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Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab

The Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SIE) Lab at UNC School of Social Work supports students and faculty in exploring, designing, and implementing new ways of addressing complex social problems. Among its activities, SIE Lab has helped Master of Social Work students launch social venture startups.

Mission and history

SIE Lab uses an interdisciplinary lens to facilitate connections between MSW students and colleagues in other fields and professions, including public health, business, law, government, and technology.

Through its expansive network of research faculty, data analysts, and subject matter experts, SIE Lab also provides consulting services to nonprofits and social enterprises. Consulting and technical assistance is available for assessment needs, evaluation, strategic planning, and capacity building.

These strategic efforts are led by Gary Nelson, Ph.D., who serves as Thomas Willis Lambeth Distinguished Chair in Public Policy and as director of social innovation and entrepreneurship at the School. For more than 30 years, Nelson has been an innovator in social work, using his passion for research and knowledge to benefit the people of North Carolina. In support of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s stated aim of making innovation a fundamental pillar of education, Nelson’s vision was to create a space in the School that was dedicated to social innovation and entrepreneurship.

SIE Lab’s mission aligns with UNC-Chapel Hill’s vision to make innovation fundamental to all that we do and to be of the public, for the public.

Current initiatives and projects

In 2020, SIE Lab created the Community Aspirations Hub and Carolina Catalyst, two initiatives that use strategic tools to explore solutions to social problems, in partnership with local organizations.

In 2021, with generous support from UNC School of Social Work alumna Vera Tayeh, SIE Lab presented the first Vera Tayeh Innovation & Impact Awards. These awards provide $10,000 grants to students for the development and implementation of innovative ideas.

Social venture start-ups

Since its inception in 2017, SIE Lab has provided support for social venture start-ups by innovative students and alumni from UNC School of Social Work, who have launched social enterprises in their communities. These enterprises address social problems by targeting workforce development, increasing advocacy supports, and providing opportunities for greater accessibility.


Tanya Jisa, Community Education Coordinator

SIE Lab shares news activities through its own social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.