He doesn’t fit the picture of the high-powered pinstripe MBA graduate taking on the world. In fact, Justin King, Tilapiana owner and founder, said he tried the regimen of working in corporate America after receiving his bachelor’s degree in finance from BYU in 2007, but somehow he didn’t feel it was the right fit.
“Looking out my office window, I had amazing views of Silicon Valley,” King said. “I had a great job, was working with one of the most innovative technology companies in the world and was making great money. But I desperately needed a change.”
King enrolled again at BYU and received his MBA in April. He said he believes he found the purpose he was looking for in his work as he has become a social entrepreneur. King speaks nostalgically as he reflects on how he discovered what he refers to as “that little small office in the Tanner Building” known as the Ballard Center for Self Reliance.
The Ballard Center is a division of the Marriott School of Management and is a hub for students, faculty and practitioners working together to create pattern-breaking solutions to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems. Historically, the center has led the way in the world of micro-franchising and supporting innovative practitioners across the globe.
Today, the center includes the Peery Social Entrepreneurship Program which supports students and faculty involved in the work of social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship is a form of social innovation, where innovators like King work locally and globally to find sustainable solutions to society’s greatest problems. Using entrepreneurial strategies and skills, they create non-profit and for-profit business models to solve social problems and drive change.
“The Ballard Center can become a great tool not only for students like myself who want to start their own social venture, but it can be a great resource to help students learn how they can become involved in social entrepreneurship, regardless of their career path,” King said.
Brad Hales, Ballard Center administrator, said one of the goals of the center is to reach out across all majors and disciplines and encourage social entrepreneurs in every sector.
“This is not about non-profit or for-profit, but about doing good in whatever discipline you are engaged in,” Hales said. “It is about having social entrepreneurial focus where you are trying to be innovative, thoughtful and disciplined in your approach to solving social problems.”
Students are able to learn how to make an impact in whatever discipline they are engaged in by participating in myriad programs and initiatives the Ballard Center offers.
The on-campus internship program, which matches students with top social innovators, was granted the “Award for Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship Education” from Ashoka U in April, according to a news release. Ashoka U is an international leader in supporting college social entrepreneurship programs.
After participating in an internship program, King returned home from his unique mentoring experience committed to creating a solution to alleviate poverty in Ghana.
“Because of the opportunity I had provided by the Ballard Center internship, it was a springboard to launching my own social venture,” King said.
For King, the discovery of the “little small office” in the Tanner Building propelled him into his new life’s work and to the forefront as a social entrepreneur. Together King and Tilapiana co-founder Andrew Stewart became involved in creating village level fish farms.
Fish is the primary source of protein in developing countries so there is a high demand for consumption. King explained how fish production is on the decline due to negative impacts on locally sustainable environments. King believed one way to solve this problem was fish farming. Collaborating with another friend who was on a Ballard Center internship in Nicaragua, King and Stewart began researching fish farming as a tool to alleviate poverty in developing countries.
“He planted in our minds the idea that this was something we could do in Africa,” King said.
Over the course of several months meeting with government officials, local fish farmers and building relationships in Ghana, Tilapiana was born.
According to their website, Tilapiana is a franchise product solution to the global fish crisis in the developing world. Using innovative approaches Tilapiana works together with qualifying owners in the developing world empowering them as rural entrepreneurs to successfully and profitably run their own fish farms.
Tilapiana’s “business in a box” franchise model provides franchisees a “profit in a pond” business with all the tools and training necessary to run a Tilapiana Fish Farm. Tilapiana’s goal is to empower their franchisees to help alleviate poverty and close the nutritional gaps in their communities.
Tilapiana was the first place winner of the Ballard Center’s Social Venture Competition in April.
“BYU is a leader in social entrepreneurship among universities in the United States,” said Aaron Miller, faculty director of the competition in a news release. “Most social venture competitions pool applicants from multiple schools. The fact that we can sustain such high quality ventures every year with BYU students alone is pretty remarkable.”
Colleges and universities teaching social entrepreneurship have quadrupled in the past decade according to Ashoka’s website. In 2004, 20 universities in the U.S. had a course in social entrepreneurship. Today, close to 100 academic institutions in the U.S. offer courses on social entrepreneurship.
For years the question was often asked by many: can entrepreneurship really be taught? According to Ashoka revenue analyst and BYU alum, David Stoker, the answer is yes.
“Certainly the environment can be fostered to teach the skills to be an entrepreneur in the world, which Ashoka founder Bill Drayton believes are necessary: empathy, teamwork and leadership being the three key skills that everyone will need to master to make a difference in our future world,” Stoker said.
Jane Leu, one of Ashoka’s social entrepreneurs agrees.
“Universities are uniquely positioned to be huge players — maybe even the biggest players — in determining where social entrepreneurship goes, as a field of education, as a practice, as a way we live our lives,” Leu said, according to Ashoka’s website.
The center has recently launched its Social Venture Academy, a program that mentors students like King in social entrepreneurship and how to actualize their ideas, according to a news release. The program is available to all majors. Future Social Venture Competition finalists need to enroll in the Social Venture Academy in order to be eligible for the competition.
Additionally, the center highlights on their website multiple opportunities for students to get directly involved with social entrepreneurs, as well as create and implement their own ideas. Each year, more than 500 students work with the Ballard Center working with well-known organizations to address social issues.
For more information visit the Ballard Center’s website at ballardcenter.byu.edu or the website for Students for Social Entrepreneurship at studentsforsocent.org.