Students in a pioneering credit-bearing elective course at the HKUST Business School learn how investment in social enterprises can help society. By bringing students, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists together, the new teaching model enables students to contribute their ideas and skills to real businesses while making socially responsible investment. The course is open to both undergraduate and postgraduate students of all majors at HKUST.
With the support of the Yeh Family Philanthropy (YFP), HKUST Business School started the course “Social Entrepreneurship & Venture Philanthropy” in 2013 to provide students with a real-life training platform where they can act as a consultant for an entrepreneurial company and a potential investor. A dedicated Student Directed Venture Philanthropy Fund of HK$500,000 was created to identify and invest in sustainable social businesses that can solve the need in the community. Students are given the opportunity not only to work with social enterprises to deliver projects of social value and sustainable return, but also to be an integral part of an independent judging panel which includes industry expert and faculty members in making the funding decision.
Prof Christine Chow, Adjunct Associate Professor at HKUST Business School and the course instructor, said, “The course provides an exceptional opportunity for students to come face-to-face with practitioners in the industries and learn factors that underpin their business developments. With the funding, the students work closely with their partnered enterprises towards a common goal – to help address the social and environmental problems faced by the society; they support bootstrapped impact businesses to grow.”
Mrs Yvette Yeh Fung, Chair of YFP, said, “It is the essence of what the YFP Grants Committee thought would be the most effective platform was needed to introduce and develop the venture philanthropy and social entrepreneurship space, specifically because of the interdisciplinary and active engagement elements. We are delighted that we found an educational institution open, flexible and innovative enough to work with us to make this happen.”
The course combines lectures, expert experience-sharing sessions and partnership work with social businesses. Following a three-month coaching on social entrepreneurship and impact investing, students will be divided into groups, each of which will represent a shortlisted social enterprise to present a business plan and a funding proposal at a pitch competition. After the competition, all student teams will be given a choice to join the funded enterprise to put together the implementation plan or to remain in their original teams to continue working with their partners on alternative financing plans.
This year, the team, with members of undergraduates and postgraduates, partnering with a green startup HK Recycles won the pitch competition and a grant of HK$250,000 to expand its recycling logistics business. The funding will be used for marketing and advertising, buying equipment and hiring more socially disadvantaged people to help collect wastes for recycling purposes. Their financial and social impact analysis estimates that by 2015, a further 7,500 people will sign up for the company’s waste collecting service, thus helping alleviate the pressure on the much-debated landfills in the city.
Mr Brian Mak, General Manager of HK Recycles, said, “It was a pleasure to work with the HKUST students on this project. They made a huge contribution to the project’s financial planning, marketing, and impact analysis. Through their work, we were able to financially quantify the benefit of our service when factoring in social impact and our value proposition to investors. I would highly recommend any social impact business to consider participating in this course and working with a team of bright students.”
After a two-year pilot, the School plans to enrich the content of the course further with more topic-driven interactive discussions. Besides, more pitching practices will be incorporated to help students develop the skills required in identifying and working with businesses with a mission to build a caring community.