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Social Innovation Incubator: FAQ

General questions about the Portland State University (PSU) Social Innovation Incubator (SII)


Questions about the SII Circuit Program


Questions about the SII Vector Program

 


General questions about the Portland State University (PSU) Social Innovation Incubator (SII)

What is the PSU Social Innovation Incubator?

The SII is a virtual incubator that provides expert consulting and tailored workshops to help social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs build the skills, strategies and networks they need to succeed. In 2011, Fast Company selected the Incubator as one of America’s 51 brilliant urban ideas. The SII is part of PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs, a suite of programs to provide inspiration, incubation and acceleration of social entrepreneurship locally and globally. We focus on helping our members develop the “Four Cs:” Connections, Community, Capacity, and Credibility.

 

What is social entrepreneurship?

Social entrepreneurs identify significant problems that hurt people or the environment and create entrepreneurial approaches to solve them. The field of social entrepreneurship, or as we like to call it, impact entrepreneurship, is quickly growing and works alongside traditional charitable and government programs to make life more equitable and sustainable. Please see our resources page for a few of our favorite definitions.

 

What is the mission of the SII?

To unleash the power of business for social impact.

 

Who funds the SII?

We are supported by the PSU School of Business and Institute for Sustainable Solutions. To help keep our program fees accessible to entrepreneurs, we are grateful for the generosity of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

 

How long has the SII been operating?

We launched in 2010.

 

What kinds of ventures do you work with?

We work with entrepreneurs who are launching startups for the purpose of creating social impact. According to Steve Blank, a startup is an organization in search of a business model. We also work with intrapreneurs, individuals who are launching startup initiatives within established organizations. The ventures created can be for-profit or nonprofit and should sell products or services as their main source of revenue (even if some income is expected to come from donations).

 

What are your results?

We conduct a yearly survey of our members and graduates. Visit our SII page to read our latest impacts report, or click here to read about SII graduates and members.

 

Do you provide funding or take equity?

We help our client entrepreneurs develop companies worth funding. We often connect them with funding sources or help them access capital in other ways. We have given cash awards. We have not taken equity or ownership.

 

If I’m not a member of the SII, do you have other resources to help me with my venture?

We love meeting with entrepreneurs who are trying to change the world. But as a small team, dependent largely on busy and talented volunteers, our time is quickly consumed by the needs of our member clients. While we try to address as many requests for assistance as possible, we must charge for consulting services. Please contact us for rates.

We also provide a listing of resources on our website, as well as learning opportunities through public events and workshops and curated article postings. You can find tips and opportunities in our email newsletter (sent about once a quarter), LinkedIn Group, Twitter feed or Facebook page. Take your pick!

 

How can I learn more about your programs besides applying for membership?

Like our Facebook page, join our LinkedIn group and sign up for our email newsletter.

 

Questions about the SII Circuit Program

What is the SII Circuit Program?

The Social Innovation Incubator (SII) Circuit Program is a six-month incubation program that seeks to help you become a leader of social change. Small group meetings every other week alternate between workshops delivered by local experts and facilitated peer-mentoring sessions. The program uses the Lean Startup methodology, Business Model Canvas, and customer discovery process to guide development of successful social enterprises.

 

Is it only for Portland State University students?

Not at all! We welcome PSU students, alumni and people completely unrelated to PSU. We have found that the diversity and interplay between campus and the community benefits everyone.

 

When and where does it take place?

The program meets in beautiful downtown Portland at the School of Business Administration nine times between January and June, from 7:30-10:30am on Friday mornings. Those who successfully complete the program are invited to participate in the Social Innovation Expo and Demo Day (formerly Pitch Fest) in June. We also provide optional, periodic evening socials and workshops. Please see the brochure on this page for dates and details.

Members who successfully graduate from the program are invited to future educational events and celebrations.

 

How do I apply?

The selection process is quite extensive. We want to find the best and most dedicated entrepreneurs. Applications take place in the fall. Please see the brochure on this page for details.

 

What are your criteria for selection?

·       Social Impact. For the SII, the potential for social impact comes first. This does not mean we go easy on the fundamentals — your enterprise must be viable — but you don’t have to be the next Google or Facebook unless that is the business strategy that will help you maximize your social impact. How we measure social impact also depends on the problem. Some social enterprises address very specific and significant problems, and for them, focusing on scale may not be as important as focusing on depth or eliminating a root cause.

·       Enterprise models. We’re looking for enterprises: organizations that sell products and/or services. For-profits or nonprofits with earned income strategies are both welcome to apply.

·       Fit. We want the experience to be good for you and for us. Our resources and values should be a good match for yours.

·       Commitment. Show us that you are ready to take your idea forward and that you are serious about succeeding. We want to help you get there. 

·       Respect and integrity. Be honest with yourself and with us. Applicants must also demonstrate a deep commitment to their concept, a willingness to accept coaching, and openness to sharing and problem solving with their peers in the Circuit Program.

 

What can I expect to learn?

The Circuit Program sessions are in-depth and tailored to the needs of social entrepreneurs. With a team of coaches, mentors and like-minded entrepreneurs at your side, you'll learn about business law, planning and strategy, marketing and sales, financial estimates, impact measurement and other essential skills, all with an emphasis on the unique approach of social entrepreneurs. Program graduates who put in the work will take away new skills, the ability to give a concise pitch about their venture, and a supportive network of peers and mentors.

 

Why should I apply for the SII Circuit Program?

It’s simple: You’re ready to take the next step and you want to do it in a supportive environment that understands social entrepreneurs. We won’t make you successful. Only you can do that. Our goals are to help you get there faster and to save you mistakes, time and misery. Plus, you’ll be in good company and be able to help a great group of other entrepreneurs make a difference.

 

Who oversees the program and leads the sessions?

The Social Innovation Incubator’s Founder and Director, Cindy Cooper, is a successful social entrepreneur, intrapreneur and educator who has started and run businesses since high school.

Our Ames Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship, Jacen Greene, holds an MBA in sustainable business and has worked with social entrepreneurs in India, Cambodia, Latin America, and the United States.

Our core volunteer coaches are both experienced business owners:  Brenda Eichelberger is a full-time instructor of business at PSU and Tichelle Sorensen is an attorney who also teaches business law at PSU and the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

We bring in mentors and subject matter experts to advise our members.

Peer mentoring is a core component and the heart of this program. Entrepreneurs can be each others’ greatest allies during the program and long after it ends.

 

How much does it cost?

The Circuit Program costs $600, or about $20 per meeting hour. That is less than it costs us to run the program. We try very hard to make the program accessible and are grateful to PSU and the volunteers, donors and sponsors who make our low rates possible.

 

Are there scholarships or discounts?

A limited number of need-based scholarships are available to students. Students will have the opportunity to apply for scholarships during the program application process.

Entrepreneurs should expect to pay for quality services. We are entrepreneurs too, and we know money is a huge consideration. That’s why we work to keep the price at a very accessible $20 per meeting hour. We are also happy to help members accepted into the program with their own crowdfunding campaigns, should they choose to launch one.

 

Do I have to give up equity in my company to participate?

No. You retain full control over your venture.

 

Who can attend the sessions?

Up to two founders can attend the nine monthly sessions. One founder must attend at least six of nine monthly sessions to graduate and qualify for participation in the Social Innovation Expo and Demo Day (formerly the SII Pitch Fest).

 

I’m still not sure: Should I apply to join the SII Circuit Program?

You should be able to answer YES to all of the following questions. Are you:

·       Obsessed with a business idea that will make the world a better place?

·       Open to taking a hard look at your ideas and making them better?

·       Addicted to improving lives?

·       Bored when things are easy?

·       Respectful of others and able to take responsibility for your decisions?

To take the next step and apply for the 2013 Circuit Program, start here.

Learn more about current and past members of the Circuit Program at our members and graduates page.

 

Questions about the SII Vector Program

Is it only for Portland State University students?

Not at all! We welcome PSU students, alumni, and community members completely unrelated to PSU. We have found that the diversity and interplay between campus and the community benefits everyone.

 

What types of ventures are a good fit?

The Vector Program is focused on social enterprises with an established business model that are currently generating revenue and/or hold significant, proven IP.  We admit ventures with a focus in one or more of the following areas:

·       Poverty alleviation

·       Human climate change resilience

·       Access to education (especially for minorities, children, refugees, and disadvantaged populations)

·       Access to healthcare (especially for minorities, children, refugees, and disadvantaged populations)

·       Social equity

 

How do I apply?

The Vector Program is by invitation only. Interested entrepreneurs are encouraged to contact Impact Entrepreneurs to discuss their venture’s fit for the program.

 

When and where does it take place?

Your office, our office, coffee shops, pubs—wherever and whenever is convenient for you (although we generally like to reserve most weekends and evenings for our families). Because the Vector Program is tailored to meet the needs of each participant, we work with you to set meeting times and locations that works best for you.

 

What are the benefits?

Vector Program coaches will help you overcome obstacles, connect with resources, and identify opportunities to help your venture grow and succeed. In the past, we’ve helped members prepare successful investor pitches, develop financial projections, organize crowdfunding campaigns, write business plans, measure social and environmental impact, and obtain loans. Whatever your needs, we’ll either help you directly or connect you to someone who can through our extensive network of subject area experts.

 

Who oversees the program?

The Social Innovation Incubator’s Founder and Director, Cindy Cooper, is a successful social entrepreneur, intrapreneur and educator who has started and run businesses since high school.

Our Ames Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship, Jacen Greene, holds an MBA in sustainable business and has worked with social entrepreneurs in India, Cambodia, Latin America, and the United States.

 

Who leads the sessions?

Either Cindy Cooper or Jacen Greene will serve as your lead contact, although both of them attend many of the sessions. They will also bring in topical experts to address specific issues, as needed, or make the necessary introductions.

 

How much does it cost?                 

The Vector Program costs $1200 a year, or $100 a month. In exchange, members receive two hours of personalized consulting each month, access to member workshops and networking events, and become a part of the larger Impact Entrepreneurs community in Portland.

 

Are there scholarships or discounts?

Because of the cost of staff time involved, we are unable to offer discounts or scholarships. We believe that entrepreneurs should expect to pay for quality services. We are entrepreneurs too, and we know money is a huge consideration. That’s why we work very hard to keep the price below cost at $100 per month, or $50 per hour. Additional consulting hours can be requested at any time for special projects at the same discounted rate. We are grateful to PSU and our donors who enable us to provide this program at a subsidized cost.

 

Who can attend the sessions?

We expect that one or more of your organization’s founders will attend each session, but we also encourage you to bring any staff members who may also benefit from participation.

Learn more about current and past members of the Vector Program at our members and graduates page.