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The Spirit of Enterprise: Social Entrepreneurship Finds Home in the Hudson Valley

Mike Caslin was teaching at Babson College and its sister F. W. Olin Graduate School of Business while simultaneously getting his MBA four years ago when his concept for what is now the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship Network (GCSEN) first formed.

“It was a fusion of three decades of my career,” he says. “I saw a tremendous need.”

At the time, he started to put together his new way of teaching the au courant idea of social entrepreneurship. Caslin was coming off two decades as CEO of the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship, which reached out to over a half million youth in 31 states and 13 countries; work with over 40 firms across 12 industry sectors as both an outside strategic consultant and inside operational leader; plus his own entrepreneurial activities that ranged from investments and board membership on dozens of for- and nonprofit entities to 14 domestic and eight start-up ventures. He was known for being able to raise funds and teach the hard lessons and underlying theories of entrepreneurship.

So how did he get the bug for social entrepreneurship, then find new ways to promote its community- and sustainability-focused precepts as a teachable tool as important for business school students as supply and demand, fixed and variable costs, returns on investment and basic competitiveness?

“There needs to be a focus on the triple bottom line,” Caslin says, speaking about his basic approach to what he believes will be driving the new “millennial driven economy” for the next 40 plus years. “People first, with essential profit and environmental stewardship is the most practical, pragmatic, and peaceful way forward to a more productive, prosperous and just society. You need accountability, targeted improvements for one’s host community, and intentionality.”

The concept of socially responsible business approaches taking root in the world in general, and Hudson Valley in particular, builds from the new 21st century business focus on entrepreneurship that lay dormant for decades after first being discussed by Adam Smith in the late 18th century and then refined by Joseph Schumpeter and other Austrian economists of the 1930s. It takes a recognition of the inevitability of at least some periods of self-employment in most people’s working lives these days, and combines it with a penchant for start-up companies seeking to make money while addressing societal problems, as well as those seeking to alleviate the negative aspects of seeking capital through new means of balance.

To demonstrate its methodology in practice, Ulster County-based GCSEN has been presenting major talks at local schools, including SUNY Ulster’s Howard St. John lecture in early October. It  ran a social entrepreneurship boot camp last summer over the same weekend that many in the region celebrate as the anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, and also started a new “GCSEN Venturator” program in tandem with family-run FALA Technologies.

The Venturator is a  combination of innovation incubator resources, co-working space for start-up ventures, cutting edge blended learning curriculum lab, and classroom. It is designed to serve as “home for social entrepreneurs from across America who want to go the full distance from concept to commercialization.”  All have been funded through GCSEN’s earned income from its various educational programs, as well as a generous grant from the Diana Davis Spencer foundation, one of whose missions is to support a rebirth of American entrepreneurship.

According to Caslin, his starting of GCSEN in the Hudson Valley—Kingston specifically—came as the result of his own family journey to relocate to Hurley.

“We see Kingston as a local hub that’s globally relative,” he says, pointing out how GCSEN is now working with MIT to create blended learning courses just as they did years ago with IBM during its heyday in the area. “Most business schools have not yet appropriated what we’re doing, but that situation is fast evolving. And we’re not constrained to business schools… I guess you can consider the GCSEN approach and our knowledge bank as the intellectual software and proprietary course ware for teaching the new entrepreneurship.”

Caslin notes the work he’s been doing with students, “faculty champions,” department chairs, deans, provosts and college presidents to raise awareness of the need for new concepts for new businesses asking not so much what they want to do, but why.

He also adds that the new incoming US president, as a business person, might better understand the importance of bettering the entrepreneurial climate to again lift business start-ups, and their effects on social responsibility, from what he described as being at a 40 year low.

“Social entrepreneurship is the only engine,” Caslin says.

For more information about the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship Network, visit www.gcsen.com.