Changemaking Capstone Course Sparks Creation of Socially Conscious Businesses Although the free market isn’t typically thought of as the starting point for social change, Miami Dade College Professor Rahnuma Ahsan likes to begin her business capstone course by posing a question to her students: If you won the PowerBall lottery tomorrow, what would you do with the money? That simple question has led to the existence of multiple socially conscious businesses whose concepts were fleshed out in Ahsan’s classroom. “Students can design a restaurant, a laundromat, a tutoring business – something general,” said Ahsan, who teaches social entrepreneurship as part of the capstone course of MDC’s baccalaureate business program. “In my course, I say profit is a means to an end, not the end itself. The businesses must address social or environmental issues, but also must be profitable.” Ahsan designed the course, which requires students to create a viable business plan, as part of the Ashoka U Changemaker designation process. In 2015, MDC became the first college or university in Florida to win that exclusive honor. “Creating the business plan and preparing the financials for my startup was invaluable to me because financial planning and budgeting are integral for starting any business,” said Alejandro Leon, who completed the capstone in spring 2017. For his business Reef Bed, a coral regenerating and restoration venture, Leon preserves damaged corals and nurses them back to health in aquariums until they are ready to be sold. “To this day, I still look at my financial plans that were created during that course,” Leon said. Reef Bed has been accepted to participate in the 2017 Clinton Global Initiative in October. The venture was featured in The Idea Center’s 2017 Startup Challenge along with ElevateU, another business that was born in Ahsan’s capstone course. ElevateU, a sports clinic for recovering addicts, was the second runner-up winner. ElevateU was developed as the result of a personal tragedy experienced by one of its founders. Christopher Gonzalez, who graduated from MDC in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in supervision and management, lost a close friend to a drug overdose six years ago. “I told myself that, in his name, I would start a business, go to school and be successful,” Gonzalez said. “I had an incomplete idea. The business capstone course helped me develop a pitch and make the concept viable and sustainable.” ElevateU aims to establish a positive social network for participants by engaging them in team sports and providing them with nutrition and financial literacy education. Gonzalez held a pilot run with 15 MDC students over the summer and is currently searching for sponsorship in order to make the program free for participants. As both Leon and Gonzalez work to establish their businesses, they can look to another former Ahsan student for inspiration. MDC alumnus Taj Mohamed was the first-place winner of the 2017 Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch Contest for the extra- large, waterproof (and environmentally friendly) baby bibs sold by his company, Toppy Toddler USA. Toppy Toddler USA took in more than $110,000 in revenue in 2016 and continues to grow. – AP
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