At the end of the Contest year after Big Ideas winners receive their awards, students often inquire about the different types of additional support channels they can access to help them continue to implement their projects. When surveyed about the value of the contest and its resources, alumni teams are extremely satisfied with the program and are grateful for its contribution to their ventures. However, over half of alumni teams report the need for additional post-award implementation support. After leaving the contest, teams can often find themselves with a variety of unexpected challenges they don’t feel prepared to confront, and do not know where to turn to for advice.
To fill this gap faced by winning teams, the Blum Center developed several solutions for teams: 1) the opportunity to re-apply to Big Ideas to obtain more seed funding and mentorship support, 2) a list of funding sources, accelerators & incubators, networks, and other resources that students can access on their own, 3) a fast track opportunity to enroll in a Blum Center-offered social innovator course, and 4) crowdfunding support for projects. Additionally, all alumni are added to the Big Ideas newsletter list at the end of each year, where they will continue to receive emails and communication about upcoming opportunities they can access.
Collaborations with Incubator and Accelerator Resources
Despite the rapid increase in the number of incubator or accelerator programs on the UC Berkeley campus (and nationally), these opportunities are still limited relative to the number of teams that compete in Big Ideas. Additionally, most incubator programs have specific areas of focus that limit the number and types of teams that can apply for these start-up programs (software/hardware, for-profit, bioscience, etc.) As a result, historically only a handful of Big Ideas teams have gone on to secure placements in these types of programs.
In an effort to make these types of resources more accessible to students, the Big Ideas team has actively worked to build partnerships and increased collaborations with the growing number of incubators and accelerators on the UC Berkeley campus, within the Bay Area, and nationally. Over the past year Big Ideas formalized partnerships with start-up catalyst programs such as Better Ventures, the CITRIS Foundry and Echoing Green to provide “fast-track” opportunities for Big Ideas teams during the application process. Additionally, Big Ideas increasingly is collaborating with on-campus incubators (SkyDeck, Foundry, GSVC, LAUNCH, QB3) to host events and opportunities that increase awareness about the start-up resources available to entrepreneurs and to expose them to new networks.
Scaling Up Big Ideas Category
Scaling Up Big Ideas is a category that was implemented in the 2011-2012 contest year to continue to support Big Ideas teams in their ventures. After implementing their projects and gathering feedback on their project ideas, winning teams often are ready to expand their projects to additional communities, develop solutions to related problems, or otherwise scale their projects. Acknowledging that the initial award provided to winners is probably insufficient in helping alumni reach their next goals, Big Ideas opened up the Scaling Up category to allow former winners to apply for more seed funding for their projects, and access the topic area experts in the Big Ideas and Blum Center networks.
The Scaling Up category is open to all matriculated undergraduate and graduate students who previously won a Big Ideas award but have not previously won a Scaling Up award. In addition to following the same requirements asked of other Big Ideas categories, former winners must demonstrate that they have generated excellent results in implementing their original winning project idea, and describe plans to scale their project. Like all other teams competing in Big Ideas, Scaling Up contestants must submit a Pre-proposal and a Full Proposal to convince judges that their projects have made enough progress to justify another round of funding.
The category has numerous benefits. It continues to provide financial support for student-driven projects that struggle to secure external funding. It encourages students to make progress on their social ventures, and to adapt their projects based on lessons learned from the first few years. Scaling Up also helps to deepen the relationship between the Big Ideas program and its winners, and allows staff to track progress of its awardees over multiple years.
Social Innovator OnRamp Resource Guide
There is a rapidly growing body of resources available to help aspiring social innovators grow sustainable and effective initiatives. But the networks are fragmented, and it can be difficult for new innovators to find what they need. Thus, the Blum Center compiled the Social Innovator OnRamp Resource Guide to help the more than 3,500 students who have participated in the social innovation competition.
The website curates a wide range of resources for early-stage social innovators, whether they are community organizers, social entrepreneurs, or people in industry, the social sector, and academia. It showcases funding and training resources, key organizations that are shaping the social impact movement, and links to reports, debates, and analysis. There are also resources for “second stage” social impact organizations focused on creating realistic strategies for growth. The website also allows students to filter the results according to geographic location, eligibility, key deadlines, and resource type. In order to effectively crowdsource information, the website also lets innovators recommend resources to other teams.
Social Innovator OnRamp Course
The UC Berkeley Social Innovator OnRamp Course was piloted in Fall 2014. It was immediately over-enrolled in its first semester, illustrating the high level of demand for early-stage innovator resources. The class is structured as a “scaffold” of key skills and concepts useful for budding entrepreneurs, and allows students to spend time furthering their ventures with the guidance and input of external experts and mentors.
UC Berkeley Big Ideas winners are offered a “Fast Track Opportunity” into the course, where successful enrollment and completion of the course allows teams to bypass the Pre-proposal application requirement of that year’s Big Ideas contest. The hands-on course introduces students to case work, best practices, and the tools necessary turn ideas for the social sector into viable products and services. Throughout the class, students further shape, evaluate and grow their own projects and ideas with support from instructors. The class also invites guest instructors in the areas of product design, product launch, social enterprise, and social investing.
The Fall 2014 Social Innovator OnRamp consisted of 20 student innovators from 11 teams. The students hailed from 12 fields of study, ranging from first-year undergraduates to fifth-year PhD candidates. The cohort included 60% women innovators. This pilot course yielded profound insights on the needs of student entrepreneurs, including physical workspace, dedicated time built into their course loads and co-learning opportunities for the cohort of teams.
To date, Big Ideas has piloted three different crowdfunding models for Big Ideas teams after they leave the contest. The first was a Big Ideas Marketplace, a bsite from which Big Ideas winners could advertise their projects, and request direct cash and in-kind donations. After a few years, the Marketplace was taken down due to the administrative burden on Big Ideas staff to monitor accounts and process donations, and the continuing challenges with stagnating content. The troublesome design of the platform and a lack of set deadlines to donate, meant that the Marketplace was largely inactive during its lifespan and did not effectively invite donations as intended.
In 2014, Big Ideas piloted an Indiegogo Crowdfunding Campaign, raising $23,745 across seven campaigns over a 37-day period. In this campaign, Big Ideas partnered with Indiegogo to feature some of its top former winners on the crowdsourcing bsite. It targeted its judge, mentor, and alumni networks as major funding sources for the projects.
While the campaign helped teams raise additional funding, there was much room for improvement. Teams’ primary criticisms were a lack of clarity around the support offered through the Big Ideas–Indiegogo partnership, and the extent of the commitment it took to run a compelling campaign. Teams felt that they needed more guidance with online marketing and promotion, and the feedback they received from Indiegogo was insufficient. Some of the teams’ fundraising goals were too high and unrealistic. It was also concluded that the outreach pool was too narrow. Participating teams noted that most of the people that ended up donating– friends, family and other supporters– already had been reached out to in the past. Running seven simultaneous campaigns also led to competition for donations amongst projects.
The UC Berkeley Crowdfunding Initiative, albeit limited to UC Berkeley students, has been the most effective crowdsourcing model. To date, 11 Big Ideas teams have been able to secure $98,103 through the platform (averaging nearly $9,000 per team) over the course of a 30-day period. Despite being only two years old, the initiative has been impressive at leveraging UC Berkeley’s extensive alumni network. It also provides great deal of support to participating teams to craft effective arguments on the website, and requires them to conduct most of the outreach to their respective networks. Big Ideas then helps teams advertise their campaigns through newsletters and emails. Thus, this solution leverages three different outreach campaigns conducted by the Crowdfunding Initiative, the team itself, and Big Ideas networks. Moving forward, Big Ideas will continue to use the Crowdfunding Initiative as its primary crowdsourcing effort for Big Ideas alumni.
- Utilize partner organizations to assist with crowdsourcing efforts. Early on, Big Ideas realized that it did not have the human resource capacity to run its own crowdsourcing platform. Partnering with other existing initiatives allows Big Ideas staff to relieve most of its administrative burden, provide expert guidance to participating groups on crafting convincing pitches, and leverage wider networks beyond just the Big Ideas community. Having a third party manage the crowdfunding platform and outreach campaign has led to much more effective fundraising efforts for teams. Contests can also explore a range of possibilities for co-branding options in order to garner more visibility around its projects.
- Encourage teams to set reasonable fundraising goals. Establishing deadlines for donation periods, conducting targeted outreach to wide audiences is crucial for student teams. Offer lots of advising to help them in this process. If working with a partner to establish a crowdfunding campaign is not an option, Big Ideas recommends implementing lessons learned from its experience with the Marketplace and Indiegogo Campaign.
- Scaling Up Category Handout
- Social Innovator OnRamp Advertisement
- Social Innovator OnRamp Resource Guide