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Deshpande Symposium Focuses on Building Better Business for All

DifferenceMaker Program Wins Award

Johns Hopkins President Ronald Daniels chats with Desh Deshpande Photo by Tory Germann

Johns Hopkins President Ronald Daniels chats with symposium co-founder Desh Deshpande.

By David Perry

In the startup community, the definition of entrepreneurship has shifted. Increasingly, the idea of doing well means more than a healthy return for investors.

That theme ran through workshops, keynote speeches and roundtable discussions at the fifth annual Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education, held June 13 to 15 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. For the more than 350 attendees who came from as far afield as Ireland and India, the message was simple: If your idea is good, make sure it does good.

“We’re going to make money and meaning, profit and sustainability,” said attendee Chris Rezendes, founder of INEX Advisors, a New Bedford firm that helps innovative companies with strategy and business development. “We have all of the tools to do both.”

At UMass Lowell, social responsibility is built into the DifferenceMaker program and introduced to students when they arrive on campus, Steven Tello, associate vice chancellor for entrepreneurship and economic development, told the attendees.

“We ask students to think about the need to change something for the better,” said Tello.  “In the overall culture it is a change. If you think about it, a lot of the '90s startups were about being big. Big, fast profits. Then came the bust and reassessment. We’re looking now at entrepreneurship as a tool to improve the quality of life. You can solve critical social problems with entrepreneurship.”

Entrepreneurship as an Economic Development Tool

In communities where economic development lags, innovation and entrepreneurship are tools that can build opportunities, he said.

“There’s always talk about attracting startups to Boston and Cambridge, but we need to empower people in post-industrial cities that need help,” Tello said.

The three-day Deshpande Symposium attracted its largest crowd this year, including for the first time, a contingent of 50 students from the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

Hope Akello studies industrial design at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, British Columbia. She was one of eight student members of Students for Social Impact, founded by the British Council, at the symposium.

“I’ve done projects from packaging to furniture design and in all of my work there’s a social impact,” she said. “There’s a level of community engagement and learning from and helping others. There’s definitely been a movement toward social impact design.”

Conference keynote speaker Ronald Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, told a packed ballroom that the health of a city is tied to its residents’ self-worth and that creating jobs is essential to promoting vibrant communities. Part of the university’s job is listening to the community and helping the city develop new economic life without losing its “vibrancy and authenticity.

“For me, one of the most striking things was over the past year, when we met with faith and community leaders. When asked what they wanted to see for their city, it was always the same thing: ‘Jobs, we just need jobs.’ ”  While already Baltimore’s largest employer (with 36,000 residents on its payroll), Johns Hopkins needed to find a way to form collaborative relationships with others to make a difference, he said.

Massachusetts Assistant Secretary for Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Katie Stebbins brought a trio of dynamic community organizers to the symposium to explain how they are helping to revitalize their communities – Fall River/New Bedford, Holyoke and Worcester – by understanding the needs of the people who live there.

“You don’t have to be in Boston or Cambridge,” to hatch a business, noted Stebbins.

Recognition for DifferenceMaker Program

The DifferenceMaker program landed an award for Excellence in Student Engagement and Entrepreneurship from a committee of representatives from peer universities from across the U.S. and the Deshpande Foundation. The judges cited the program for encouraging the 20,000 students and young alumni to “think and act like entrepreneurs to solve challenges in business, industry and community.”

Arizona State University won honors as outstanding Achievement as an Entrepreneurial University.