JC Otero and Team Talk about the Austin Social Innovation Hub
Where are you from originally?
JC: San Antonio, Texas
Matt: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Martin: New Braunfels, Texas
James: Houston, Texas
What university did you go to?
JC: I graduated from St. Edwards University with a double major in Business
Administration and Management.
Matt: I have a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, a M.A. in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and a M.S. in Computer Information Systems from St. Edward's University.
Martin: First part Blinn Junior College in Bryan, then Concordia University
in Austin. Majored in management and human resources with many classes in
entrepreneurship and social work.
James: I was a triple major/quadruple minor at the University of Texas at
Austin. Hook 'em!
What brought you to Austin?
JC: I feel that destiny brought me here--perhaps with a little push from my
parents who commanded me to attend college in any city except for San
Antonio--and now that I'm here I can't see myself leaving anytime soon.
Matt: I came to Austin in 1998 to attend the University of Texas. I
originally majored in Electrical Engineering but after taking a year off and
some soul searching, I decided that I was more interested in studying human
cognition. After a brief stint in Philadelphia to get my Masters degree in
Psychology, I had trouble finding a job and decided to get back into
computer programming. A friend of mine encouraged me to apply to work at an
Austin start-up as a computer programmer...and I have been here ever since.
Martin: I was recruited to help with a national non-profit that catalyzes
college students to create social change. They had a presence here.
James: The University of Texas initially pulled me in; the eccentricity and
vibrancy kept me here.
What is the idea behind your startup?
Catalyzing the entrepreneurial community to develop innovative solutions
for social challenges is at the heart of what we do. We believe that anyone
can be a change agent--sometimes they just need a little help.
What need does it fulfill?
There are many people in Austin who have innovative solutions to the problems that plague our society. But what's lacking is a structured ecosystem that enables these great ideas to become real solutions. The Austin Social Innovation Hub is stimulating this ecosystem by making resources available to social innovators, providing the network that enables them to connect, educating the public and new social innovators, and doing the research and advocacy to support social innovation in Austin and beyond.
What exactly does your product do?*
Our purpose is to catalyze innovative solutions to social problems.
We have four offerings:
- *Incubation*: launch and accelerate innovative social enterprises from
idea to cash flow
- *Networking*: facilitate collaboration between social innovators and
social enterprises in Austin both online and face-to-face settings
- *Education*: educate individuals and enterprises on how to create
- *Research*: research and advocate for social innovation in Austin and
Specifically, we're creating physical hub for social innovation that serves as a co working and incubation space and a website that enhances collaboration among Austin’s key stakeholders and concentrates resources on promising social innovators and enterprises.
Who is it for?
Anyone interested in creating social impact.
The hub is meant to be highly inclusive; individuals of all backgrounds and
enterprises at all stages of development are invited to join the community. Our members and partners have diverse interests: creative capitalism, social
entrepreneurship, social business, corporate social responsibility, blended
value enterprise, double and triple bottom line accounting, microfinance, and sustainability, among others. But their unifying characteristic is their passion for social innovation, which has several definitions, but one is "an initiative, product or process which profoundly changes the basic routines, resource and authority flows or beliefs of any social system. Successful social innovations are therefore disruptive and have durability, impact and scale." [Frances Westley, University of Waterloo]
What was the most challenging aspect of starting up a business?
Everyone has great ideas but not everyone wants to do the work to make it a
reality. For us the most challenging aspect of getting starting has been
getting a committed team to work for sweat equity to actualize our long-term
vision. Considering that everyone involved is still working full-time jobs
or in other revenue generating ventures, it's been difficult to coordinate
schedules and hit some set goals. Fortunately, we're all bootstrappers and
we're comfortable making magic happen with the resources we do have.
What is the next step for you and your startup?
The next step is to solidify our business and organization model and begin
testing it in Austin. To do that, we need to continue to build our team and
secure initial funding. We expect to launch the incubator component in 2010.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
Have faith in yourself, your skills, your strengths, and the possibilities
around you. If you are passionate about something stop talking about it and
do it! Beware of what the naysayers say; if you believe in it, then go for
it and don't give up. And, most importantly, don't underestimate the
willingness of others in your reach to help you with accomplishing your
What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?
The Austin entrepreneurial community as a whole has been absolutely amazing.
Their willingness to brainstorm with us, review our developing model, and
provide psychological support has been instrumental in moving us forward.
It's incredible what you can accomplish when you align with a group of
dedicated individuals towards a shared, powerful goal. And what better place
to be for socially-minded innovation and entrepreneurship than in Austin,