history: how the initiative was born

UNC’s Social Innovation Initiative is an extension of a long-standing culture of public service, social activism, and entrepreneurialism embedded into the DNA of UNC.

campus y_final_hires The UNC Social Innovation Initiative

In 2010, then-Chancellor Holden Thorp launched Innovate@Carolina, a campus-wide initiative to position Carolina as a world leader in public service through commercial and social innovation and entrepreneurship. Two years later, Thorp selected the Campus Y as the coordinating unit to lead its social innovation track for Carolina entrepreneurs.

This became the starting point for the launch of the initiative. The Campus Y immediately began forming a pan-university working group to build out a strategy to steer this new initiative and simultaneously launched CUBE, a social innovation incubator to provide dedicated co-working space and key services for student and faculty entrepreneurs focused on social change.

Y Logo nowords Why the Y?

The Campus Y, a venerable, 155 year-old Carolina institution located across from the Old Well and next to the Chancellor’s office, putting social justice and social innovation firmly at the heart of campus culture and at the core of the mission of the nation’s first public university.

Former UNC president Bill Friday referred to the Y as “the beating heart of the campus” because our undergraduates are in the building at all hours of the day and night translating the best of UNC’s ideals and research into collective action in the community. Historically, our students have been key actors in the free speech, civil rights, and environmental movements in the state. It is this history and culture that infuses our work on social innovation today.

The Y has a distinguished entrepreneurial track record incubating social ventures such as Nourish International, the Community Empowerment Fund, Student Environmental Action Coalition, and Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education. It has also launched initiatives within the University such as the APPLES Service Learning, the Daily Tar Heel, Student Stores, and intramural athletics. UNC’s Social Innovation Initiative is an extension of that long-standing tradition.

In 2003, The Kauffman Foundation provided initial funding to UNC to make social entrepreneurship education available across campus, enabling any student, regardless of field of study, to access entrepreneurial training.

Four years later, the Campus Y building was renovated and its 14,000 square foot space was modernized with the type of technology, modular furniture, white boards and collective space that are conducive to collaboration, creativity, and social innovation and the space was made accessible to campus innovators 24/7. Then in 2009, a New Campus Y Director was hired, with over a decade of experience in the social entrepreneurship field, eager to establish social innovation as one of the core pillars of the Campus Y’s strategic plan.

In the following year, Then-Chancellor Holden Thorp launched Innovate@Carolina, a campus-wide initiative to position Carolina as a world leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. Then in 2012, the Campus Y was chosen by then-Chancellor Holden Thorp to undertake the design of an incubator (CUBE) for social ventures. Program Staff at the Campus Y, in close collaboration with Judith Cone, former Vice President of the Kauffman Foundation, Chief Innovation Officer at UNC, began weaving together a pan-university initiative on social innovation centered at CUBE.

CUBE recruited its first cohort with four teams to help design the incubator model. Building out support services and partnerships with on-campus and off-campus entities for the first four CUBE teams created the initial infrastructure of CUBE. Since 2012, we have raised new resources to expand our efforts.

CUBE expanded its program in early 2014 and accepted ten social ventures in its second cohort. In the fall of 2014, CUBE formed an advisory board to steer the Social Innovation Initiative toward long-term sustainability, building on its track record.