Becoming a Social Entrepreneur

When I graduated with my MBA degree this past May, I expected to spend my first summer in three years enjoying a lot of free time since I no longer needed to take two evening classes. That plan lasted for all of about a week and before I knew it, I had accidentally stumbled upon the “mother of all marketing problems.”

In addition to my newly acquired MBA, I also had nearly 20 years of marketing and communications experience at private firms, publicly-traded Fortune 500 companies and a major non-profit. So frankly, I just never saw myself as an entrepreneur -- well, that is until an unexpected social need presented itself.

In the fall of 2010 I finally decided to learn how to swim so I would be prepared for my graduation trip to Tahiti the following May. Nine months later, I had learned to swim all four strokes and had become a strong swimmer. In June 2011, I joined the board of directors of Minneapolis Swims, a grass-roots initiative to save the Phillips Community Center pool -- the only indoor public pool in Minneapolis.

As I began to research the swimming industry and drowning statistics, I found sufficient data for children, but very little for adults. I eventually discovered that 35-50% of U.S. adults don’t know how to swim and that of the 10 people who drown each day, 70% of them are adults. When I looked at all of the messaging around swim lessons and drowning prevention, it was almost all entirely focused on children. The lack of market segmentation, particularly in the swim lesson industry, has caused very real consequences: few non-swimming adults ever bother to learn how to swim.

As a new adult swimmer, MBA and marketing executive, I am now on a mission to prevent drownings, improve health and reduce disparities by getting more American adults (and children) to swim. The first phase of my business model is the web site I created called Swimmunity. It seeks to connect adult learners with all of the information they need about swimming and to help educate them about the significant health benefits. Without a source of funding, my site is dependent on search engine optimization, media coverage, social media and word-of-mouth -- low-cost ways to create awareness.

But is only a short-term solution while I work on a much bigger business plan to generate significant awareness for swimming in this country. When you encounter a social need you feel passionate about and realize you have the exact skill set required to make a difference, sometimes entrepreneurship chooses you.

Larissa Rodriguez, MBA ’11, is a full-time marketing executive in the health care industry