The Shark Tank For Good

Arizona State University puts its social entrepreneurs to the test

It was the first time the school hosted a social enterprise competition. It was also the first time Phoenix-based philanthropic foundation, the Pakis Family Foundation, judged and awarded a university-hosted business competition. And by all accounts, it went off without a hitch. Except for one curveball. “The good kind of curveball,” assures Sidnee Peck, the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carey School.

Last Thursday (February 4) was a day of firsts at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. It was the first time the school hosted a social enterprise competition. It was also the first time Phoenix-based philanthropic foundation, the Pakis Family Foundation, judged and awarded a university-hosted business competition. And by all accounts, it went off without a hitch. Except for one curveball.

“The good kind of curveball,” assures Sidnee Peck, the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carey School. In addition to the winning student team, which took home $20,000 for their new venture, the Pakis Family Foundation dished out an additional and unexpected $10,000 for both runner-up teams–doubling the agreed upon award amount.

“That was the easiest part of the evening,” says Fred Pakis, chairman of the Pakis Family Foundation and event judge. “To me, it would have been the wrong message to send by letting the two runner-ups to go home with nothing.”


More than 80 teams from across departments on Arizona State’s massive campus applied to the inaugural Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge and were whittled to three teams of finalists. Part of the Carey School’s Spark Tank event, each team presented for eight minutes and then were subjected to “grilling” for eight minutes from the panel of four judges. The winning team, All Walks, an organization dedicated to serving victims of domestic sex trafficking received the $20,000 and a year-long placement in SEED SPOT, a Phoenix-based social impact incubator.

They beat out two teams comprised of both undergraduate and graduate students–Humanity X and 33 Buckets. Humanity X uses social media tools and algorithms to track social media statements indicating suicidal thoughts or actions and automatically connects that person with a counselor. 33 Buckets builds water filters for poor communities around the globe to clean and sell water.


“I’ve always wanted to do entrepreneurship,” says Jasmine Anglen, a co-founder for All Walks and senior finance major at the Carey School. Anglen learned about entrepreneurship when she was nine and her father told her about what a CEO does. As an 11-year-old, Anglen wasn’t shy to tell people she planned on being a CEO for a multi-billion dollar company when she grew up. “‘But you’re only 11,’ they’d say,” recalls Anglen.

Still, being a finance major and a very driven person, Anglen decided the route to that goal would be a sting as a Wall Street investment banker. “That’s the peak of finance and I wanted to be a part of it,” says the 23-year-old who’ll finish her business degree this spring. But then as a sophomore, she took a Wall Street trip with Arizona State’s investment banking club. “It wasn’t for me. I was having a crisis,” Anglen remembers. “I wasn’t very motivated by money.”

But Anglen still wanted to lead and have an impact. She had also recently listened to a speech given by a victim of sex trafficking in Phoenix. “It kept me up at night,” says Anglen. That’s when she learned of the work two freshman were doing. The two freshman were best friends from high school, Erin Schulte and Jessica Hocken.


Schulte, a global studies major, had been researching local human trafficking and sex slavery since she was a teenager. Hocken, an accounting major at the Carey School, saw an opportunity to do some good with her numberical skills. “I never dreamed of being an entrepreneur,” concedes Hocken, 21.

Still, the trio had an idea and applied to Arizona State’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, an on-campus incubation program. The team, comprised of two freshman, a sophomore, all of which happened to be women, were the youngest female-founded team to gain a space in the Edson Initiative.

Now, more than two years later, the team has grown programs and scaled across the state. All Walks, which is waiting for official 501(c)3 nonprofit status, has created a financial literacy curriculum that college-aged volunteers take to shelters for victims of sex trafficking. The volunteers train shelter staff to teach the girls in the shelter skills to be financially adept.

“We’re trying to reduce the relapse rate,” says Anglen, noting the average age of girls they are serving is about 14. “They come from foster care and homes of abuse and have run away and this helps the shelters administer specialized care.”


All Walks has designed the curriculum to make it easier for the shelters to qualify for grant funding. The team also helps in finding and securing the grants. To make itself more sustainable, All Walks plans on taking a small transactional fee from grants received that their program has helped secure.

“When we were designing the organization, as a finance major, it was important to me to make a really good business model,” explains Anglen. “We’re not just a nonprofit. We have a model that’s on the trajectory to being sustainable in the long-term.”

The team has already expanded to other Arizona communities, drawing on college volunteers from other major universities in the state. By August of this year they hope to begin scaling to a national level. The team, which gained a fourth member in psychology major, Brittany Ater, made big strides towards national awareness by gaining the endorsement and partnership of Cindy McCain and the McCain Institute. McCain, the wife of 2008 Republican presidential nominee and a highly successful businesswoman and philanthropist, partnered with All Walks to establish the Arizona State University Sex Trafficking Awareness week. The week coincided with the 2015 Super Bowl, which took place in Phoenix.

“We’re very lean and agile,” insists Anglen, who says each team member is planning on continuing to grow and scale the organization. “We have many supplemental revenue streams moving into the future.”


Pakis described the evening as a “rip-roaring success” and said what separated All Walks from the two other finalists was its readiness to scale. “They were ready to go on Monday,” believes Pakis. For Pakis, creating a social enterprise competition was a natural extension and evolution of the now 20-year-old Pakis Family Foundation and the way the millennial generation is choosing to do business.

“After getting more and more familiar with philanthropy over the years, we started getting interested in the idea of corporate consciousness and corporate social responsibility,” says Pakis, noting his foundation began looking at new ways of developing their philanthropic efforts as well as the traditional giving.

Interestingly, Pakis doesn’t have the background of a traditional do-gooder. “I came from the old school maximize your personal net worth mindset,” admits Pakis. “That’s what people looked for and was the mainstream.” Indeed, after Pakis earned a business degree from Case Western Reserve University, he went right to work for Sherwin Williams and then Deloitte, before starting and running his own venture, JDA Software, for 15 years. He also participated in London Business School’s Sloan Fellowship program along the way.

“Now the mainstream is you want to be proud of your company and what it does for the community,” continues Pakis. “You want to be a conscious form of capitalism and not just a maximize shareholder return type of company.”

The problem for Pakis and his foundation was they weren’t seeing enough of the “mission-driven-type of startups.”

“These candidates coming to our door were few and far between,” says Pakis. “So we decided to take a more proactive approach.” The proactive approach led to relationships with Peck and SEED SPOT, which is a nonprofit and the eventual establishment of the Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge.


At the Carey School and the larger Arizona State campus community, Peck says entrepreneurship and a focus on social entrepreneurship have both been building in interest and momentum over the past decade. A big step towards entrepreneurial prowess came in 2006 when Arizona State was awarded a Kauffman Foundation grant to transform its entrepreneurial education efforts. “We developed it under the mindset that entrepreneurship can be for anyone, no matter what your studying or what your interests or skills are,” explains Peck. “If you want to create your own organization or venture in that space, you should be able to.”

Later, Arizona State’s social enterprise interest and involvement grew significantly when the campus was named one of 30 Ashoka U. Changemaker Campuses as well as gaining Clinton Global Initiative U. status. Arizona State’s student-led Changemaker Central was established as a hub for students interested in “alternative career paths” like Teach for America or Peace Corps, says Peck. But it’s evolved into a spot for like-minded students to meet and ideate solutions for social and environmental challenges.

“This is where students can come and meet co-founders,” Peck says of Changemaker Central. “And social entrepreneurship is usually what comes of it because these students are drawn together by a cause. Then they decide, we should come together and do something about this. And I think as a generation, we’re seeing more and more of this.”


Pakis believes the interest level in social entrepreneurship will only grow. “I think it’s the way of the future,” says Pakis. “It’s the new new … I think it’s mandatory. I think millennials are demanding social relevance in their careers.”

Peck sees it the same way. “We really can be the most powerful if we can attack a social need through for-profit business,” insists Peck. “Or if we’re running a for-profit business, we consider our communities and the planet and our employees as a holistic approach.”

This was just the second year of the Spark Tank competition, which also includes the Sun Devil Igniter Challenge for “disruptive” teams. Peck says the organizing of a Shark Tank inspired competition was a response to a call from students who wanted to see fellow students pitching. LetsChat, a text chat-based English language teaching platform were awarded the first place prize and $50,000.