Entreprenuership center encourages student ventures

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Alan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center for the next Entrepreneur's Connection featuring the award-winning startup, OccasionGenius. For planners, OccasionGenius makes it easy to find unexpected local ideas for any occasion. For local merchants, OccasionGenius is the most effective and affordable marketing solution for their event ideas to be discovered, shared, and reviewed. L-R, Graham Henshaw, Executive Director of the Alan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center, Founder OccasionGenius, Nate Marcus, Tim Ryan from the Launchpad Incubator

Program Coordinator for the Mason School of Business Entrepreneurship Center Anna Rader ’20, arranged five workshops for students to collect the tools necessary for successful business ventures. One workshop titled “Social Responsibility in Innovation” was held Monday, Nov. 4 so attendees could spread awareness on the importance of corporate social responsibility. 

Two speakers in the workshop brought different points of view on how businesses can be socially responsible in marketing and creating products. Associate Director of Marketing, Licensing and Administration for the College of William and Mary, Eden Harris opened with her experience from working in Auxiliary Services, which covers departments such as the bookstore, dining, parking and trademark licensing. 

“The biggest recommendation I can make to you is to find your own path and what that means to you. Social responsibility means different things to different people,” Harris said.

“The biggest recommendation I can make to you is to find your own path and what that means to you. Social responsibility means different things to different people,” Harris said. 

Corporate social responsibility is recognizing the global sense of responsibility in the communities in which they operate. There are three components of social responsibility: macro, meso, and micro. 

On the macro level is large corporations and businesses. Factory relationships are key in how a company operates within the community and how members of said community are influenced. For example, The College uses companies to create merchandise that have a full or partial ownership of their factories. This means no outsourcing and most of the product is made in-house. However, the majority of companies either have long term or short term relationships with factories instead. While short term relationships is the most common of the three for companies to have with a factory, it is the most at risk. 

“Short-term contracted factories have become more and more common as fast fashion has taken hold and we are at this thought that every season we have to have something new and we have to have these things on the shelves tomorrow,” Harris said. “So, these short term relationships with factories have exposed a lot of risks for companies. Even with the quality control it can be very different. Within this relationship, each step in the process can be made at a different factory.”

In order to provide factory workers under this kind of relationship with standard  humane working conditions, President Clinton in the late 1990’s created the Fair Labor Association. Other organizations such as the Workers Right Consortium have since been created to further strive for proper wages and humane conditions as well as carrying out implications for breaking proper standards. 

The College is a prime example of meso monitoring. The institution grants permission to vetted vendors to produce merchandise with the William and Mary trademark whether that is the school’s logo, the griffin, or even the word ‘tribe’.  

“Our process is not perfect. There are issues, I am sure, within some of the companies we work with, but the hardest thing to remember is that if there are company accidents, and a major headline comes out of it, the hardest thing is to not pull out of the company right away because the people that it hurts the most are the people that are the most impacted. What we look for is how the company addresses it and whether they take it seriously.”

Finally micro monitoring pertains to the individual. Introspection is best before purchasing a certain product. Harris advises buyers to question how the product is made where the raw materials are sourced, and then to prioritize which products should be bought and which will ultimately have a negative impact on the community. 

“The biggest thing you can do as an entrepreneur is to think about it,” Harris said. “As you are developing your business and your ideas, think about what is important to you. Prioritize. Is it an environmental factor, a legal factor, an ethical or cultural factor? Put your priorities down in writing, it doesn’t have to become a formal code of conduct or labor code, but simply putting it in writing is something that you can come back to as you make every step. It is a huge thing that many people don’t even consider doing.”

The second speaker, Owner of Threads by Nomads and The Off-Ramp Christen Kinard created her company with the goal of reconstructing how business is done. Kinard hires refugees to provide an opportunity for them to become part of the community.

“I have history in women’s luxury retail; I was a buyer for a long time. Even at a non-fast fashion price point I saw the very real destruction that the retail industry causes at home and afar,” Kinard said. 

Kinard launched her business in 2016 and hired refugees in the city of Houston where the store originated. As a social enterprise, Kinard prides herself on not only creating retail that is socially responsible, but also for connecting her business with the community.

“The social change that we are addressing is the issue of displacement, and we are trying to address it from both ends,” Kinard said. “It is not just about charity for people who are already here, it is about addressing first and foremost the issues of displacement at their core, which is economic stability and security and safety, by investing in small businesses and individual artisans. For the people already here who are looking for opportunities to not assimilate, but to be a part of the fabric of a society as the person that they are, we can offer them that opportunity and in the process we can change the way apparel is made.”

Kinard’s goal for her company was to address the displacement of refugees on both ends while also meeting the bottom line to keep her company running and providing opportunities for those that need it. She wanted to start from the beginning to revamp how business is addressed. 

“The fast fashion industry is the second dirtiest global industry second to oil,” Kindard said. “One in three people in the world work in retail in the fashion industry chain in some way and less than six percent are paid a living wage, not a fair wage.”

“The fast fashion industry is the second dirtiest global industry second to oil,” Kindard said. “One in three people in the world work in retail in the fashion industry chain in some way and less than six percent are paid a living wage, not a fair wage.”

Wealth accumulation is not the priority for Threads by Nomad and Kinard expressed the importance that success can only be accomplished if others are given the ability to help and better themselves in the process. 

“This was the tool kit workshop that I was most excited for,” Rader said. “This is something I personally am really passionate about and I think that social enterprise and thinking about social responsibility and communities in the way they are affected by businesses is something that is going to grow in the next few years. As entrepreneurs and innovators that is something we should be thinking about to remain relevant but also the current change in waves of innovation coming through shows how important it is to pay attention to communities and how they are affected. The time to act is now.”