Gatton Students Win Big at Global Social Innovation Challenge

Bridging Social Responsibility
photo of UK students at table - Bridging Social Responsibility
photo of UK students at table - Bridging Social Responsibility

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 16, 2018) —  University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics Social Enterprise Scholars Jenna Hazelbaker, Kristen McLaughlin, Megan Van Son and Taylor Wurth were recently rewarded for their success and achievement at the Global Social Innovation Challenge at the University of San Diego.

They presented their startup business idea called Bridge, created to help the more than 66 percent of consumers who are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable company that is socially responsible, according to research in Forbes magazine. Bridge is meant to bridge the gap between consumers and socially responsible products by creating an online platform for products and partnering only with companies that meet one of the 17 United Nations Sustainability Goals.

“Bridge stemmed from our own frustrations with not being able to easily or conveniently find and purchase socially impactful goods online,” Taylor Wurth said. “Even as people who are so passionate about social enterprise, the process of finding these items is exhausting — so how can we expect the average consumer to jump through all these hoops? We knew there had to be a better solution.”

Out of 200 teams from 27 universities and 12 countries, Bridge was named a top 10 finalist, which gave the Gatton students the opportunity to pitch onstage and compete for actual financial investments towards their startup. Bridge was one of only six teams to receive an investment from the panel of judges and was recognized as one of three startups that had the largest potential global impact.

“Being chosen as one of the six teams to earn investment from the judges was a monumental validation for our business,” finance major Kristen McLaughlin said. “We’ve talked to hundreds of consumers who say they want Bridge in the market, but having investors believe in our business takes it a step further. Now Bridge is not just a great idea, it’s a viable business.”

The students behind this success are rising seniors in the Social Enterprise Scholars Program, a collaboration between the Gatton College of Business and the Lewis Honors College.

“The Social Enterprise Scholars Program is on the cutting edge of business education,” said Chelsea Brislin, director of Gatton Honors Pathways and Social Enterprise Scholars. “Corporate responsibility truly is the wave of the future and these students are out in front of it, educating others about how to be more socially conscious in the for-profit sector. They are doing amazing work while also intentionally making a difference in the world.”

“Our mission at the Lewis Honors College is to better the world by helping students explore their purpose, develop intellectually and lead with integrity,” said Christian Brady, dean of the Lewis Honors College. “What this group achieved through their development of Bridge is everything our mission aims to encourage in students. The social consciousness and leadership displayed by Jenna, Kristen, Megan and Taylor is what turned a good idea into a great success and we are very proud.”

During the students’ sophomore year, the scholars are asked to create an idea for a new social enterprise startup, which they continue to develop and refine throughout their coursework. The main focus of the program is to create businesses that turn a profit, while also having either a significant social or environmental impact.

“With such gifted students in this program, we can really challenge students to confront real-world problems as part of our curriculum,” said John Peloza, Gatton associate professor of marketing, who teaches in the SES program. “A pragmatic, applied approach is at the heart of the entire degree. And this success shows that our students are ready to change the world, even before graduation.”

Bridge is not the first Social Enterprise startup born out of this curriculum to be recognized nationally. In April 2017, three Social Enterprise Scholars were named finalists in the Conscious Capitalism competition for their startup idea, H2Grow.

“By combining entrepreneurship with social impact, the Social Enterprise Scholars program is very appealing to students, and has close to doubled in size in just three years,” said Simon Sheather, dean of the Gatton College. “To see our SES students competing at this level is a great example of the difference we can make by growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem here at UK and across the Commonwealth.”

The students behind Bridge are eager to continue building partnerships with companies and hope to soon develop an app to accompany their website.

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: #uk4ky #seeblue