CCT Social Enterprise Academy in processSocial Enterprise Academy
Serves the Underserved

Better social enterprises will bless more people, and we're excited to be a part of that.”

– Andrew Shinn

Social Enterprise Academy

has supported
social enterprises

Business owners attend a
4-module course
2 months

As mayor of Fresno, Ashley Swearingen asked faith leaders: “What is the role of the faith community in improving the economic well-being of the city?” Randy White, executive director of Fresno Pacific University’s Center for Community Transformation (CCT), “embarked on a year-long quest” for an answer and came to social enterprise—entrepreneurship with a human return.

Unlike traditional businesses or nonprofits, social entrepreneurship solves a community problem by addressing the needs of an underserved population, often employing members of those groups. One successful example is Fresno’s Tree of Life Café, which hires people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. 

White knew, however, that many start-ups—traditional and social—fail within the first year, and social entrepreneurs face challenges not seen by their for-profit colleagues. “Business is hard enough,” he said. “Social enterprise adds a layer of complexity to regular enterprise. How do you sustain yourself?”

To answer this, CCT created the Social Enterprise Academy. The first four-module course was in February and March 2018 in the FPU classroom at Bitwise Industries in downtown Fresno. Topics included identifying customers, money management, hiring practices, and soul care and sustainability. The academy is an expansion of CCT’s popular Spark Tank Pitch Fest, which in 2017 awarded more than $17,000 to five Valley social enterprises.

Would-be social entrepreneurs praised the first session for giving them confidence to move forward.

Jocelyn Parker, of Single Mom Solutions, said the academy helped her narrow her customers’ needs and refine her mission statement. “My service is going to be of more value,” she said.

Caitlin Gipson, Megan Ortiz and Jeff Harrington also felt more confident about Serve Reedley, which provides vocational training and resources to single mothers, and grew out of Reedley’s Redeemer’s Church, where Harrington is executive pastor. “It’s equipping us to launch with confidence,” Gipson said.

“It helped us to think smaller,” Harrington added. “Today’s lesson was worth the price of admission.”

That price, $600, makes the academy very accessible to churches and nonprofits and a “step up” from Spark Tank. “We’re trying to deliver a $10,000 experience. Each team has mentors from among the business leaders of our region. And they have the hands-on training needed to reduce the risk of business failure and help them raise their vision for success,” said Andrew Shinn, FPU business and entrepreneurship professor.

The academy is one way CCT promotes an ecosystem to support social enterprise, Shinn said. “Better social enterprises will bless more people, and we’re excited to be a part of that.”