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UM Baltimore program to train social entrepreneurs

University of Maryland's Graduate Research Innovation District. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

University of Maryland’s Graduate Research Innovation District. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

The University of Maryland, Baltimore, plans to train the state’s next generation of social entrepreneurs through a graduate degree program it is launching this year.

The university’s Master of Science degree in Health and Social Innovation will train a cohort of students on how to create and run businesses with a social focus.

“It starts with a growing realization that the basics of entrepreneurship can and probably should be applied to making the world a better place, not just to making people fabulously wealthy,” Jim Kucher, faculty program manager of the GRID at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, said. “You’ve got a campus here that is already a hotbed of innovation in science and technology and health.”

The two-year program is currently accepting applicants. About 50 people have expressed interest in the program so far and the program’s first cohort this fall will likely have between 15 and 20 people, Kucher said.

The program will host a kickoff for the program April 3 at The GRID at the University of Maryland Biopark, a location highlighted as a selling point of the program.

The GRID, Graduate Research Innovation District, is a startup incubator and research space opened by the university in the Lions Brothers Building two years ago. The new master’s program will be located entirely within the space.

Jim Kucher, program manager of University of Maryland, Baltimore's "The Grid" (Submitted photo)

Jim Kucher, program manager of University of Maryland, Baltimore’s GRID. (Submitted photo)

‘The classroom is literally, physically embedded in an incubator,” Kucher said.

Unlike some organizations that work on social issues like charities, social enterprises aim to be money-making businesses that address social needs like the social determinants of health that can include personal trauma and socioeconomic disparities.

That adds another layer to what can already be the difficult task of building a business, Kucher said.

“You add in the fact that you also want to produce this social benefit on top of it, it becomes very complex,” he said. “Our answer to that is that’s why you need training.”

Components of the program will include courses on business, strategy and learning how to be agile as an entrepreneur.

Program leaders also hope Baltimore can be a selling point, with its leaders in the health and tech spaces, while also having what Kucher called a “quiet” wealth.

“If you were going to design a laboratory environment to build social enterprise, you couldn’t come up with a better one than Baltimore,” he said. “There’s certainly no shortage of deeply entrenched social problems.”

Those factors could also be what is drawing other people interested in social entrepreneurship to Baltimore. Earlier this month, Innovation Works announced it was working with Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship to build more than 250 businesses that could create 5,000 jobs in the city.

The social entrepreneurship community also includes SHIFT Ventures and its Conscious Venture Lab and Johns Hopkins University’s Social Innovation Lab.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore program is hoping to augment these programs not compete with them.

“There’s enough social problems in the world and right here in Baltimore that we could have a dozen of these programs up and running and still have stuff to work on,” Kucher said.


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