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Student Social Entrepreneurs Take Top Prize

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Frustrated by the continual dependence of nonprofits on fundraising to carry out their missions, Ryan O’Donnell, a junior at North Carolina State University, decided to create change from change (pennies).    

Pennies 4 Progress, first place winner of the UNC system-wide student social business plan competition at last week’s North Carolina Social Business Conference, stemmed from O’Donnell’s involvement in fundraising for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

“I found that many people decline to give because of the time and inconvenience of having cash on hand. So I thought it would be great if people could automatically give [a penny] when they check out at a store,” O’Donnell states, “this was how I started to develop an innovative finance model of automatic penny donations to support programs locally and globally to make this world a better place.” 

Pennies 4 Progress began to take shape when O’Donnell teamed up with his roommate, NCSU junior Brandon Narybouth earlier this year, and with NCSU senior Kevin Miller several months later. All three Poole College of Management students are interested in entrepreneurship.

O’Donnell first learned about social entrepreneurship by reading books written by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, economist, and creator of microcredit and Grameen Bank, Dr. Muhammad Yunus. It was only fitting that he and his project team shook hands with Dr. Yunus as they came to the stage to accept their prize.

Pennies 4 Progress’ received $2500 in financial support and mentorship from other social ventures. Their next steps are to develop a strategic plan and to begin to establish partnerships with businesses across the state.

O’Donnell believes that universities play a key role in social business and thinks entrepreneurship courses should not be limited to business schools. He stated, “It is essential to incorporate the design skills of problem recognition and solution regardless of academic discipline. Interdisciplinary courses help to provide the linkages necessary to solve problems in a creative way.”  

When asked what advice he would give other students, O’Donnell said, “Be driven and passionate. These are essential qualities to have when you are putting in the long hours in starting any venture and selling it to others.” He added, “Collaboration is essential and enabled me to share my idea and receive feedback. Many people think you shouldn’t share your idea because then others may steal it, but I encourage others to find good partners to bounce ideas off of or work with.”

O’Donnell and his team use a Facebook page to share their ideas and get feedback.   

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