Growing social entrepreneurs and innovative community solutions
// By Jacqueline Brennan
Mihai Patru could not have imagined that the “seed” planted during a discussion with changemakers in Detroit would sprout into an incubator for budding social innovators and be featured during a workshop on empowering emerging grassroots entrepreneurs at Upswell LA!
Patru is Senior Policy Fellow at University of California, Riverside and co-founder of the Caravanserai Project, a nonprofit that provides the structure, accountability, specialized skillsets, and supportive network connections to help emerging social entrepreneurs grow and develop their innovative ideas into solutions to address long-standing community challenges.
“With the support of Independent Sector leadership, Caravanserai Project brought together some of the country’s most dynamic actors in the social impact sector for a roundtable in Detroit to brainstorm about ways to support social entrepreneurs at the grassroots level,” according to Mihai. Out of that discussion grew The SEED Lab, a ten-month pre-accelerator for early stage social entrepreneurs in Southern California developed by Caravanserai Project in collaboration with the Center for Social Innovation at UC-Riverside, and Independent Sector.
“One year later, we were able to bring the inaugural SEED Lab cohort to Upswell, and we hope to continue partnering with IS and include future cohorts as part of this movement,” he said.
The inaugural SEED Lab of nine social entrepreneurs has incubated seven early-stage ventures. Two members of the first SEED Lab cohort were panelists for the Upswell LA workshop, “Incubating Grassroots Social Entrepreneurship,” where they participated in a “pitch session” to test their ideas and receive feedback from workshop attendees.
Dr. JerMara Davis-Welch is Founder and Executive Director of The Supermodel Society, which encourages underserved African American and Latino youth to explore and expand their entrepreneurial potential. Formerly a model, she believes that while fashion supermodels are celebrated and defined by their appearance, true supermodels are characterized by what they do. Her pilot project, which launched in 2018, focuses on developing curricula and programs that teach entrepreneurial literacy and economic principles to help increase successful business ownership among marginalized groups.
“Upswell provided me with an insider’s view of the nonprofit world and allowed me to see and experience the great work that many organizations are doing,” she said. “Presenting my social enterprise as part of the pitch session was a great opportunity not only to engage in a constructive conversation with other changemakers and receive feedback, it was also a great platform to share my mission to support teens from African American and Latino communities in the Riverside area and help them become confident in their abilities to start their own businesses.”
Marylou Adriatico also participated in the workshop’s pitch session. She is co-founder and Program Director of The Seed Program, a comprehensive support network for youth in foster care based on mentorship, community, and awareness. She and her co-founder, Joseph Posadas, started their grassroots organization in their hometown of Moreno Valley, and faced the system barriers that often confront communities of predominantly low-income people of color.
Marylou said, “We had to build and run our program with minimal resources and connections, which often left us feeling defeated, unrecognized, and unimportant. But we continue to push through those barriers because every youth in foster care deserves a safe space to grow socially, emotionally, and educationally.
“Because of these challenges, a gathering such as Upswell is so important for organizations like ours because it is a window to opportunities and possibilities. Upswell allowed us to engage with individuals from organizations from around the nation, equipping us with new networks and relationships, potential resources, and ideas to help us build for the future.”
Registration for Upswell Chicago is now open, and planning continues to ensure lots of activities that will encourage the type of positive social collisions that are benefiting Caravanserai Project’s incubator ventures.
Join changemakers who’ll be making lasting connections, forging new partnerships, exchanging lessons learned, and sharing innovative approaches that can help you achieve your mission better.
Debra Rainey is manager of communications at Independent Sector.