A one-stop shop for student-founded impact startups

College Green Ventures, a recipient of Penn’s 2022 President’s Engagement Prize, finds and supports student-founded impact startups.

From left, Sam Strickberger, Max Strickberger, Seungkwon Son, and Niko Simpkins of College Green Ventures.

What’s more valuable than gold? Diamonds. Than diamonds? Virtue.

Verily, students at Penn, and their generation in general, have taken Ben Franklin’s old adage to heart. One study found that 94 percent of Gen Z believes companies should address social or environmental issues; at Penn, three out of four startups in the University’s thriving ecosystem have defined impact goals.

“Young people are so engaged with the world around them and they want the places they work to improve the world, too,” says 2022 graduate Max Strickberger.

But while the pathway toward traditional, for-profit ventures is robust, there is less support for impact startups—ventures that have the dual purposes of making a profit and improving the environment or society.

To fill this gap, recent graduates Max Strickberger, Sam Strickberger, and Seungkwon Son have established College Green Ventures, an organization that aims to be a national hub for social impact on college campuses. It will be a one-stop shop for supporting impact entrepreneurs and creating more of them. The project was one of the recipients of Penn’s 2022 President’s Engagement Prize.

“College Green Ventures showcases the forethought and social consciousness of our dynamic students and of Generation Z,” says Interim Penn President Wendell Pritchett. “Their work will do much good here at Penn and at universities across the country.”

From left, Niko Simpkins, Seungkwon Son, Interim Penn President Wendell Pritchett, Max Strickberger, and Sam Strickberger.

Translating ideas into action

College Green Ventures supports two populations: early-stage impact ventures and students interested in impact careers.

On the startup side, the organization will discover early-stage impact startups and provide them with publicity, talent, and, eventually, funding. Since College Green Ventures targets undergraduate or MBA founders, it will employ student teams, or “scouts,” at dozens of universities to source new companies.

Teams are already operating at Penn and Columbia University, where they have sourced two-dozen impact startups, which are featured in a weekly newsletter. College Green Ventures is also building out an advisory board comprised of impact professionals across U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to support the startups it locates. A monthslong college tour is planned for the fall, which will focus on two school communities: ecosystems that traditionally receive venture capital attention and those that are often overlooked, particularly Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Niko Simpkins, a 2022 graduate who will be joining College Green Ventures, will help the platform scale and build momentum. He sees his work for the company as an extension of his entrepreneurial work in the music industry and his job serving as the first president of the Underrepresented Student Advisory Board in Engineering.

“With College Green Ventures, we’re not just looking to create impact through the ideas we elevate, but also the people. We’re designing our hub to include historically underrepresented leaders,” he says, “and in this way, I see College Green Ventures as not just a platform but also an invitation.”

For students interested in social impact, College Green Ventures is creating a pipeline that will educate students about up-and-coming impact ventures, connect students with jobs and internships, and feature pitch competitions so students can bring their own ideas to the table.

In five years, Son, Simpkins, and the Strickbergers say they would like College Green Ventures to be synonymous with social impact.

“If you’re young and have an idea for how to better the world, College Green Ventures will help you translate that idea into action,” Sam Strickberger says.

Sam Strickberger and Seungkwon Son converse with Wharton Dean Erika James at the recent President’s Innovation Prize/President’s Engagement Prize luncheon.

Making the world a better place

Mutual interest and frustration brought them all together, along with a desire to change the world.

Twins from Chevy Chase, Maryland, Max Strickberger, an English major, and Sam Strickberger, a history major, first met Son, a business analytics and psychology dual-degree major from Allentown, Pennsylvania, during PennQuest their first year. Max met Simpkins, a mechanical engineering major from Chattanooga, Tennessee, at Hill College House during their first year.

They bonded over their common interest in social impact and vexation about the lack information about impact-related ventures.

Like many college students, Max Strickberger says the four of them came to Penn with a real eagerness about trying to make the world a better place, but he says it quickly became apparent that there was a lack of resources for ventures that merged profit and impact.

Max Strickberger joined the Turner Social Impact Society at the Wharton School to search for more impact-related channels and reached out to Tyler Wry, an associate professor of management at Wharton who studies social entrepreneurship. Wry mentioned his research about Penn startups and their integrated impact goals; Strickberger was intrigued and sought out further collaboration. Wry helped Strickberger flesh out his idea and ultimately became the group’s project mentor.

“Tyler’s more than our mentor—he’s a full partner in our venture. He’s generous with his time and empowers us to push this as far as we can,” Max Strickberger says. “And he’s there when we have questions, which is often.”

Three years after identifying and bemoaning a problem, the Strickbergers, Son, and Simpkins have reunited to present to the campus and collegiate community a solution.

“The four of us come from very different backgrounds and we’re studying very different things, but we’re all commonly interested in social impact,” Son says. “We’ve known each other since the very beginning of Penn so coming back together three years later to create something so aligned with all our interests that leverages all of our different skills is a dream.”