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Panelists examine entrepreneurship

Emily Schrank | Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When senior Jeff Lakusta was a freshman, he never imagined that he would one day be the president of a successful, internationally recognized nonprofit organization.

“After traveling to South Africa and getting a firsthand look at the extreme poverty that exists there, I realized one person can make a huge difference,” he said.

“Recognizing the interconnectedness of humanity is key,” Lakusta, founder of the Eyes on Africa Foundation, said in a panel Tuesday evening. 

Student government and the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies sponsored the event, titled “Be The Change: A Forum on Social Enterprise,” in the Jordan Auditorium of the Mendoza College of Business. 

Five panelists discussed the goals, challenges and rewards of social entrepreneurship, as well as what it takes to be successful in it.

Melissa Paulsen, a project manager in the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, said it isn’t just about creating wealth, but also about creating opportunity. 

“Social enterprise requires transformation, innovation and purpose,” she said.  “It combines an economic engine with a social purpose.” 

According to Paulsen, there are a number of resources available to Notre Dame students looking to start a social venture, including the Social Venture Competition.

“We can provide marketplace perspective and real world critical feedback,” she said.

Chris Fuchs, a 2001 Notre Dame graduate and founder of Better World Books, attested to the helpfulness of these resources.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into when we got started,” Fuchs said. “But the connections we made through the Social Venture Competition opened up a number of doors for us.”

Although there are a great deal of both business and logistical challenges in starting a social enterprise, the personal connections that come through the work make it all worthwhile, he said.

“The most exciting thing has been being able to evolve with the business and bring new people into the organization as it grows,” Fuchs said.

Today, the online bookstore generates $7 a minute for nonprofit organizations. 

Lakusta said seeing the good he has done keeps him driven. 

“If you make a mistake, keep pushing forward,” he said. “What you do helps so many more people than you’ll ever know.”

Other panelists included Sonia Menon, a junior and semi-finalist in the 2010 Social Venture Competition, and David Murphy, CEO of Better World Books.