Visionaries

Dennis Passovoy: Solving Social Problems with Entrepreneurship

| Updated December 5, 2017

Helping to guide social entrepreneurs to success

Dennis Passovoy teaches management and organizational behavior, with a strong emphasis on strategy, leadership and social entrepreneurship, and many other aspects of building and leading companies. Here, MissionBox's CEO Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk talks with Dennis about how he uses his knowledge and experience to help create the next generation of social entrepreneurs.

I recently had the opportunity to observe your class on developing and growing social enterprises. What do students learn from your classes?

The courses are designed to be taken over two semesters. Starting in the fall, students form small teams and choose a social problem they want to solve. They then spend the remainder of the semester writing a business plan to create an organization intended to solve that problem. The organizations may take different forms, for example, a for-profit company with a corporate social responsibility, a nonprofit or 501(c)(3) organization, or perhaps its a hybrid.

In the spring, students start with the business plans from the previous semester, but rework them and use lean startup concepts to re-envision what it takes to create that organization, ending with a prototype called a minimal viable product (MVP). Not all projects become a reality but some of them do.

Is there a class project that stands out for you?

One innovative project is developing creative, sustainable ways to house the homeless. The project plan creates homes out of used shipping containers and uses the profit from sales to develop tiny homes for the homeless.

The idea for the project came from homeless services organization Mobile Loaves and Fishes, which put a bunch of houses, tents and trailers on a plot of land outside of Austin, Texas. All the front doors face each other in a cul-de-sac, which fosters a sense of community. There are community buildings where they dine, shower and so on.

The project seeks to develop a similar community environment with these shipping container homes. The homes would be given, in exchange for work to homeless individuals.

You've spent most of your career in the corporate world. What drew you to education?

I realized I wanted to do more and give back to the community. For me that was education and I made my way to the University of Texas at Austin.

What do you think the future of social enterprise is?

It's big and getting bigger. Government contributions to solving some of these social problems are dwindling. I think the pressure to help solve social problems financially is being placed on the corporate world and elsewhere in the public and private sectors.

What would you suggest to those who want to participate in social enterprise programs but don't have access to an academic solution?

Start an organization! It can be started in your home, your garage or with a couple friends with a shared passion. Organize your thoughts, create the plan, do all those logical things that you would do if you were creating a for-profit company, and just bootstrap it from the ground up.

The important thing with building a social enterprise is to figure out how to fund your efforts. The original assumption has always been that you should be a registered 501(c)(3) or traditional charity to go after grant funding. Nowadays, money can come from lots of different sources.

There are many people who care about social problems and can envision different ways to solve problems in an innovative way, which is a form of entrepreneurship. Whether you have a vision of creating a product that will be the next new thing and make you wealthy, or you're going to solve a social problem that has nothing to do with profit, both of those situations have entrepreneurship at their core.

Know another visionary leader or organization working for social good? Let us know! Email editorial@missionbox.com.

Dennis Passovoy has 35 years' experience as a successful executive with a varied background in sales, product design and development, commercialization, consulting, marketing, capital-raising and business management experience. Dennis founded four companies and was a senior executive in Fortune 100 and other large companies, and is currently a member of the faculty at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business in Austin, Texas. Dennis was recently inducted into the Sam Walton Hall of Fame for his work with the University of Texas chapter of Enactus.

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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