Talk about a perfect fit.

Two years ago local retired businessmen Ernie Manuel and Pete Pearce came to the Bryan School looking for a partner for their plan. They wanted to help those struggling with homelessness by fostering their entrepreneurial dreams.

At the Bryan School of Business and Economics, Dr. Channelle James was teaching an undergraduate course in social entrepreneurship, which blends business with serving the community in some way. Social entrepreneurs use market forces to create social good.

Together, they reached out to the Interactive Resource Center, a day center in Greensboro for those who are experiencing homelessness, and found a way to help several people who have talent and passion but needed business expertise and a small loan to make their businesses a reality.

Each semester students work in small groups to help their entrepreneurs define the market, create business plans, set pricing and develop marketing collateral such as business cards and web sites. Then the students and entrepreneurs present their work to Manuel, Pearce and Liz Seymour, executive director of the IRC. That team decides whether to back the plans with small loans – generally $150 to $300. The entrepreneurs are expected to set up a payment plan to repay the loans.

The entrepreneurs get a boost, and students get even more.

“The students learn about social issues of employment, creating business plans and how to present in front of people with great experience,” James said. “Sometimes it’s easier to learn when you’re working on something for someone else.”

For Maria-Elena Henry ’13, the class was an opportunity to live out UNCG’s service ideal.  “I’ve always wanted to give back,” she said. “When we serve more, it puts things in perspective.”

And students feel the impact of this class long after they graduate. James recalls a summer Saturday when she went to the IRC for a fundraising car wash.

“When I pulled my dirty little car up, I saw Matthew Puzio.” He had graduated the previous May but came back to volunteer. “That meant a lot.”

Another student, Andres Bueno, helped present the IRC arts co-op, ArtiFacts, at the UNC Social Business Conference last September, even though he finished her class the previous year.

“Business can make a difference,” James said. “This program has so many wins. I haven’t figured out one wrong thing with it.”

Read more about this class in the spring 2013 issue of UNCG Magazine.

By Beth English

Photography by David Wilson