They're young, they're inspired and they're on a mission to prove that business can have a heart. They're the next generation of entrepreneurs and they call themselves social entrepreneurs.

They're young, they're inspired and they're on a mission to prove that business can have a heart. They're the next generation of entrepreneurs and they call themselves social entrepreneurs.

A recently launched program at The Ohio State University called the Social Innovation and Commercialization (SIAC) Initiative is helping these aspiring entrepreneurs learn not only how to harness innovation for societal change, but also how to build business models that support sustainable growth for the long run.

Social entrepreneurism is not a new concept; it's been floating around since the 1960s. A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to make social change.

Even teaching social entrepreneurism at the college level is nothing new. In fact, for the last seven years, Purdue University has hosted an "Idea to Product Commercialization for Social Entrepreneurship" competition that has garnered entries from schools across the nation including University of Colorado, University of Virginia and Brown University. A team from Ohio State's SIAC program recently won honors in the competition for a product they developed to help children with Down syndrome learn time management skills.

What makes the Ohio State program unique from offerings across other campuses is an emphasis on commercialization techniques that allow products and ideas arising from the program to achieve sustainable growth.

The SIAC Initiative at Ohio State is supported in part by the Tony R. Wells Foundation, a private family foundation started by technology entrepreneur Tony Wells following the sale of his IT training and education company in 2000.

"I am blessed to have dedicated the last nine years in building a stronger community," says Wells. "Our mission is to create value for the community by developing social entrepreneurs and investing in the next generation of social innovations. But we're focused as much on the commercial viability and sustainability of an idea as we are the innovation behind it."

The goal of the program is to teach students how to take a socially responsible product or service through the complete commercialization pathway from initial concept (imagining phase) through product validation, customer acquisition and long-term business success for the ultimate good of society and sustained support of the partnering non-profit. SIAC is led by Peter Rogers, a visiting professor at Ohio State with 35 years of industry experience in the development and commercialization of products and services.

Three potential products to serve the needs of the disabled have resulted from the program's inaugural year: a compression vest for children with autism, programmable exercise equipment for adults with physical disabilities and the award-winning Linear Clock designed to help children with Down syndrome master time management skills.

Innovation within the SIAC Initiative begins with a defined need. Students and advisers are partnered with the local chapter of a non-profit organization, such as Easter Seals, the United Cerebral Palsy Association or the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio.

Through exhaustive interviewing, analysis and brain storming, the teams identify a specific need and determine possible innovations that could meet that need.

Although it is still too early in the history of the SIAC program for any of the concepts to have spanned the entire commercialization pathway, the end goal is to create a product that the non-profit partner can help market to its constituents, eventually rolling it out on a national level through affiliate organizations across the country thus producing a sustainable business model.

Profits from this model will be divided, with a portion going back to the partnering non-profit to continue its service within Central Ohio, and part of it re-invested back into the SIAC Initiative to continue its educational mission, work with other non-profits and create OSU's first completely self-sustaining academic program.

Ohio State the students and the university are squarely behind the concept of social innovation. The student organization, Ohio State Business Builders Club, recently hosted its first Alleviating Poverty through Entrepreneurship Summit where students came together to prove business can have a conscious when it comes to commerce.

In addition, SIAC recently received a $45,000 Engagement Impact Grant from Ohio State to fund the further development of the program.

For more information on the Social Innovation Initiative at Ohio State, visit the Social Innovation Initiative: http://www.

For more on the Social Entrepreneurship and the Business Builders Summit, watch the video: http://www. watch?v=gpljW1mWWoA.