WCC launches new program to serve social impact businesses

Washtenaw Community College’s (WCC) Entrepreneurship Center has launched a new program to support social impact-minded businesses. The SERVE: Social Impact program, launched in October, offers one-on-one mentoring with industry experts, a social impact business pitch competition, webinars, and other online resources. 

SERVE is free to all community members and made possible by a recent private individual donation.

"We had someone who was watching our work and who was very pleased with what we're doing. They wanted the funds to specifically support people who are helping other people in our community," says Kristin Gapske, Entrepreneurship Center director. 

Gapske says she's excited about the potential impact of the new initiative. While the Entrepreneurship Center has been providing support to local entrepreneurs for about seven years, the SERVE program will provide a pathway for more targeted programming. The center will now be able to hone in on supporting mission-oriented people who want to start a social enterprise or a nonprofit.

"Maybe someone has a small arts-related project that supports the community and needs business guidance," Gapske said. "Or, maybe someone has a food-related, for-profit business and wants to figure out how to give back to the community through Food Gatherers or something similar."

To support the new program, WCC has hired two new Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs) who are experts in the social impact space. As one of the two new EIRs, Millie Chu, CEO of Global Entrepreneurship Business Lab, helped to kick off SERVE's launch by leading a webinar in October. The event focused on how to successfully leverage resources, systems, and solutions. 

The center's second new EIR, grant writer and environmental artist Leslie Sobel, led a second opening webinar, which focused on demystifying grants and crowdfunding. That event was even more widely attended, which Gapske describes as an indicator that the "subject matter really strikes a nerve in the community."

"Going for any kind of grant is a difficult process, and learning the basics is really important," Gapske says. "Since the pandemic, there are definitely more targeted individual grants, such as grants for the [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] or the LGBTQ communities, and people want to know more."

Anyone who missed the webinars can email the Entrepreneurship Center at entrepreneurship@wccnet.edu for links to recordings of the sessions. Also online is SERVE's "Start Your Own Nonprofit or Social Enterprise Resource Guide." Created with the help of campus librarians, users can learn the nuts and bolts at their own speed from the convenience of their homes.

Gaspke says another webinar is in the works. She's especially looking forward to the pitch competition, which will be held next winter. 

"In the meantime, people should definitely meet our new EIRs," Gapske says. "They're full of knowledge and available to sit down not only with entrepreneurs in the social impact space, but with anyone in the community who wants their guidance."

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of WCC.
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