The opening reception for the inaugural Irish Impact Social Entrepreneurship Conference presaged the day-and-a-half event. Held in the Innovation Park at Notre Dame’s expansive Greenhouse area, the gathering buzzed with conversation and energy, as a cross-section of seasoned entrepreneurs, investors, students and others exchanged stories and ideas around a central theme: how to use the power of business to effect large-scale solutions for some of society’s most intractable problems.
More than 200 participants—some local, some regional, some who more usually can be found working in Zambia or Guatemala—attended the Sept. 27-28 conference, which was organized by the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship and the Fellow Irish Social Hub (FISH). Sessions addressed topics ranging from incubating social enterprise, to measuring impact, to embedding social entrepreneurship within an organization. Speakers included Knight Foundation Director Rishi Jaitly and Kate Antonacci (ND ’07), the project manager for innovative social venture Panera Cares Community Cafes.
The conference also included a live investment pitch session; an opportunity fair, where social entrepreneurs set up informational displays similar to a science fair; and the Irish Impact Awards, which recognized organizations and individuals who have demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit and significant social impact. Recipients included: Better World Books, Social Entrepreneurship Award; Community Enterprise (CE) Solutions, Community Partner Award; and Mendoza College Adjunct Instructor Frank J. Belatti, Faculty Award.
“From all attendees, the sense of ‘making a difference’ and having real and measurable impact on social issues was very evident,” said Rick Klau, chairman and president of Hajoca Corp., who sponsors the Klau Family Prize for Greatest Social Impact as part of the annual McCloskey Business Plan Competition. “The interactions were full of energy and quality networking. It was great to see.”