Texas Tech University

Social Entrepreneurship in the Classroom

Kathryn Dankesreiter, Innovation Hub Team interviewing Wendy Chen

December 6, 2021

Faculty Ambassador, Wendy Chen, shares her story of creating an impact through teaching social entrepreneurship!


Tell us a bit about yourself. What got you into entrepreneurship?

I grew up in a pivotal time when I witnessed firsthand the transition from a planned economy to market economy in China. At that time, the government started encouraging people to quit their routine jobs to become entrepreneurs. After seeing how many new businesses were started overnight and the change in people's lifestyle, the excitement of entrepreneurship struck right through me.

However, in the meantime, while the middle-class foresaw it as a great opportunity to get rich quick, very few of them had a clue how they could “go to the sea” (a Chinese analogy of becoming an entrepreneur). That was the moment that made me realize the importance of entrepreneurship education and made me believe that the knowledge of entrepreneurship should be a valuable asset to everyone. Later, I became a journalist for a business magazine which allowed me to interview many successful entrepreneurs in China. I tried to use this experience to share entrepreneurship insights with those who have fewer resources and who are less privileged.


What is your course and could you describe it? 

The course that I created is called “Social Entrepreneurship”. Social entrepreneurship has emerged as a popular field addressing social problems with innovative and at times market-based solutions. That social impact could be better working conditions for the organization's workers or providing products or services to try to benefit society or specific subgroups directly or indirectly. That said, social entrepreneurship can include companies like Tom's Shoes who donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes sold. It could also even include nonprofits such as Red Cross. 

Through my past teaching experience, I had met many students who were concerned about some social issues but did not have the tools to address them. I realized that there is a consistent gap between pragmatic guides and academic research in helping people start and grow social enterprises. Under these circumstances, I created this social entrepreneurship course which attempts to help make theory actionable. The objective of the course is for each student to understand social entrepreneurship from an academic perspective and at the end of the day be able to make a difference while also being able to sustain their organization's own growth. 

In this course, we cover topics including the existing knowledge of social entrepreneurship, the measurement of social impact, alternative funding sources for social ventures including impact investing, how to pitch a social venture, growth and scaling of social ventures, etc. In addition, students will learn about some useful startup toolkits including the Business Model Canvas and the Lean Launchpad methodology. Students will also gain exposure to various social organizational models and cases that are making tangible and potentially scalable progress in bettering the society.

Through this course, students will have a deeper understanding of social entrepreneurship through research readings, case studies, lectures, guest speakers, and classroom dialogue. Students will also learn to think strategically and act opportunistically with a socially-conscious entrepreneurial mindset. The course will challenge students to think creatively about potential solutions to public challenges, and entrepreneurially inclined students to analyze the economic, social, and political context that define entrepreneurial opportunity. 

This is a hands-on class. Students do not just learn knowledge from textbooks, but also engage with practitioners, community leaders, and come up with their own social venture ideas. They are encouraged to participate in business pitch competitions on campus and to get their ideas out in the open.  


How did you become a Faculty Ambassador for entrepreneurship?

Interestingly, one of my students is a staff member at the Innovation Hub who showed great interest in entrepreneurship that could create social impact. She introduced me to the Innovation Hub and the Faculty C Startup program. I am very excited about the opportunity to develop this course within the program. I am passionate about having an impact on my students and on the community by helping entrepreneurs get their businesses started. 

I also believe that the completion of this course is the starting of one's journey to become a social entrepreneur. Currently, I have been continuing to support my students on their entrepreneurial journey and working with the Hub to develop a new social innovation challenge for Spring 2022.