Campus News


Soka Hosts First SEED Business Symposium

Soka University launched its first Social Enterprise & Economic Development (SEED) Business Symposium on Friday, November 30, 2018, featuring high-level leaders and speakers from innovative companies around the country.  SEED Symposium was sponsored by the Office of Academic Affairs and Bridges to Business (B2B), a coaching and mentorship program helping students connect their education into the business sector. The forum engaged business founders, social entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, philanthropists, educators, and students, with the intention to inspire awareness and promote discussion about how social enterprise, conscious business, non-profits, and public-private-educational partnerships can work together to create healthier economic ecosystems.

Vice President of Academic Affairs Ed Feasel and Soka B2B Director Mary Patrick Kavanaugh welcomed over 90+ participants to Founders Hall. Guests included members of the Soka community, local business leaders, educators, and local high school students from Santa Ana and Fountain Valley.  Dr. Feasel opened the program by sharing his enthusiasm of how economics and business can influence social impact and innovation, as well as how the Soka mission of value creation also has important applications in the business community.

The day started with Neetal Parekh, CEO of Innov8social, giving an overview of the social enterprise sector with her talk, “The New Bottom Line: Business Models of Social Impact.” Parekh, a licensed attorney, with expertise in digital strategy, storytelling, and communications, discussed how her career trajectory ultimately led her to parlay her legal career into one focused on advising leaders interested in business models that focus on positive social impact, such as Benefit and B-Corporations.

Named as EY’s 2018 Social Entrepreneur of the Year in Orange County, Melissa Beck, President of Anonymous Philanthropy, discussed “Re-inventing the Non Profit & Social Sector,” by outlining how she applies cutting edge for-profit business strategies to the non-profit structure. Beck shared how a personal epiphany led her to commit her career to working in the non-profit sector. Realizing they had to be concerned with two bottom lines and are mandated with changing chronic and systemic inequities; she felt non-profits should have access to the most talented workers and ample resources. In her nearly 6 years with Big Brothers Big Sisters (5+ as CEO) she grew revenue over 300%, and the organization was named a top place to work by the Orange County Business Journal (1 of only 2 non-profits given that distinction). Beck now serves as President of Anonymous Philanthropy where she helps philanthropists create proactive and strategic ways to amplify their giving and achieve maximum social impact.

Mike Hannigan, President and Co-Founder, Give Something Back, A Certified B Corp. presented “Activist to Entrepreneur: Rise of the Socially Responsible Business.”  A successful business leader with a drive to provide greater community resources, Hannigan applied his passion for activism to business and created a competitive national office supply company that gives a portion of profits back to the buying community by funding local non-profit organizations.

“Entrepreneurship: Why Risk It All for a Dream,” was the topic for lunch keynote speaker Gail Becker, who shared the pains and passions of a newly minted entrepreneur. As founder and CEO of Caulipower, a breakout frozen pizza company that produces healthy options in the gluten-free frozen food category, Becker shared how the death of him immigrant, entrepreneurial father, inspired her to leave her high-level and lucrative position as a partner at a global public relations firm to risk going into business. With two small children at home dealing with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder which doesn’t allow the body to process gluten, Becker took the small inheritance left by her father and launched Caulipower Pizza.  The road to success was not easy (“sometimes I would cry three times a day”) but her new product offers nutritious, tasty food for the gluten intolerant, and is now ranked among the best-selling frozen pizzas.  Additionally, as part of her business model, the company donates a percentage of profits to an organization that fights against childhood obesity.

The afternoon consisted of three vibrant panel sessions. First, husband and wife team Rick and Nancy Holiday-- moderated by Soka fourth year Emmanuel Gebremeskel--discussed how their innovative housing manufacturing firm Factory O_S, is bringing transformational change to a stagnant construction industry by building well-designed, tech-ready multifamily homes 40% faster and 20% less expensive than conventional housing. They explained how the savings are proven, not projected, and are accomplished by building the bulk of the homes off-site inside a large factory, with union labor, right down to the toilet paper holders. They then ship the modular homes and assemble them on-site, making them more affordable and efficient than traditional construction.

Three thought leaders in the corporate sustainability sector then tackled the topic of how to set standards and create blueprints for more responsible consumerism. Jaime Nack, Sustainability Advisor for Three Squares Inc. and founder of the Women in Green Forum, moderated a discussion with Kimbrely Matsoukas, Senior Manager, Sustainability and Social Responsibility at Vans, and Faith Taylor, Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility at Feliciano School of Business at Montclair State University.

The final panel, moderated by Ed Feasel, examined the relationship between The Seminar Network (a group of like-minded philanthropists interested in social enterprise founded by Charles Koch), Stand Together, (a funding organization that identifies strategic partnerships for The Seminar Network), and Chrysalis, a local social enterprise that successfully helps the unemployed and at-risk get jobs, funded by The Seminar Network and Stand Together. Speakers included Will Moyer from The Seminar Network, Sam Leyvas from Stand Together, and Mark Loranger from Chrysalis. This panel generated animated audience Q&A and plans to continue the conversation in future SEED or related forums.

Considered a vibrant and engaging information exchange, tentative plans for future SEED conferences are in the planning stages. More information is available through the Office of Academic Affairs.

Photos courtesy of Soka University Photographer, Archivist and staff.