UT’s Impact Factory building future generations of civic entrepreneurs
The University of Texas (UT) at Austin has established a unique program that already is delivering powerful benefits to students and the public at large. At The Impact Factory, students are becoming innovative civic entrepreneurs by learning startup strategies while experiencing every stage of a start-up firm and having positive, measurable impact on communities in need.
Just over a year old, The Impact Factory — a collaboration between Dell Medical School and the LBJ School of Public Affairs — engages students, faculty, and staff from nearly every school across campus, as well as dozens of cross-sector partners in Texas and nationally. Good things are already happening, and leaders are seeing positive outcomes from several of its programs and initiatives.
Drawing from its four core pillars of prototyping, acceleration, teaching, and capacity building, The Impact Factory’s portfolio programs have delivered more than 850,000 pounds of food to over 26,000 people facing food insecurity, aided in the hiring of more than 40 part-time employees, enrolled 260 mothers and babies in poverty in a scholarship program, connected over 6,000 people in 63 countries to combat loneliness and mental illness, helped 85 small business owners stay in business amid economic downturns, and overseen the education and development of nearly 300 student partners. The Impact Factory’s newest programs are relieving Americans’ medical debt, reuniting people experiencing homelessness with lost loved ones, and connecting high-risk young adults with transitional employment.
Executive Director Dr. Michael Hole said he is particularly fulfilled by hearing the stories of students who are enthusiastic about transforming the lives of people who were struggling before receiving help from The Impact Factory. He also believes in co-building solutions to society’s toughest problems alongside the community members actually facing those problems.
Seeing an opportunity to leverage economies of scale in several of the university’s startup-styled programs by incorporating them under one umbrella organization, Hole founded The Impact Factory in 2021.
Some of the projects in its portfolio include:
- Good Apple, a doctor-prescribed grocery delivery service fighting food insecurity.
- Main Street Relief, a nationwide network of volunteers helping small businesses with financial management, strategic planning, technology, and more.
- Early Bird, a health system-integrated scholarship program for babies in families experiencing poverty.
- Big & Mini, a videoconferencing platform matching seniors and teens to combat social isolation and loneliness.
He credits his staff and a team of Impact Fellows – educators and nonprofit, government, and corporate leaders – for mentoring these student-entrepreneurs and turning these programs into potential acquisitions.
The former case worker turned pediatrician, policy professor, investor, and serial entrepreneur has hopes of replicating this platform so its programs, teaching, training, and methodology may benefit other parts of the world. To share his expertise in national discussions, he is participating in the Biden-Harris Administration’s newly formed and nonpartisan Health Equity Leaders Roundtable.
Hole and roundtable colleagues, including executives from global firms, will investigate potential public-private partnerships, data-sharing opportunities, and possibilities for scaling evidence-based programs via federal policy to address health inequities.