The Acara Institute was founded in November, 2008 by a diverse team of experienced professionals with a passion for social ventures and nurturing future leaders: Erin Binder (3M), Julian Marshall (University of Minnesota) and Fred Rose (Honeywell). Acara Institute started as an independent 501c3 non-profit but since has become a program within the University of Minnesota. Acara is a joint effort of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) and the College of Science and Engineering. Acara has developed into an innovative and globally recognized university program that brings a unique and effective approach to the education and development of future leaders.
Much thought has been given to social issues such as food security, clean water and energy, proper sanitation, and other environmental and public health issues. Many non-profits work to alleviate suffering caused by these conditions. Acara believes that there are sustainable business ideas that can resolve or alleviate these seemingly impossible issues.
Acara’s vision is to tackle these significant challenges facing the globe, by connecting individuals and organizations with an interest in creating practical business solutions.
Acara’s mission is to educate and develop student leaders and to subsequently develop ventures focused on societal and environmental change. Acara achieves that by offering a series of courses directed toward developing a venture that is focused on solving an environmental challenge. In the 2011-2012 academic year, Acara faculty taught 76 students in five Acara courses. These courses featured 29 student-developed venture ideas, 10 of which have progressed to the pilot stage, and 33 guest lecturers. More broadly, as of August, 2012, over 700 university students in 4 countries have been involved in the Acara Challenge.
Acara’s mission lends itself to two critical areas of action:
- Impact via incubation and launch of social ventures
Acara has developed a number of programs to support the engagement of university students from around the world in developing social ventures. The Acara Challenge and the Summer Institute offer students a hands-on business development experience. Acara pairs US universities with non-US universities so that, by design, student teams are international. Each student team is composed of students from a US university and its respective partner university, who collaborative remotely through the course of the semester. The students learn about how to identify a problem/opportunity, to design an appropriate solution that is financially, socially and environmentally sustainable and apply these concepts to their specific situation. The cross-cultural aspect of Acara is a powerful approach for generating creative, practical, robust social ventures that can make effective progress towards social goals. For teams in the Challenge and the Summer Institute, Acara supports the development of a business venture plan, then works to incubate and launch the plan.
In January, 2010, Acara Institute India was formed as a trust organization in India. This is the US-equivalent of a 501(c)3 non-profit. Acara Institute India manages the India side of the Acara program.