Catalyst Program Of The Year: Social Enterprise Academy Seeks Nonprofit Sustainability

Q Youth Foundation student and nonprofit representatives brainstorm their UCLA Social Enterprise Academy pitch. (all photos courtesy Social Enterprise Academy)

The founders of the Social Enterprise Academy saw a need to help diversify the postgraduate possibilities for business and economics-minded students on campus who were struggling to find their fit.

“We had a lot of students who were learning business theory … but they were learning it in a way that was really textbook-based,” said Anna Shelton, senior associate director of social sciences academic engagement. “That’s good, but the practice of it is so different.”

Enter Social Enterprise Academy, which chooses approximately 40-50 junior and senior students each year to work with about 10 Los Angles-area nonprofits. The UCLA Department of Economics created the program, which takes place over two quarters. Students from any major can apply, and more than 100 do each year.


The economics department takes care of the course curriculum and it partners with the Academies for Social Entrepreneurship, which brings nonprofits to the program. Students then split into teams and work for six months on finding a sustainable economic venture and model in order to keep those nonprofits comfortably afloat for the long-haul.

“One of the core tenets of UCLA is service, and that is one big aspect of this academy,” Shelton said. “Another is for our econ students. We have a lot of students who are interested in doing business for the good, but they don’t necessarily know how to do that. By the time they are done in June, they have created a venture model for a social enterprise that the nonprofit can run.”

Winners - 2016 UCLA Social Enterprise Academy

The winners of the 2016 Social Enterprise Academy pitch contest.

Students then work with their nonprofit partners to go before a special panel of funders and venture capitalists — not unlike the television show “Shark Tank” — to vie for more than $35,000 in grant funding. The academy’s funding comes from the Nicholas and Simon foundations.

Through the first five years (founded in 2011), the Social Enterprise Academy has helped more than 40 nonprofits that deal with a wide swath of issues. “We really try to work with the Los Angeles area in all the different issues that affect us here,” Shelton said, listing nonprofit areas of interest tackling homelessness, hunger, environment, LGBTQ issues, mental health, reading and education.

Some of those nonprofits are large and better known, like the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, or an upstart like Oceans Global in the South Bay.

Brad Weyers 3 - 2016 UCLA Social Enterprise Academy

Brad Weyers speaks to the 2016 UCLA Social Enterprise Academy cohort.

“We know from following up with our nonprofits each year that Social Enterprise Academy has resulted in jobs and increased funding to these organizations,” Shelton said. “We are happy to provide the resources that are available here at UCLA in ways that can maximize our impact on the community. This is not an inward facing program. This program has given us the opportunity to work with our community leaders and give direct support with jobs, with money and with organizational support in a way that very few programs are able to do.”

Social Enterprise Academy is this year’s Catalyst Program of the Year awardee due to its impact in the greater Los Angeles community over the first five years of the program.

“We’re so proud to be receiving this award, not only on behalf of the UCLA students, but also because this award so directly shows our impact on the community,” Shelton said

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