How to Improve Access to Energy in Haiti One Finish Line at a Time

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A little while ago, I had the chance to meet up with a new friend Bradley Bulifant. This business management major from the University of Florida has had quite the adventure. From being a recording artist to managing large scale events to finally, developing The Solar Games; a mobile racing game aimed at supporting solar panel grids for rural villages in Haiti. But how does one go from majoring in business to launching a triple bottom line mobile app? By paying very close attention.

Bradley Bulifant of the Solar Games.

Bradley Bulifant of the Solar Games.

Once Bradley left his band, he went to work providing reconstruction solutions in the wake of national natural disasters, like Katrina in Louisiana and Charley in Florida. In between disasters, Bradley capitalized on the free time to pursue other projects. First, it was aiding the development of a sister city relationship between Gainesville, FL and Jacmel, Haiti as a response to the 2010 earthquake. Over time, Bradley became increasingly involved with all things Haiti with somewhat regular travel and interacting with the artisan community. When he was state-side he began to notice that apps and websites were making some serious money through ads and partnerships. Seeing the desperate need for energy paired with incredible revenues generated from mobile business, Bradley with some early members of Grooveshark began to pursue a mobile game that could connect a player to solving a social problem.

Since 2010, the development of the startup has faced many challenges. But the dominant issue, as it is for any startup, has been funding. Without a salaried team, Bradley has relied on help from friends and students who were looking for real world experience, and bit by laborious bit, the Solar Games is becoming a reality. Tapped to be a member of the Clinton Global Initiative with their commitment to action, Bradley’s work with the Solar Games is truly a disruptive way to funding development projects.

As any founder can attest to, you cannot come away from building something without a few nuggets of wisdom. In Bradley’s case, planning and goal setting have been crucial to his success. He urged that it doesn’t have to be a 50 page document, but rather a realistic timeline to keep the project on track. Developing a community to market your project too has to be included in that planning process. That community is what will help you during crowd funding, constructive feedback, and the marketing phases. In addition to community, having a solid pitch, and putting your ideas into concise wording will only help you refine what you are looking to achieve.

GoodXGames photo

GoodXGames photo

With the formal launch around the corner, Bradley and his team are racing to meet their goals. If you are nearly as excited about this game as I am, like their page on Facebook to keep up with the team and get an exclusive look at what goes into building this app.

Defining Social Innovation and How to Get Paid to Do It

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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a dear friend of mine, Brian Bergman, the Assistant Director for the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Miami University. As an alumnus of Miami University, Brian explored his interests in international politics through course work as well as an immersion experience in Geneva, Switzerland. After discovering that he was more interested in issues regarding poverty, Brian began the move away from “big table” politics and toward international development issues. Obtaining his Master’s in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh allowed him to do just that. Approaching graduation, one of Brian’s professors from Miami, who had been a mentor to him since his senior year, had him join his team.

Brian Bergman

For the past two years Brian has contributed to Miami’s training, curriculum development, and three academic studies on social entrepreneurship. Brian’s experience so far has allowed him to develop several great nuggets of wisdom for anyone wanting to pursue a meaningful life.

On Brian’s Career Path

I always went after personal growth opportunities. Going to Geneva was an opportunity for me to take my first international flight, going to Kenya was an opportunity for me to live in a mud hut. Those experiences allowed me to grow as a person and learn more about my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve also been lucky enough to have people who encouraged me to always have a couple of things lined up just in case the plan fell like dominoes.

On What You Need to be Successful in Social Innovation

First, a functional business background, not like “the man” type of business, but having a strong understanding of how a business works because everything needs have money to operate, even non-profits. Lean Startup Canvas is the bedrock of our curriculum. Second, not being afraid of numbers. Understanding how to use the right test for the right things is critical for conducting research. Third, knowing how technology works is crucial, you’ve got understand how the whole system works because technology is literally in everything that we do. Fourth, know what you are good at and keep developing those skills. When you go to work somewhere, there’s going to be a guy who loves doing the things that you may not be as good at so focus on just being you.

Top Tips for Any Social Entrepreneur

First, ask yourself what you are most passionate about. Then find out, what is the market? Who are the non-profits? What is the government doing? Are there gaps?  If there’s a gap, that’s where you opportunity lies.

Second, burnout is real. Everyone wants to be around positive people so you have to find ways to disconnect from the work. For example, I like to play ice hockey. When you are playing ice hockey you can’t think of anything else or you’ll get seriously injured.

Third, and possibly most important, is learn how to network. For every 100 contacts you have, you will have 2 to 3 really close contacts that can help guide you as you are developing your idea. For me, those close contacts have had the greatest impact and I wouldn’t be here without them.

Pursuing a career in social innovation is particularly challenging as it is a relatively newer field. In addition to following Brian’s advice, check out The Stanford Social Innovation Review to keep up to date with current trends. Are you working in Social Innovation? Share your wisdom below in the comments.