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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? 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 Kate Miller, JD ’17, and Christian Kolb, LLM ’17, cofounders of JuryCheck, which tied for second place in the 2017 SNVC Finals for their idea to create a comprehensive web-based platform for criminal defense attorneys, courts, and criminal justice reform advocates to detect and monitor racial and gender underrepresentation in jury pools.
RG: How did you get involved in the SNVC, and what was your team’s idea?
Kate: The Law School offered an introductory coding class that we both enrolled in (shout out to our class instructor Nikhil Abraham, who really made this class one to remember). As part of our final project, we had to design an app and pitch it to the class. I had spent the previous summer working on defending death penalty cases in New Orleans and had gotten interested in the legal issues surrounding the lack of people of color on capital juries. In doing that work, I saw the difficulty lawyers face obtaining demographic information about jury pools, which was preventing them from challenging jury selection practices that exclude people of color. JuryCheck was born as a solution to this problem. Christian and I developed the idea together and, after pitching it to our coding class, decided to apply for the SNVC.
What did you learn from your SNVC experience, and how have you used that in your career?
Kate: As an attorney, particularly one working on social justice issues, you can get tunnel vision and only focus on legal action as a way of bringing about social change. SNVC showed me that other tools, including entrepreneurship, are necessary to create meaningful change. This awareness has proven essential in my career, where I have relied on both litigation and non-legal action to address inequities in the criminal justice system.
Christian: For me, the SNVC was a reminder of how important it is to engage in long(er)-term projects that you can develop over time. The skill set required is so different than for an essay assignment or exam which are such a prominent part of the law school routine. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to see where JuryCheck started at the end of our coding class and where it was at the end of the SNVC through hard work and the amazing help we got from both Booth and the Law School.
Would you encourage students to compete in the SNVC, and why?
Kate/Christian: Absolutely! Especially if you’re coming from outside of Booth like we did, it provides a unique opportunity to learn how entrepreneurship can be used to address issues that you experience in your field. Also, the SNVC is a great opportunity to “live” that interdisciplinary spirit that UChicago as a whole promotes on many levels.
Any advice for students applying to or participating in the SNVC this year?
Kate/Christian: Get to know your classmates! Everyone was so inspiring and excited to help each other out. When you’re so focused on the small details of your own project, it is a huge help to be able to get outside feedback.
A second piece of advice would be to practice. Practice your pitch and presentation as often as you can. We also found it helpful to invite friends to listen in on some practice sessions to validate if what we thought we were communicating actually got through to an audience that wasn’t familiar with our project.
Also, if you’re lucky enough to get someone on board with a coding background (thanks, Jonah!), that’s an absolute plus and will greatly help to transform your ideas into a working product.
How do you continue to create social impact? What are your short- and long-term goals?
Kate: I recently relocated to Seattle and began an advocacy fellowship at the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law. I get to work with law students on a variety of cases addressing racial inequity in the criminal legal system—including in jury selection! In part by sharing my experiences with JuryCheck and the SNVC, I try to help students see that litigation is just one tool in their toolbox for supporting social justice movements. In the long term, I hope to keep growing as a civil rights advocate and inspiring students to pursue innovative solutions to social inequities.
Christian: Kate’s answer really puts me to shame here! After graduating, I completed the final stage of my formal legal education in Germany. In two clerkships—one for a first-instance court, one for an appellate court—I was able to see the impact that the law has on peoples’ lives in so many areas, which reinforced my wish to work on eradicating some of the injustices of the legal system. While my current dive into the world of legal academia has taken me more into the realm of private law, I intend to use the flexibility that my doctoral degree offers to continue what we started with JuryCheck during the SNVC.
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 for Social Sector Innovation. He’s been on the Booth faculty since 1986 and helped launch the SNVC more than 10 years ago and with a gift from John Edwardson, ’72, the title sponsor of the social impact track of the University of Chicago's nationally ranked accelerator, the New Venture Challenge, run by the Rustandy Center and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Kate Miller, JD ’17, graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 2017. Kate is currently the Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLC Advocacy Fellow at the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law.
Christian Kolb, LLM ’17, graduated from the University of Chicago Law School with a Masters of Law degree. He is currently a research assistant at the Max-Planck-Institute for International and Comparative Private Law and a doctoral student at Bucerius Law School (both in Hamburg, Germany).