Articulate January 2019

UF’s EIC programs, GatorNest and the SIS Initiative, Help Students and Businesses


Written By: Mike Loizzo

When Elder Options in Gainesville began thinking about ideas for new revenue streams, the nonprofit’s staff and board members came to the same conclusion as other organizations like them – a for-profit model.

Executive Director Kristin Griffis did not want to leave the nonprofit behind, but rather she hoped to identify a service already in their wheelhouse that could be used to fund the nonprofit’s mission.

“We wanted to see what resources we can sell to generate some income to put back into our services for those who can’t afford to pay,” Griffis explained.

They needed a market analysis, but she said they had neither the staffing nor the funding to do it. Then she heard about GatorNest, a program of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center (EIC) at the University of Florida.

The course provides a hands-on, real world, consulting experience working with companies to address real problems. GatorNest enrolls graduate students for the most part, but some undergraduate business majors as well.

“The number one thing I hope students get out of GatorNest is the confidence that only comes from experience. Everything else can be taught or looked up on the internet,” said Ted Astleford, EIC director of experiential learning programs. “Often this is the first time these students are creating real value for a real company, so the pressure is on. It gets a student out of their comfort zone. Hopefully, then their comfort zone expands.”

Four UF students were assigned to work with Griffis on a market analysis for Elder Options. She asked them to research two options to determine their potential profitability: focusing on caregiver education and support or evolving the organization’s helpline into a more personalized counseling and assessment service with one-on-one coaching. 

“They really took a look at the services we were thinking of providing and looked at other companies in the area that might be doing something similar,” Griffis said. “They put them all together and compared what was available in what markets.”

In the end, the students’ research showed Elder Options should focus on supporting and educating caregivers as a for-profit service. 

Beyond the Numbers

Also within the EIC is the Social Impact & Sustainability (SIS) Initiative.

The initiative creates opportunities for students to learn how to become change-makers by challenging them to develop skills and strategies of successful business leaders who solve social, environmental and economic problems.

“Our students are empowered to become social entrepreneurs who leverage the power of business to positively impact their local communities and the world,” said Professor Kristin Joys, SIS Initiatives director.

Sam McPherson, founder of Sift Local, a platform for artisans to showcase their creations, knew what EIC offered when he was a student at UF. Now running a startup, he looked no further than Joys’ class for help.

“Getting the students’ perspectives on what would be an engaging feature is just really valuable market research and input,” McPherson said.

He calls it a win-win situation for businesses and students, which helps the local economy as well.

“Any additional involvement that the local business community and EIC can form would definitely be a net benefit,” McPherson said. “It’s helped me tremendously.”

YogaLoka recently received help with filing a 501(c)(3) application and social media rebranding from students in Joys’ Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship course. Two students served as experiential learning consultants with the yoga, meditation and holistic health organization serving historically marginalized populations.

“They attended classes at the Grace Marketplace (homeless services center) where we teach. They came to our events,” said Program Director Liz Getman. “They really wanted to learn about what we knew, who we serve and how we connect to our students throughout the community.”

By the end of the semester, YogaLoka had submitted its application with the IRS. It also had a new model for its social media, website and messaging.

While it helped the organization, Getman knows it helped the students too.

“I certainly worked with them closely, and I really asked questions challenging them in order for us to better what we were doing,” Getman said.

“I think it’s really important to give students opportunities to take what they’re learning in the classroom and apply it in the real world, especially today, when so many classes are online, and we’re all increasingly connected via our devices yet feeling disconnected with each other,” Joys said.

Sydney Westman, a marketing major, took Joys’ class in fall 2017 and was a teaching assistant for it a year later. She said the hands-on engagement with the local business community made the class the most interesting one she has taken at UF.

“The class allows you to work with social ventures in the community, assess their needs, and provide possible solutions for them to implement,” Westman explained. “It is a great way to get involved and to gain real-world entrepreneurial experience.”

“The foundation of our emphasis on experiential learning is community engagement – working with local startups and nonprofit organizations both makes a positive impact on the lives of our students and benefits the greater-Gainesville community,” Joys added. 

More information about the EIC is online: warrington.ufl.edu/entrepreneurship-and-innovation-center/

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