Tackling social change through business

Social Venture Plan Competition empowers student’s to make meaningful impact

Julia Herman and Tori McArthur

“Thanks for ruining my college career,” a student told Mark Oppenlander when discussing how the rest of his college career compared to his involvement in the annual business competition at Seattle Pacific University. 

Oppenlander, the director of the Center for Applied Learning, continued the Social Venture Kick-Off event Thursday, Nov. 14 by telling interested competitors how this single event has the ability to impact not just business students. 

This year’s 14th annual Social Venture Plan Competition invites students from diverse backgrounds and majors to join together and create business plans to create products that impact society in the social realm through helping marginalized groups or the environment. 

Oppenlander refers to these ideas as, “an enterprise that pursues both social and financial bottom lines and tackles a social need in a financially stable way using business methods.”

The School of Business, Government and Economics and the Center for Applied Learning compile their resources to award students who place first and second, along with a People’s Choice winner and Herbert B. Jones Grand Prize, over $15,000 in prize money to move forward with their business plan.

Students involved in the competition are asked to draw teams of two to six people who, together, form a business plan which includes financials, marketing and purpose for their product. 

Whether a group is composed of interdisciplinary students or business-minded majors, students are encouraged to branch out and find a team that is connected through a common passion. 

Gracie Brown, who was part of the team Evity in last year’s competition, discusses how taking part in this contest has given her a lot of experience in the world of business specific to her passions. 

“Most people do not already have business plans and don’t have their school investing money in their ventures,” Brown said. “It gives you a lot to talk about when you’re networking or in interviews.” 

Her team spearheaded the difficult journey in finding employment for refugee women with a flexible schedule. The project focused on creating refugee-made undergarments for women who are finding a place after settling into a new environment that allows them to work from home.


Brown hopes to continue this venture in the future with the money awarded from the People’s Choice Award of $1000.

Soren Stime, a veteran competitor, wished for more diversity in his two-person group focussing on an emergency services product titled the “Human BlackBox.” 

“A two-person team is something I would not do again,” Stime said.

“Building the plan, we worked really well together. But I studied management, Jonnie (partner) studied management, Dr. Franz — who was helping us — teaches management. So we didn’t have any diversity in that which really hurt us.”

Previous teams, recalled by Oppenlander, have been made up of the following departments: nursing, engineering, communication studies and global development — all bringing valuable frames of mind to the table. 

In addition to the allocation of prize money, students can get credit in their social venture plan through a class offered during winter quarter. 

Social Venture Planning (BUS3682), a three-credit class, outlines the process of the work required while also giving tips and testimonies from local business people. 

Two prospective SPU students and high school freshmen Mike Hagen and Linsay Rosenthal, future economics and business majors who attended this information session, were curious about the competition and eager to come up with an idea. 

“We are interested but we are not quite sure what we want to do yet. We have some ideas but nothing set in stone yet,” Rosenthal said. 

Whether ideas flow freely or one is curious about the competition itself, Oppenlander invites students from all departments to attend one of the class sessions and brainstorm social venture ideas. 

Oppenlander discussed how students in the past have wanted to create social change, whether it be related to homelessness or the environment, but did not know where to start with it. This is the place to do so, according to Oppenlander.

“Win, lose — students learn something about it,” he said.