With an enrollment representing 130 different countries, George Mason University is a welcoming and supportive institution for students from a wide variety of cultures. The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), within Mason’s School of Business, plays upon the strength of diversity and inclusion by bringing together ideas and perspectives for real solutions that serve the local business community and the world at large.
This fall, they are launching the RISE (Refugee and Immigrant Success through Entrepreneurship) Program as a cohort of the center’s SOAR Initiative. Over the span of 11 months each year, the SOAR Initiative is an inclusive entrepreneurship training and support resource for community members. SOAR provides a holistic model for startups and empowers individuals who do not currently have adequate access to entrepreneurship training opportunities. RISE, in particular, focuses its support on aspiring entrepreneurs from refugee and immigrant backgrounds. The SOAR Initiative will also be introducing programs for aspiring entrepreneurs who are currently in a low socio-economic status, as well as a cohort for people living within rural and emerging communities.
The RISE Program and SOAR Initiative are important elements of Dean Ajay Vinzé’s vision for the School of Business. Dean Vinzé joined Mason in July 2022 and quickly got acclimated by meeting with leaders of the community, including Sumeet Shrivastava, MBA ‘94. “As Dean Vinzé came in and presented his vision of the next stage of entrepreneurship education at the School of Business, all the pieces started fitting together,” says Shrivastava, “as it represented many elements of the story of my parents’ journey as immigrants and entrepreneurs.” In a gesture that proved instrumental to the development of RISE, he and his family have presented a gift of $1.5M to the program.
“Most universities and business schools in the U.S. have a center for entrepreneurship – what makes the programs of our SOAR Initiative unique is our focus on inclusive entrepreneurship education,” says Dean Vinzé. “RISE, with its focus on refugees and immigrants, is the first of three programs we are launching to support aspiring entrepreneurs who face longstanding structural inequities in accessing entrepreneurship training and support resources. I am grateful to Sumeet Shrivastava and his family for their continued generosity in supporting our business school’s vision of facilitating the transformation of entrepreneurs, their families, and our local economies through entrepreneurship.”
Shrivastava, a leader in the government IT industry, has been a resident of Fairfax County for 50 years, about as long as Mason has been an independent university. He’s witnessed the growth and has acted as a catalyst for much of it as a committed board member, donor, and volunteer for the School of Business and George Mason University. He is excited to see the program’s focus on encouraging members of the refugee and immigrant communities, who have shown interest in entrepreneurship, to pursue their passions. He also acknowledges that many of them are already entrepreneurs at heart. “The folks who are coming from very difficult situations, are already showing some of the core attributes required of entrepreneurs – courage, resilience, and expertise from their prior lives,” he says. “We can help them get a quicker start into that part of their journey here and help them succeed.”
Consisting of entrepreneurship training, mentorship with an entrepreneur, and consultation with Mason Honors College students, RISE will equip participants with the knowledge and support they need to change the trajectory of their lives and those of their families. School of Business community members have the opportunity to play an integral role in their success by serving as mentors. Mentors will connect with participants every other week in individualized meetings to empower them and offer guidance from their own experiences. By working together and supporting each other’s successes, the School of Business team aims to facilitate the transformation of refugees and immigrants, their families, and our local economies by empowering them with the ability to thrive at all levels. The program will be a key component of the Mason Virginia Promise to provide a pathway to a bachelor’s degree or the help to start a business for every Virginian who wants one. Together, Mason is working to revitalize the American Dream. If you would like to lend your support to the RISE Program or the SOAR Initiative, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CIE is proud to partner with Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area and the Notre Dame Urban Poverty Business Initiative on the SOAR Initiative and RISE Program.