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SPU Graduate Competition Judge Shares Insight

A few weeks ago, Seattle Pacific University’s School of Business, Government and Economics hosted a graduate-level social enterprise competition. It was a group contest allowing students to pitch a social enterprise idea to an audience of business men and women with the goal to receive funding to launch. Each group had seven minutes to pitch its idea before judges evaluated them. For Matt Overton, a full-time ordained minister, small business owner and judge, “it was a phenomenal experience,” he said in a blog.

Overton was just one of many judges invited to the competition. Others included senior business executives who had worked at such prestigious companies as Disney and Microsoft, as well as a woman who had left a lucrative tech career to launch her own social enterprise business. In such prestigious company, Overton felt like a fish out of water. “My social enterprise felt remarkably humble, and my business experience felt absent,” he shared.

Overton is the owner of a small landscaping company that employs around six people. But while his business may be small, “this is my third social enterprise gathering that I have gone to and about the fifth venue that I have been to where I have discussed the intersection of faith and business. I am learning some important things I think about this world,” he explained. In fact, Overton walked away with four key takeaways.

  1. Passion

During the competition, the judges asked each group about its product or idea and, in particular, Overton asked, “Tell me why you are passionate about this?” He was surprised by how few people had prepared for that question. For Overton, launching any venture is going to require “a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears,” which is why passion for the idea is critical.

  1. Experience Is Key

Through the numerous competitions that Overton has been a part of, he’s come to believe that graduate students with “life under their belts are best.” In his experience, grad students have enough experience and education to know how to launch an idea. “I was impressed at Seattle Pacific that their ideas seemed big, but doable,” he said.

  1. Don’t Forget the Ordinary

Too often, people think that their ideas have to be massive in scale or disrupt an entire industry. However, Overton believes that it’s small ideas that can make the biggest difference. “Find something you are good at and offer it to the public with greater social value and people will prefer to buy your services over your competitor as long as the service is excellent and you can show them the impact in some way,” he recommended.

  1. Consider the Good

Social enterprise is an immersive experience. It takes time. Too many programs and individuals are so anxious to get started that they choose to innovate in the area they know, instead of in the area where they can do the most good. “When our primary goal is ideating and producing, it will tend to produce ideas that we are not fully connected to and that probably will not be as effective at serving the common good,” he said. “We need to work on ideas that we know and care about in places that we know and care about.”

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Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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