Posted by Robert Gertner on February 18, 2020
Since I helped launch the John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) 10 years ago, the SNVC has jump-started more than 100 social ventures that have gone on to raise more than $35 million. But the numbers only tell part of the story.
The competition—and the accompanying New Social Ventures course that I teach at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business—strives to educate the next generation of social entrepreneurs. What innovative nonprofit or for-profit business models will students develop with an eye on creating social impact? How will that startup experience impact their future careers? As the SNVC celebrates 10 years of social impact, I wanted to check in with some of my former students to see what they learned from the SNVC, whether or not their venture is still operating today.
Read on for my chat with Chelsea Sprayregen, ’17, former CEO and cofounder of Pie for Providers, which won the 2017 SNVC Finals for its idea to create an online, back-office solution for daycare business owners.
RG: How did you get involved in the Social New Venture Challenge? What was your team’s startup idea?
Chelsea: I came to Booth with the seed of the idea for Pie for Providers, so I was interested in the SNVC from the beginning. In fact, the SNVC and the Rustandy Center were a big draw for me in choosing Booth in the first place.
Pie for Providers uses technology to help childcare providers build stronger businesses. Our software streamlines and automates government programs, and basic business management. Essentially, we were building TurboTax for childcare providers.
Our social impact goals are threefold: 1) Help childcare providers earn more money; 2) Help providers spend less time on administrative work; and 3) Help low-income families access childcare.
What did you learn from your SNVC experience, and how have you used that in your career?
The SNVC directly sent me down the professional path I’m on today. First, I developed many transferrable skills, including public speaking, customer and market research, leading a team, and pitching to investors. I also deepened my subject matter expertise and professional relationships, which made it possible for me to launch the company coming out of SNVC.
Would you encourage students to compete in the SNVC, and why?
Yes. Regardless of what happens in the competition and after, the process itself is one of the best ways to develop the skills I listed above in a short period of time.
Any advice for students applying to/participating in the SNVC this year?
It’s key that you take the time to listen openly and with curiosity to your customers, end users, and beneficiaries (who may or may not be the same people). Don’t assume you know what they want or need. The human-centered design and research techniques that you learn about in class are so valuable.
How do you continue to create social impact? What are your short- and long-term goals?
Although the original vision for the business was unsuccessful and we shut down the for-profit entity, I’m still working toward the same social impact goals in a new role as Entrepreneur in Residence at Promise Venture Studio, a nonprofit that promotes innovation in the field of early childhood. In this new home, I’m exploring other business models for delivering the same impact – whether through a nonprofit structure, partnering with government, or other creative approaches. My goals remain the same: 1) to help childcare providers earn the money they deserve for their crucial work; 2) to help working families access childcare; and 3) to make government programs more effective in pursuit of these goals.
This is part of a series of stories celebrating the 10th anniversary of the SNVC, which is run by Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Click here to join the celebration.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Robert H. Gertner is the Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance at Booth and the John Edwardson Faculty Director of the Rustandy Center. He’s been on the Booth faculty since 1986 and helped launch the SNVC 10 years ago with a gift from John Edwardson, ’72.
Chelsea Sprayregen, ’17, graduated from Chicago Booth’s Evening MBA Program in 2017. While at Booth, she cofounded Pie for Providers (formerly Provide), which won the 2017 SNVC Finals and earned $60,000 in total prize money. The startup also participated in the Polsky Summer Accelerator. She is currently living in Chicago and working as an entrepreneur in residence at Promise, a nonprofit venture studio that attracts, supports, and connects entrepreneurs focused on early childhood development.