A Commitment to Innovation and a Bias to Action
Babson graduates appreciate profits as much as the next businessperson. They embrace risk and thrive on ambiguity, just as graduates from other schools do. What sets Babson people apart in business are a commitment to innovation and a bias to action that spring from the mindset of the entrepreneur, and these are not limited strictly to private-sector ventures. Social innovation and social action also thrive in the Babson culture.
The Babson Social Innovation Lab for Collaborative Solutions, part of the Lewis Institute, draws together an interdisciplinary, global community of students and mentors, who listen, learn, integrate, and collaborate for a better world. The Innovation Lab is new, but the spirit of social innovation already has a history at Babson. Here are three stories of Babson people who use their business education for the benefit of social good.
Hosting a Benefit
Cloud Jolt is the venture of three Babson students, Alex Friedberg ’12 and Gus Ba ’11, who grew a Web-hosting business out of their hobbies in Web design and development. With fellow student John Rioux ’14, they added a socially responsible component to the business plan: a guarantee that 25 percent of all revenue from any client is dedicated to their designated charity ... forever.
Speaking for the team, Friedberg describes how they quickly took different roles. “Gus is the CEO and he handles operations. I’m the finance person, and I’ve recently taken over business development. John handles the marketing. Of course, with exams and other projects, there are times in the semester when we have to handle each other’s jobs.”
Web hosting is a fragmented, competitive business, and with the help of experienced entrepreneur mentors at Babson, Ba, Friedberg, and Rioux realized that they needed to narrow their market focus. They concentrated on entrepreneurs, a strategy successfully executed by Babson graduates at Grasshopper.
It’s a familiar market, says Friedberg. “We know that entrepreneurs don’t have time to deal with Web design and site migrations and all that. They’re focusing on their ventures.” As for signing up charity partners, the Cloud Jolt team found the nonprofits wanted to partner with them for visibility as well as donations.
Cloud Jolt’s combination of entrepreneur focus and social consciousness is off to a fast start. They signed up 59 active clients and 10 benefactor charities in the early months. They gained recognition out of proportion to their size, having been featured by Bostinnovation and Young Upstarts. They made it to the finalist round of presenters at Mass Innovation Nights with the highest number of votes, and, in the summer of 2011, they were chosen to grow their business as part of the Babson Venture Accelerator program’s Hatcheries. Not a bad start for three undergraduates who still occasionally have to share each other’s jobs.
A Web of Support
Johanna Crawford ’80 was not your typical Babson undergrad. After supporting her husband while he earned his degree, the mother of two decided to work part time on an undergraduate degree at Babson. After graduating, she spent two decades starting, running, and finally selling companies near Boston.
Johanna Crawford ’80
Photo: Tom Kates
During those decades a deeper voice called her to work with victims of domestic violence. She had grown up in Philadelphia with an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who, she says, “had no means of escape.” In 1985, Crawford enrolled in a 40-hour certificate program to work with victims of domestic violence at Transition House in Cambridge, Mass.
One day, a woman in the shelter asked Crawford for $40. She explained that she had escaped her situation so quickly she had no documentation, and she needed $40 to obtain a copy of her birth certificate. At that moment, Crawford envisioned a nonprofit organization that would provide grants to women who have left an abusive household. In 2004, she sold her personal art collection for seed funding and started Web of Benefit.
Babson’s influence is easy to see in Web of Benefit’s operations. Each woman seeking a grant must describe her biggest dream and also the steps and goals that will get her there. Grantees must estimate the cost of the first step (not unlike a business plan). After women receive grants, Web of Benefit’s unique pay-it-forward philosophy requires each grantee to do three good works, on whatever level she is capable, for other women in need. Crawford hired Babson interns to help with operations and IT, and two former interns, Sean Deane ’08 and Suzanne Giovangelo ’09 now sit on the Web of Benefit’s Board of Directors.
By February 2011, Web of Benefit had made 720 grants, and expanded to Chicago. With an easily replicated business model, Crawford is targeting expansion to Atlanta, Houston, and Detroit.
Crawford says social entrepreneurship should not be equated with taking a vow of poverty, and she encourages current Babson students to rethink this stereotype. She responds with an example of how Web of Benefit partners with other organizations to maximize their positive impact on the lives of domestic violence survivors. Crawford adds, “One person can make a difference. With collaboration and partnership, you can change the world.”
Michael Guerrero ’12
Michael Guerrero ’12 of Miami knew he wanted to work on Wall Street. When he heard about social entrepreneurship as a Babson undergraduate he was more than skeptical; he thought nonprofit ventures were scams.
A conversion was to come. Guerrero already was passionate about helping a small town 1,800 miles from Miami. He had traveled to Mindo, Ecuador, in 2006 to work with the charity Miracle of Mindo, delivering supplies to the local school and orphanage. In the summer of 2009, Guerrero prepared to lead 30 younger students back to Mindo. One of the donors asked him to raise $2,500 for the nonprofit venture.
“The request came six days before we left,” he recalls. “The kids and I organized a car wash, a garage sale, and got a restaurant to donate 10 percent of their revenues for one night to us. By Monday night, I had raised $3,500.”
In Mindo, Guerrero studied the school and orphanage through the eyes of a business school student. He decided that better operations would help. “I got very close to the caretaker of the orphanage,” he says. “I thought about sustainability and how to make things run more efficiently.”
Guerrero visited the village coffee fields, which also were underutilized due to a lack of funds to pay workers. He saw potential in the fields, in sustainable chicken coops, and tilapia pools. Soon, he was working with numerous ventures in the town, teaching residents to maximize profits by leveraging resources at hand. The extra $1,000 he brought could be invested in many dormant opportunities—not donated, but invested.
“The $1,000 paid for everything from seed, to tools, to full-time pay. In two months, it paid itself off,” says Guerrero. “The first month they made a $500 profit, and they’ve been earning $1,200 a month after that.” The profits from Guerrero’s system of coffee fields, chicken nurseries, and tilapia pools also are completely sustainable. Chickens provide meat for the children in the orphanage and also gave them additional products that they could sell.
“They went from barely being able to afford coffee, to earning $1,200 a month in the new setup. And, I learned that you really can help the world and make money at the same time. My friends and family thought I was nuts to pursue my interest in social entrepreneurship, but that became my new career choice.”
At the end of the summer, Guerrero returned to Babson determined to continue his pursuit of social entrepreneurship. He found a small but growing number of faculty and students who shared his interest. Today, he continues to create new ventures that are mission-driven. He attributes his change of heart to the courses he took and also “breathing in the Babson air, that breath of motivation.”