), or on tasks aimed at increasing the client’s assessment score, whether they are certifying for the first time or going through the recertification process. Students will be trained in B Corp Assessment methodology, and all work will be supervised by faculty.

Interested PSU graduate students should fill out this form to indicate their interest, or email Emma Ingebretsen ( and Rich Schwartz ( for more information. An informational meeting will be scheduled for the 2nd week of the fall term.

Interested companies should contact the PSU Net Impact project coordinators, Rich Schwartz ( and Emma Ingebretsen ( The project coordinators will work to match the company with a student consulting team.

Want to learn more about B Corp Certification and Oregon B Corps? Attend B Inspired on October 15, 2015, to see B Corp leaders speak, join a street fair of local B Corps, and enjoy a concert and celebration.

About B Corps (from the B Corps website)

“B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Today, there is a growing community of more than 1,000 Certified B Corps from 33 countries and over 60 industries working together toward 1 unifying goal: to redefine success in business.”

About Net Impact – Portland State University Chapter

Net Impact is a global community of more than 60,000 students and professionals creating positive social and environmental change through their careers. Individual chapters are volunteer-led and self-directed. PSU’s Net Impact Chapter works to create opportunities for PSU graduate students to gain experience with mission-driven businesses and interact with sustainability-minded professionals. For more information on PSU’s Net Impact Chapter, or to get involved, follow us on Facebook or contact Emma Ingebretsen (

About Impact Entrepreneurs

Founded in 2010 in Portland State University’s School of Business Administration, Impact Entrepreneurs is unleashing the promise of business for social impact. We are a network of individuals and organizations committed to fostering economic, social, and ecological prosperity through entrepreneurial action.

Working with partners locally and globally, we deliver initiatives that strengthen organizations, build entrepreneurial impact-focused leaders, and catalyze social innovation. PSU’s School of Business was selected as the best small MBA program in the world by the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes rankings for integrating sustainability in business. PSU is also a member of the prestigious Ashoka U Changemaker Campus consortium.

Learning Social Enterprise from Local Changemakers

PSU Impact Entrepreneurs News - August 24, 2015 - 12:33pm

It’s both relieving and scary to see there isn’t a playbook for this kind of thing,” one student reflected during a tour of social enterprises in Portland, OR. She was one of seventeen students who spent the summer of 2015 studying operational excellence as part of Portland State University’s Business of Social Innovation Certificate.

As a part of the summer class, students traveled to six sites around Portland to meet with local social entrepreneurs and learn firsthand about their experiences. Their reflections from each site visit show that the perspectives on social innovation were at once personal and universal for entrepreneurs tackling social and environmental problems.

Scott encouraged us to know the existing systems we’re working on, so we can challenge them and create new ones.

Led by Scott Davison, Vocoform helps young adults facing poverty, addiction, and racial injustice identify and pursue jobs through skill development, life coaching, and enterprise operation/ownership. Launched in 2014, the ½ acre Arbor Lodge Urban Farm in North Portland is an enterprise training lab for Vocoform. The farm facilitates 20-25 internships each summer for youth 18-25.

SEI’s model [is] focused on building human relationships and supporting children in every aspect of their lives to help them succeed.”

Self Enhancement Inc. (SEI) recently launched The Pathways to Prosperity Initiative, an intrapreneurial program of SEI that provides at-risk urban youth and their families in the Portland area with the knowledge, skills and support needed to leverage economic opportunities and increase financial capability. SEI Academy is the only Title I model school in Portland, ranking in the top 5% statewide among schools that serve high-poverty student populations.

Breaker Project and Construct Foundation exemplified the importance of metrics and assessment to understand the impact of the work you’re doing.”

Construct Foundation is building a portfolio of partners and education initiatives to identify and support new models for teaching and learning, prioritizing K-12 students. Construct Foundation partnered with Breaker Project, an alternative learning model that combines design thinking and challenge based learning, in an entrepreneur boot camp that connects participants to real world problems.

“Ryan Saari just had this sense of unstoppable of optimism and purpose.”

The Oregon Public House, where students had lunch, is the nation’s first nonprofit pub. The pub pledges to donate its profits to charity, and customers select the charity their purchase supports. The Board of Directors and Staff are also committed to creating a space that’s accessible and “diverse as the neighborhood that surrounds it.” In two years the Oregon Public House has donated more than $50,000 to mission-driven nonprofits and charities.

“The lean systems strategies at Plywerk are eliminating wasted resources and time inefficiencies.”

Plywerk is an eco-conscious photo mounting and art panel company that is committed to a triple bottom line operating philosophy, and that utilizes the four systems conditions of the “Natural Step Framework” to assess the lifecycle of every aspect of the business. Plywerk is a lean manufacturer that strives to avoid and eliminate waste to add value to the product.

“Ecotrust was able to identify what it is they do really well, and keep that a part of the business model as they grew.”

The Redd is a 1918 industrial ironworks and contemporary warehouse that Ecotrust has purchased and is transforming into a working urban ecosystem for the regional food economy. It aims to incubate young businesses and connect them to Oregon resources. The Ecotrust website states: “The Redd will serve “ag in the middle,” mid-size rural farmers, ranchers, and fishers who have outgrown direct-to-consumer channels, such as CSAs and farmers’ markets, and are looking to scale their business.”

The students experienced social entrepreneurship in real life, in a local context, alongside their peers. They asked difficult questions, and debriefed each visit while traveling on a the bus from one site to another. Some people say you have to view social entrepreneurship in action to understand it. The summer 2015 class jumped in.