8B 2014 The Statement
In its first year, optiMize, a student
organization focused on social innovation
and entrepreneurship, has had impressive
results. The group raised $85,000 to fund
student-run nonprofits through its Social
Innovation Challenge. But all of this
success comes from humble beginnings -
a few beers shared between co-founders
Tim Pituch and Jeff Sorensen after
Festifall in 2012.
"We were trying to figure out what we
were going to do with our lives at that
point," Sorenson said, "And after the first
beer (Tim) was like 'I don't know, this
sounds OK but I've got a lot of stuff going
on.' But after the third beer, we were like
'We're going to do this and this and this.
We're going to get this done.'"
Pituch, a first year Health Informatics
graduate student, and Sorensen, a recent
program, didn't have much experience
with social innovation before they started
"I actually hadn't even heard of the
phrase social entrepreneurship before we
starting talking about the idea of optiMize
last fall," Pituch said.
The idea grew out of a feeling of
frustration and the belief that University
students had the potential to make real
changes in the world.
"In a lot of classes we were talking
about, you know, public health issues or
education issues, environmental energy
issues, systemic inequality," Sorensen
said. "Students would come up with really
interesting ideas to address these issues
that weren't being done. And there'd be
a lot of energy around it - you could see
the potential to act on these student ideas.
But then the class would end and nobody
would actually get out and try them."
Over the past year, optiMize has
succeeded in moving those plans into
action. The money raised for the Social
Innovation Challenge went to fund more
than SO groups around campus - like
the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative
that harvests more than 10,000 pounds
of produce from the north side of Detroit
or to allow the ReSource Fund to provide
financial planning assistance to low-
income residents of Washtenaw County.
optiMize has even made an impact
on the LSA Course Guide, working to
put together several one credit courses
focused on topics related to social
As Pituch and Sorensen are quick to
point out, however, the success of optiMize
is dependent on its ability to help students
take the first step towards putting their
own ideas and interests into action. For the
organization's founders, their partnership
provided that initiative.
"I think the fact that we were doing it
together honestly made all the difference.
If either one of us had tried to go out and
do something alone, we would have easily
gotten discouraged," Pituch said.
Moving forward, Pituch and Sorensen
hope to continue optiMize's mission
while making sure that they continue to
appreciate their success.
"We would just get so excited about
some of these things (at first)," Pituch said.
"There was many a high five that was had."
"We're getting too cynical now,"
Sorensen said. "We used to do a lot more
high fives. We used to get one meeting
with somebody and be dancing in elevators
afterward. You kind of need some of that
naivet6 at the start."