A quarter of business school applicants globally have dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. And more and more graduates are lending their business acumen to social enterprises.
In fact, 12% of prospective students globally are now considered Impactful Innovators; entrepreneurs motivated by social impact rather than financial gain.
In the UK, there are more than 470, 000 social enterprises, employing an impressive 1.44 million people.
Adeseye Lawal-Solarin followed this example and, in 2018, launched Mentor Dojo (formerly Young & Giving), an online platform that connects millennials from underprivileged backgrounds with accredited mentors in a variety of industries, to provide career advice, support, and employment opportunities.
He graduated from Durham University Business School in 2017 with a Master’s in Management (MiM) and while the experience was instrumental in helping develop his business, Adeseye’s passion to propel social mobility started when he was much younger.
Adeseye’s mum came to the UK as a refugee and he grew up in a single-parent low-income household in London. At age 16, after falling in with the wrong crowd, he was stabbed in a gang-related incident.
The experience was a catalyst to turn his life around.
“My mum threatened to send me to Nigeria,” Adeseye explains. “I heard her on the phone to a boarding school there and that’s when I realized things had to change.”
Adeseye arrived at Durham—after graduating from the University of Leicester with a degree in economics—wanting to go into social enterprise consultancy.
During his MiM, the New Venture Creation module—a team exercise in creating and presenting a business model—inspired him to focus on starting up a business of his own after graduation. “The experience gave me a strong grasp of the business model canvas. Everything from value proposition, branding, funding, and marketing,” he explains.
In 2017, Adeseye attended SensAbility; the largest social enterprise conference in Europe, hosted at WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management in Germany. “I left feeling energized and with a much sharper idea of my startup,” he enthuses.
Tom Szaky, the founder of multinational recycling company TerraCycle, spoke at SensAbility and is now Adeseye’s mentor. The network Adeseye struck up at business school subsequently led to substantial investment in Mentor Dojo.
Discussing why social impact is gaining momentum in the business world, Adeseye explains that people expect more from businesses now. “Being associated with positive social change provides benefits for a company’s brand—this is what has led to CSR becoming more important for corporates.”
“Most importantly,” he continues, “the magnitude of social problems, like social mobility, and the power of entrepreneurship to be used to tackle them is immense. In a nutshell, young adults from unrepresented backgrounds are struggling to get in and get on in the workplace.”
According to 2018 research by the Resolution Foundation, having a degree doesn’t end pay discrepancies facing BAME workers, with black male graduates suffering most.
Mentor Dojo aims to level the playing field. “We can use mentoring to empower young adults to pursue their career aspirations regardless of their socio-economic background,” Adeseye asserts.
Lilia Stoyanov is another business school graduate mixing business acumen with a passion to propel those frequently left behind in the jobs market.
She graduated from the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School with a Diploma in Financial Strategy in 2016, and during her time there also launched Transformify, a global recruitment platform focused on inclusion.
It was when working as European director at Coca-Cola, seeing the impact that mass redundancies due to automation were having that Lilia realized there was a gap in the market for flexible and remote work.
Transformify operates virtually in over 150 countries, providing job opportunities to those who struggle with traditional work formats—such as single parents with young or disabled children—and allowing over 300 businesses to access untapped talent.
It’s currently running a program in a Peruvian detention center, training detainees in soft skills, providing online work, and lining up jobs for their release; ensuring they don’t have to return to crime to survive.
Transformify’s #RebuildLives initiative provides refugees with the opportunity and support to become self-employed, working online to provide a sustainable source of independent income wherever they’re based.
“We deny the opportunity for many to work and then call them a burden because they depend on benefits,” says Lilia. “This doesn’t have to be the case.”
From Oxford Saïd, Lilia says she can better understand the competitive startup landscape and how to identify your advantages when you’re entering a new market. The network Lilia cultivated during her time at b-school has also helped her fund the project.
“Going to business school helps you to avoid the traps of failure that it’s easy to fall into when you’re creating your own business,” she says.
“Education is everything. It’s helped me start Transformify which itself helps others develop economic independence.”
Adhikar and Aakarsh Naidu are two brothers who both studied business at London School of Economics. Adhikar graduated in 2017 with a Master in Management and Innovation, and Aakarsh left in 2011 with a Masters in Management and Human Resources.
Now, they’ve returned to India to create Startupreneur, an educational venture that nurtures budding entrepreneurs interested in social enterprise. “There’s a crucial gap between wanting to start up and implementing—incubating this talent is consequently a gap in the market, especially in India where there’s so much potential,” says Adhikar.
Inspired by their father, also an entrepreneur, Adhikar took the Entrepreneurship specialization during his masters where he gained a comprehensive understanding of global markets, funding, and business models. Aakarsh joined LSE’s Entrepreneurship society and worked for five years with startup incubators after graduation.
“At LSE we learned about the triple bottom line,” he explains, “and how startups shouldn’t just be about making millions but helping millions by solving a genuine problem.”
If you identify a social issue, explain the brothers, and invest in resolving it, people will become interested and you’ll attract funding. This is how sustainable social business models can be created.
Startupreneur has helped projects including an edtech firm focused on preparing students for exams and an app which identifies the quickest routes for ambulances to take to hospitals.
“People likely pursue business education to get a salary increase and a job,” Adhikar concludes, “but it’s also a really useful tool to give back to the community and support and inspire future business leaders.”