Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Cheryl A. Getz, Ed. D.; Lea A. Hubbard, Ph. D.; Tara C. Salinas, Ph. D.


entrepreneurial identity construction, entrepreneurial learning, higher education, social entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship education, social innovation


Social Venture Plan Competitions (SVPC) are increasing in higher education because of the belief that more and better social ventures can help address “wicked” social problems. Students have been offered guidance and cash awards to launch or expand social ventures, resulting in a few highly publicized success stories. Designed as a learning-by-doing approach, SVPCs are meant to simulate how entrepreneurs are thought to learn. For ethical reasons, it is not possible to create the ambiguity and uncertainty typical of new venture creation. Consequently, critics have cautioned against giving students the impression that a social venture plan is central to the entrepreneurial process. The value of SVPCs in stimulating social venture creation has, therefore, been questioned. Missing in the debate is the voice of students as key actors in their own education and development.

This study sought to understand the perspectives of a sample of nine students regarding their engagement and learning in a SVPC. The participants were undergraduate students from two different universities who participated in a winning entry in a SVPC. Using a narrative inquiry approach, the study collected participants’ lived stories to better understand: (a) their motivations, goals, and values for participation; (b) the meaning they made of their experiences; and, (c) how their sense of self-identity was impacted. Additional data was collected from direct observations and materials obtained from the SVPC’s web portal.

Findings suggest that most participants were part of a student group or project that was seeking funding for the costs of developing or testing a prototype for a creative product or service with potentially social benefits. Participants who launched a venture were found to have invested a substantial amount of “sweat equity,” a term used to describe the commitment in time and money needed to launch a new firm. Although participants varied in the way that they constructed, or failed to construct, an entrepreneurial identity, they all reported benefits such as an expanded network; increased self-confidence; and, improved problem-solving and communication skills, among other enterprising behaviors. The implications and recommendations for the design and delivery of social entrepreneurship education programs are discussed.

Document Type

Dissertation: USD Users Only


Leadership Studies