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Entrepreneurial Students Win Competition

Dr. Muhammad Yunus, UNC President Tom Ross, and the Pennies 4 Progress team: Kevin Miller, Ryan O’Donnell, and Brandon Narybouth.

Pennies 4 Progress shone brightly at the first annual University of North Carolina Social Business Plan Competition. The nonprofit’s team members, NC State students Ryan O’Donnell, Brandon Narybouth, and Kevin Miller, won top prize at the statewide competition. No small feat, considering there were 31 teams competing from all 17 schools in the UNC system.

The competition was held as part of the UNC Social Business Conference. Organized by the UNC General Administration, the purpose of the conference was to bring together economic development interests from all regions of the state to discuss social business concepts. In addition, college student teams from across North Carolina were challenged to develop business solutions to pressing local and state issues.

The NC State team received a cash prize of $2,500 to put toward their business, as well as free mentoring from TiE Carolinas and the North Carolina Small Business Development Center (SBTDC). They will also represent their fellow competitors at the Board of Governors meeting in October.

Kevin Miller is majoring in International Studies and minoring in Spanish. He is also majoring in Business Administration. Ryan  O’Donnell, an Alexander Hamilton Scholar, is majoring in International Studies, minoring in Chinese, and also majoring in Economics. Brandon Narybouth is majoring in Economics and Business Administration.

Pennies 4 Progress aims to make it easy for any business to make a positive social impact in their local community and abroad by enabling businesses to add on a one-cent donation from each customer to the total of every transaction in their store. This penny supports micro-finance partners abroad. When the initial loan is repaid, it supports local community projects, such as food drives, community gardens and hospitals.

“We are currently starting up and in talks with a few people to (begin) our beta test next year in the local community,” Narybouth said. “Businesses will sign up to participate in our program and add a one cent mandatory donation to each customer’s transaction which is then transferred to us.” The team is working out the final details of funneling the money into the microcredit system, in consultation with those who have the expertise they need, including local social business leaders. “However, all three of us plan to see this through to the end,” he said.

Inspired by his extensive work with the NC Food Bank (now the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina) during high school, O’Donnell hatched the idea for Pennies 4 Progress and serves as chief executive officer. He brought on Narybouth as chief financial officer because of his experience in the financial industry. Miller rounds out the group as chief innovation officer, based on his work at the Unreasonable Institute, a social entrepreneurship incubator dedicated to solving the world’s biggest problems.

According to Miller, the best part of the competition was the people they met, which he felt was worth more than any prize.

The students were treated to a keynote presentation from Professor Muhammad Yunus. Yunus is a world-renowned Bangladeshi banker and economist best known for his work in microcredit. Microcredit loans are small loans awarded to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. Yunus and the Grameen Bank that he established were awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

Yunus told the students they had the power to change anything because of the technology that exists today. “Human creativity is limitless,” he said. “The distance between possible and impossible is shrinking.”

And Pennies 4 Progress is working toward positive change, one penny at a time. The website is currently under construction; in the meantime, additional information is available on their Facebook page.

By Megan Greer, associate director, NCSU Entrepreneurship Program, and Anna Rzewnicki, Poole College Communications