This semester, Georgetown McDonough held its first Georgetown Ventures & Values Pitch Competition as part of the senior capstone course, Social Responsibility in Business. The course, which focuses on the intersection between business and law, public policy, society, and ethics, concludes with undergraduate students pitching their own business idea.
The course framework is loosely structured into three sections. During the first third of the semester, students learn about theories of the origins of wealth and regulatory frameworks. They subsequently read case studies of prominent failures and organizational dilemmas in business, such as the Enron scandal, in order to examine what went wrong and study possible solutions. The last part of the course focuses on how business interacts with society and what creates a legitimate business.
“A business that conducts within law and morality is viable precisely because it’s doing something good for society,” said Bill English, assistant professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy, who teaches the class.
Throughout the semester, students worked on creating their own business idea while focusing on the corporate social responsibility aspect of the business. They were asked to choose a competitor and critique its social responsibility actions, as well as examine its advertising for falsities or moral ambiguity. At the end of the course, the students participated in the Georgetown Ventures & Values Pitch Competition, held in partnership with the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative and Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics (GISME). As part of their final business plan, students created a corporate social responsibility statement.
The pitch competition was judged by Georgetown faculty, alumni, and entrepreneurs-in-residence, including Jeff Reid, founding director of the Entrepreneurship Initiative; Brandon Anderson (C’15); Peter Mellen (C’89, MBA’98); John Jabara; Laura Clark; and Claudia Recchi (B’17). The judges assessed the businesses based on four benchmarks: feasibility, team, alignment with Georgetown’s Jesuit values, and how much impact the prize money would have. A total of $17,000 in prize money was awarded to the top three teams, provided by GISME.
The first place winner, Bullseye, proposed creating hot sauces made with hot peppers sourced from various regions around the world. While most producers of hot sauce offer one flavor profile, Bullseye wants to create a portfolio of hot sauce flavors using only natural ingredients. The group proposed creating local sourcing partnerships in the hopes that a successful venture would allow Bullseye to reinvest in those communities.
According to Chas Newman (B’18), a member of the Bullseye team, the project brought cohesion to his Georgetown McDonough education and those of his peers. “The course brings us back to the Georgetown values that were especially hit home as freshmen,” Newman said. “It forced us to grapple with the challenges of operating in a profitable, yet also ethical and sustainable way.”
As for English, he hopes the course gives his students a deeper understanding of themselves, as well as prepare them for the business world. “I hope the course enabled them to think deeply about their values and psychological biases,” he said. “It’s important to have a better understanding of the ground rules so you can see how problems may arise.”