As a budding social worker getting their MSW, you’re looking forward to a life in service of others. In your career, you will help make the changes your community needs to provide a better future for those who come next.
To accomplish this, your options are unlimited: maybe you want to work in a nonprofit agency or a hospital. You could become a school social worker, or work on policy for the government.
One thing social workers shouldn’t neglect is the possibility of becoming business owners. After receiving your MSW, you are in a terrific position to start your own business, whether that be a private practice or otherwise. Over the course of your graduate studies, you will be trained to effectively form relationships and build rapport, which are some of the most important skills any entrepreneur could ask for.
Pair that with your natural passion to make the world a better place, and you have what it takes to build a successful business.
However, perhaps you’re struggling to find time between classes to flex your business muscles. Maybe you have an idea, but you have one problem. Where do you start with your startup?
The Foundry Is Here to Help
Luckily, Fordham has the perfect outlet to help mold your business plan — The Fordham Foundry.
Grown out of Fordham University’s effort to provide entrepreneurial students with a beyond-the-classroom support structure for their businesses, the Foundry is Fordham’s hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. Along with its outstanding mentorship opportunities for Fordham students, the Foundry is most known for its two annual business plan challenges — the Ram’s Den, and the Annual Pitch Challenge. Through these opportunities, Fordham students have the potential to pitch their startup ideas and earn venture funding.
“Through the Foundry’s programs, I was getting access to things that I just couldn’t teach myself,” said Jennifer Aleman, GSS ‘15, 16, who placed 4th in the Foundry’s Pitch Challenge and was awarded $3,000 for her startup, Peace Starts Now. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I could ask the Foundry’s staff questions, and they were so available to me.”
Al Bartosic, Executive Director of the Foundry, wants all Fordham students to know that his organization was created for each and every one of them — not just business majors. Sometimes, Bartosic said, students from schools not named Gabelli can get intimidated by the idea of pitching their startup plan to industry professionals.
The Foundry exists to quell these insecurities. With its staff’s guidance, any student from any Fordham school or program can craft a winning pitch.
“What we always say at the Foundry is that entrepreneurship is for everybody,” Bartosic said.
In life, we can always learn from those who came before us. So, if you are an MSW student with startup dreams, keep reading. In honor of the Foundry’s 10th anniversary this year, we sat down with a few GSS community members who have had success with the organization, and explored why social workers make great entrepreneurs.
Peace Starts Now – Jennifer Aleman, GSS ‘15, 16
When Jennifer Aleman arrived at Fordham GSS for her MSW, she had been using yoga as an outlet to escape a “toxic” environment in her personal life. Although she found the exercise and meditative qualities of yoga to help process some of the trauma she’d experienced, there was a barrier to entry: cost.
“I basically became really angry that mindfulness wasn’t accessible,” Aleman said. “Especially for someone like me, who needed it more than anything.”
As time went on, Aleman learned more about mindfulness through her classwork and formed a business plan. Her startup, named “Peace Starts Now”, would center around employee wellness, and incorporating mindfulness awareness into corporate settings.
“I wanted to bring mindfulness into that space, and it was kind of like a new budding topic,” Aleman said. “I thought, oh, this is something here.”
Serious about taking her startup idea to the next level, Aleman decided to participate in the Foundry’s Pitch Challenge. But before she pitched, Aleman made sure to take advantage of all the Foundry’s offerings. She practiced her pitch with the Foundry staff at their office on Fordham Road in the Bronx, went to events they held at the Lincoln Center campus, and learned the ropes of some necessary-but-tricky business jargon, which would help her articulate her plan better when the time came to take the stage.
“I didn’t have a business background, so I couldn’t speak business,” she said. So, she did her best to learn this new language.
But it wasn’t fancy jargon or seductive PowerPoint slides that earned Aleman a fourth place finish at the pitch challenge. It was her story.
“I won because I was able to communicate the importance of the impact,” she said. “I wasn’t just selling a product. This was more than just a business. This was something that was going to help change people’s lives.”
Holly Diamond – Work In Progress
Holly Diamond didn’t come to Fordham GSS with a business plan in mind. In fact, she’d never even considered opening up a business at that point in her life. However, what she did have was a mission — driving her to help others.
“I came to GSS to learn how to help people find jobs,” Diamond said. “Specifically the immigrant community, which has a hard time because of their background.”
Diamond, a recruiter by trade, wanted to bolster her understanding of human connection and relationship building. She came to social work to gain these skills through coursework and real-life field education experience.
So, when she received an email detailing the Foundry and its pitch competition, she decided to throw her hat in the ring. The company: Work In Progress, a recruiting organization whose goal is to help immigrants land their dream careers.
“The Foundry gave me the motivation to start a business,” Diamond said.
As a social worker, Diamond has also felt the stigma that those in her profession aren’t expected to be business owners.
“Social work is more of a service foundation; we aren’t expected or encouraged to start businesses,” she said. “So, social workers don’t think it’s an option.”
However, Diamond noted that businesses are about the people — both the staff you employ and the clients you serve. And who better to run an “empathetic” business model, as she calls it, than a social worker?
“Social work’s core foundation is to empower people to reach their potential,” Diamond said. “You can’t go for it if it’s just for yourself; it’s not sustainable.”
Speaking of selfless business ventures, Work In Progress is not the only project Diamond currently has in her portfolio. She also helps run Mr. Mista Oh NYC, a restaurant owned and operated by Diamond’s father and brother, opened after the pandemic caused both to lose their food industry jobs.
“My father and brother were in the restaurant industry for 20 years,” Diamond said. “I was a recruiter helping people find jobs, and my family was struggling at home.”
Diamond said that her experience at GSS learning about capacity building—or, starting with one’s own home/family/community to make a difference—caused her to reevaluate her priorities and help her family open the restaurant.
“I thought, if you can’t find a job, why not make one?” Diamond said.
Plus, she added, restaurants are service-oriented businesses. So, it was right up her empathy-alley.
“I came to GSS and learned that an individual can bring change,” she said.
La’Shay Crayton – Black Christian Therapy
La’Shay Crayton, a current Ph.D. student at Fordham — along with being a mother of one, with another on the way! — sought out the Foundry’s guidance for her organization, Black Christian Therapy.
“As an organization, we focus on connecting black people and communities of faith to the most adequate culturally competent care,” Crayton said of the organization.
Started to help support Crayton’s brother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar depression, Black Christian Therapy was a response to Crayton’s challenging experience finding a therapist with an understanding of spirituality and religion. While her family was eventually able to find help, the hurdles and hardships throughout the process caused Crayton to think that there must be another way.
Crayton got to work with the Foundry to pursue her entrepreneurial passions and address the social problem she’d encountered. To her, there was no intimidation factor. As a social worker who came from a family of entrepreneurs, Crayton knew this was exactly where she needed to go, and the Foundry was the first step to get there.
“The Foundry has an abundance of resources and experts who are successful in their respective careers,” Crayton said. “Social issues do not exist in a vacuum. The role of the Foundry is innovation. Social Work has the responsibility to stay up-to-date and innovative.”
So, she took advantage of the Foundry’s offerings, crafting her business acumen “without paying the hefty price to meet with a consultant or get an MBA.” Crayton has enjoyed the Foundry’s one-on-one consulting sessions, where she has learned a lot about maintaining a social media presence, as well as how to build systems within her organization.
The Foundry also helped Crayton reconnect with the mission of her work. Crayton admitted that she’d sometimes get so caught up in trying to stay current with trends, that she’d get lost in the weeds and lose sight of the end goal. The Foundry’s consultation sessions brought her back to the mission.
“I was missing the meaningful connection to the work,” Crayton said. “The consult sessions provided me an opportunity to reassess and realign what I wanted.”
By working with the Foundry, Crayton has been able to fuse the things that guide her career—faith, entrepreneurship, and the social work code of ethics—into a path that is truly her own. And she believes that this is not and should not be unique to her experience.
“The best social workers believe in social enterprise,” she said. “It is extremely important that we empower our clients and help them navigate what it is that they want from their lives. We need ingenuity and creativity in order to serve our clients and populations well.”
Take Your Leap
As a social work student, the skills you learn in the classroom and in the field make you a versatile professional, capable of adapting to many different career situations. Along with the theoretical and practical aspects of social work, you are learning skills that will help you form the bedrock of your personal and professional relationships. Whether you are a caseworker, therapist, consultant, or otherwise, you will use these skills on a daily basis.
And perhaps you have a kernel of an idea, something that could end up becoming a full-fledged business model. However, you’re not sure if you should take that leap into full-on entrepreneurship.
The Fordham Foundry can help make that leap a little easier. Not only will its staff teach you the business side of entrepreneurship, but they help you with the hardest part of a startup — the start.
As a Fordham student, you can utilize a medley of the Foundry’s services to get started — whether that be consulting services for your business, or, if you don’t quite have that kernel formed yet, you can attend their pizza parties to begin building your network.
Remember, entrepreneurship is for everybody, and you aren’t just anybody.