Enactus UCD

Salome Hayes-Shuptar outlines the business and entrepreneurship potential of Enactus UCD

Enactus is a unique student society, fusing together entrepreneurship and volunteering to create an experience flexible for many backgrounds and interests. The key phrase is 'social enterprise' – business orientated around positive, sustainable impacts on the community. This mind for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and community footprint provides an outlet for meaningful involvement, while the entrepreneurial aspects serve as an opportunity to bolster soft skills and business knowledge. As a branch of the global organisation, Enactus UCD also puts forward its best projects in the competitive arena. Projects nationally and potentially internationally compete for funding, recognition, and collaborators, with the prospect of travelling for the World Cup (or in these times, attending it from home). Members can also take part in a myriad of events throughout the year, although some of the society’s ambitions have been curtailed this semester due to the ongoing pandemic.   

The society is structured around individual projects which are designed to be self-sufficient. While Enactus is a non-profit organisation, businesses cannot rely on donations to break even. Team Leader Nikita Fernes specifies that should a business make more than enough to cover expenses, any extra funds being reinvested into the business to increase sustainability and impact. The term ‘projects’ is a loose definition, as each of the five currently under Enactus’ purview vary in scale, impact, and business model.

Within Enactus there are three main bodies: the committee, the teams, and society members. The committee oversees logistics and organisation, project leaders head each of the teams, and society members do not necessarily need to work on a project but can contribute and participate in events. The leadership liaises with business advisors who provide a predominant source of guidance for the society, according to Chairperson Adi Bhattacharya. Larger affiliates include Enactus Ireland and business partners such as KPMG, Bank of Ireland, KPG, and Unilever, who sometimes offer internships that society members can apply for.

Team sizes and leaders differ from project to project. Longer running businesses usually change hands when the society leadership turns over, such as the workshop-based initiative HeadstARTs, while the self-start-up Dilate has been running under its founder, UCD alumnus Padraig Spillane, since its inception. Those who might not be ready to commit an academic year to a project can participate on a voluntary-basis or simply attend events.

There are several avenues through which to join Enactus: being a member of the parent Investors and Entrepreneurship Society at UCD (“I&E”), competitions, or contacting Enactus through its social media. As a partner of the I&E, membership to the former grants access to all Enactus UCD events. Enactus also hosts competitions which offer an introduction to the society’s structure and environment for prospective members. The 2020 Summer Accelerator in collaboration with BioSoc had five teams of four to five members each innovate a STEM-based solution addressing a social issue. Under the guidance of an Enactus or BioSoc mentor, each team had to put together a business plan that would contribute to at least three of the SDGs. A €350 prize was then awarded to the best project - as judged by a panel of business advisors and professionals working in STEM fields.

Individuals with their own start-up ideas can also pitch directly to Enactus either through their Team Leader Nikita Fernes or Chairperson Adi Bhattacharya. According to both, Enactus UCD is open to new ideas and projects, particularly those with a focus on sustainability, impact, and scalability. Fernes says that Spillane, the founder of Dilate, approached Enactus UCD two years ago with the idea and since then Enactus has provided the project with guidance from its business advisors, exposure, and assistance filling positions. 

Fernes and Bhattacharya each spoke about Enactus’ accessibility. They emphasised that students do not need a business or finance background, nor do they need to have prior entrepreneurial experience to get involved in the society. Fernes added that a large part of Enactus is addressing social issues and innovating creative solutions, which involves perspectives from all backgrounds. Ambitious individuals wanting to run a project and engage with the business aspects of the society have the guidance of Enactus UCD’s business advisors at their disposal. Experience on the job is the best teacher and students will learn the necessary skills as they progress. Alternatively, those wanting to get involved in the community, volunteer, or help one of the pre-existing projects can do so at their discretion. As all these projects are non-profits, it can be difficult to recruit the necessary labour and all the projects are happy to have volunteers. Fernes added that Enactus UCD often gives updates on volunteering opportunities, open positions, and project reviews via its social media pages, Enactus UCD on Facebook and @enactusucd on Instagram.

There are currently five projects running under the banner of Enactus UCD: HeadstARTs, Dilate, Buyrish (formerly Shop Glas), Digital for Youth (formerly Social Boost), and Green Brew.

Started in 2018 by Padraig Spillane, Dilate is a free-to-download app that connects rough sleepers in the city centre with homelessness organisations such as Inner City Helping Homeless Dublin. App users would be able to send a homeless individual’s location to organisations which could dispatch staff providing food, bedding, or clothing. In the future, Spillane hopes to expand the radius of coverage beyond the city centre. However, whilst the app was scheduled to launch in early December 2020, they suffered from setbacks and delays, although Bhattacharya hopes that it will launch soon.

HeadstARTs provides those with intellectual disabilities classes in the arts, crafts, and theatre. This year it has proved difficult, as it was necessary to shift all activities online. In partnership with St. Michael’s, Goatstown, Enactus spoke with supervisors who personally knew the participants and were able to cater to their best interests and needs, according to Fernes. Through Zoom, team members and volunteers hosted dance classes and kept the participants company. Volunteers are required to be Garda vetted; however, Enactus can also organise this for those without it.

Digital for Youth, formerly Social Boost, is an initiative to train young people, primarily in Transition Year, in digital marketing as well as other useful skills such as self-financing. Schools pay a nominal sum for the classes and students benefit from learning skills that can help improve their chances at employment. Normally students are paired with charity organisations to put their skills in practice and gain experience in a voluntary internship. Of course, with the ongoing pandemic, this has proved a challenge, and Bhattacharya says that these internships will continue, but there is no specified date.

Started in 2020 as the winning project in the Summer Accelerator, Buyrish, formerly Shop Glas, is an alternative to the notoriously unethical brand giants. Its aim is to support local sole traders, Irish business, and those who have been hit by the pandemic, satisfying SDGs such as climate action, life on land, and responsible consumption and production. Customers would be able to shop from the site with the knowledge that they are doing so ethically and supporting the local economy. Currently, it is in a development phase and is looking to get its website started.

Green Brew is another project which was restarted again recently by Enactus UCD. The project finds different uses for old grain and is currently in the development phase. Both Fernes and Bhattacharya say that Enactus is currently looking for people willing to work on the project. While a background in biology would be useful, it is not a prerequisite.

Fernes advises that students are always welcome to join a project they find an interest in either full time or temporarily.

Enactus hosts a range of events throughout the year, although the pandemic and necessity for remote events have dampened participation. Last year, Enactus hosted its Speaker Series, bringing members talks about social entrepreneurship from CEO of ReCreate Clodagh O'Reilly and CEO of Enactus Rachael Jarosh. It also ran an Incubator in April and May with 100 participants from over 10 countries. Around five teams were assigned to one of the seven projects under Enactus at the time and were tasked with brainstorming solutions to problems the projects were facing. Bhattacharya discussed the great exposure the event provided, allowing people to connect internationally despite the circumstances.

Pre- (and hopefully post-!) pandemic, Enactus hosted Accelerator competitions in person with occasional speakers during the weekly meetings. Talks generally had a focus on social enterprise. However, this semester the leadership is hoping to get feedback from students on the workshops or talks they would like to attend.

Smaller and more frequent plans include coffee meetings and brainstorming or ideation events. Enactus often collaborates with businesses or other societies as well with events to pitch business ideas for seed funding, practice public speaking, or participate in competitions. Bhattacharya also hinted at the possibility of a fundraising event aimed at raising money for a homelessness organisation this semester.

Individuals looking to round out their CV, gain leadership experience, or run a project with actionable and visible impact on the community can apply to become project leaders. Teams are encouraged to manage themselves, set their own goals, and develop the business as they see fit. As Fernes put it, she checks in with project leaders and consults on problems they may face, but she does not want to micromanage the team. Some projects requiring legal consultation, trial runs, or permissions will take longer to roll out or implement, and Enactus offers assistance where it can, outsourcing to its business advisors or subject matter experts on topics beyond their area of expertise. Bhattacharya and Fernes emphasised the growth they have experienced being a member and leader in Enactus, both personally and professionally. Both felt their experiences improved their communication skills, public speaking, and team building and management.

The society is also planning to host their elections in the near term, with Bhattacharya suggesting that an increase in participation early in the semester may lead to more positions being opened. Many of the current leadership are entering their ultimate or penultimate years at university, and Fernes encourages Stage 1 and Stage 2 students to apply for the openings as it is a good opportunity to gain experience and have a larger influence on the direction of the projects.

Enactus provides an adaptable fusion between volunteer work and business experience, letting members cultivate their involvement in whichever side they prefer. It is clear the diverse environment is a result of this flexibility. Each of the five projects–HeadstARTs, Dilate, Digital for Youth, Buyrish, and Green Brew–cover a wide spectrum of social issues, avenues for participation or volunteer work, and opportunities to upskill as a leader and entrepreneur. While the pandemic has posed a challenge to everyone, Enactus does have some offline events in the works for the coming semester and is open to getting feedback from its members discussing what type of events they would like to attend as well. Although the pandemic has dampened spirits, Fernes and Bhattacharya have done a commendable job in leading Enactus and offering its members a rewarding experience.

Special thanks to Enactus Team Leader Nikita Fernes and Enactus Chairperson Adi Bhattacharya for providing information for this article.