When it comes to social entrepreneurship and supporting young founders with a purpose, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who radiates as much passion and devotion as Audrey Miller ’20. Miller, a Toledo, Ohio native and Syracuse University graduate who double-majored in political science and international relations in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, now channels this entrepreneurial spirit through her role as Program Coordinator at the Watson Institute in Boulder, Colo.
Miller’s interest in social entrepreneurship dates back to her senior year of high school, where she worked with a non-profit focused on education, community sustainability, and long-term growth in Uganda. For Miller, this was an eye-opening experience that shifted the trajectory of her educational and professional journey.
“This was the first time I had ever really heard of community sustainability,” said Miller. “Before that, my only idea of sustainability was environmental sustainability and not this idea of building up a community. After this, I became really interested.”
When Miller landed on the Syracuse University campus for her freshman year in 2016, she immediately sought out ways to become involved in the university’s sustainability and social entrepreneurship community. After watching a presentation in one of her first semester classes, Miller reached out to the founders of Thrive Projects, a student-run non-profit focused on building community-sourced solar panels in Nepal. After working with Thrive Projects throughout her freshman year, Miller took the initiative to launch her own student organization named Thrive at SU, which served as a bridge between local non-profits and the university student body.
“We focused on how to help students get skills and build their resumes while giving back to the community,” explained Miller. “There are so many cool and diverse things in the City of Syracuse that I feel like as students we get cut off from.”
Through her work with Thrive at SU, Miller became acquainted with the Blackstone LaunchPad and its members, where she eventually accepted a role as a Global Media Fellow in her sophomore year. In this position, Miller assumed the responsibility of managing Syracuse University’s Hult Prize Competition, a prestigious global business competition focused on granting prizes for solutions to societal problems. While working as a campus director for Hult Prize, Miller was granted the opportunity to travel to London, England to meet with campus directors from other universities at the organization’s accelerator program, an experience that made a lasting impact on her career path.
“That trip really solidified my love for social entrepreneurship,” said Miller. “It was really amazing getting to meet all these other people from around the world who had the same desire to have a positive impact and enable others to have a positive impact. It was such a transformative experience.”
With her sights set on working in the social entrepreneurship space after graduation, Miller packed her bags and moved west to Boulder, Colo., where she accepted a role as an Operations Coordinator with the Watson Institute, an accelerator program focused on assisting and educating young, early-stage entrepreneurs through biannual 16-week programs. The Watson Institute also prioritizes initiatives aiming to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges through technology and innovation, a mission that provides meaning to Miller’s work.
“I feel very honored to be able to work with so many amazing young people who want to have a huge impact on the world,” said Miller.
Now in her new role as Program Coordinator, Miller draws on many of her prior experiences to navigate a dynamic and exciting schedule as part of the small Watson Institute team, where her span of responsibility ranges from running classes and grading course assignments to managing the mentorship program. From working on the Hult Prize in the LaunchPad to launching her own student organization on campus, Miller feels as though her experiences on the Syracuse University campus were invaluable.
“If you want to work with an entrepreneur, you have you have entrepreneurial skills yourself,” explained Miller. “The skills I have now were developed in the LaunchPad and through my other experiences. They are what got me to where I am now.”
Miller relishes the social entrepreneurship community and connections she has made since starting her job and stays in close contact with many of the Watson Institute’s former students, no matter if they live in the United States or in foreign countries like China, Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria. Above all, she finds gratification in hearing success stories of former students who have gone on to make real change in the world through by way of their ventures.
“There have been times when I have cried from seeing how amazing some of these people are,” said Miller. “I feel so humbled being able to work with them.”
Though she doesn’t have her own transformative social entrepreneurship idea, Miller plans on staying in the social entrepreneurial space and continuing to assist talented young entrepreneurs into the distant future.
“This work has given me such a different perspective on the world and the problems I face every day,” said Miller. “I love being able to help others make progress and make a huge impact in their community.”
Story by LaunchPad Global Fellow Matt Keenan ’22