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What a Great Idea! Contest


What a Great Idea!
A contest to support innovation in human services.

The Annual What A Great Idea! Contest will be accepting applications! Submit your great idea for a chance to win consulting services from a graduate student team. Winners will be announced at the Council's 41st Annual Convention. 


Contest Overview
The Providers’ Council’s What a Great Idea! Contest, open to any member agencies in good standing, aims to support innovation and social enterprise in Massachusetts human services by helping provider agencies bring their innovative ideas to fruition. Social enterprises use business methods to help achieve their social missions and serve diverse clientele. Such endeavors have the potential to diversify revenue streams in organizations, provide new work opportunities for clients and consumers, increase efficiency and cost effectiveness, and create more jobs in the human services sector.

What a Great Idea! Contest winner(s) will receive consulting services from graduate students at local universities. Services received will depend upon the project and could include a feasibility study, marketing plan, business plan, strategic plan, etc.

Continuing with last year's revisions, the What A Great Idea! Contest offers three levels of project development for submission:

Level 1: Concept Paper

Applicants submitting proposals in Level 1 are projects in the initial stage of development. Proposals will include a skeleton outline including basic elements (idea, strategy, estimated resources needed etc). This level is ideal for an organization that has a great idea, but is unsure how to fit this idea into their existing programming or is looking for additional creative minds to brainstorm a plan for development, feasibility study and/or funding sources.

Level 2: Project Proposal

This level asks applicants to lay out a clear plan including documentation of initial steps that have been taken, potential business outlines and development stages which have been identified through internal processes. Applicants will provide detailed plans for future development while highlighting areas where student consultants and mentorship will be of particular value. This level is ideal for organizations that have been working to develop a project, but have been unable to move forward up to this point.

Level 3: Business Plan/Pilot Proposal

This level is intended for organizations that have considered details regarding infrastructure, staffing and projected outcomes of project. Organizations submitting applications at this level should have identified necessary steps to move the project into a pilot stage. Applicants will highlight specific areas where expert guidance and support will be necessary. Additionally, projects at this level should have a timeline with projected benchmarks and deadlines. This level is ideal for organizations that have been working on a project for some time but need extra support or resources to move into the pilot stage.

Contest Requirements

Providers’ Council member organizations are invited to submit their innovative idea for a social enterprise to the What a Great Idea! Contest.  In order to be considered, ideas must:

• Be connected to a human service agency based in Massachusetts that is a Providers’ Council Member in good standing
• Have full support of organization CEO and/or Executive Director.
• Be innovative and creative.
• Serve the human services community of the Commonwealth.
• Be feasible and sustainable: the parent agency must demonstrate that they have the capacity and plans to support the project and bring this idea to fruition beyond the contest.
• Be aligned with the parent organization’s mission as a human service provider.
• Further self-sufficiency for the parent organization.
• Have agency support of 8-10 hours of staff time each week that the 14 week consulting project is in progress. This will likely be spread out over multiple staff members.

*Please note, all applications will be reviewed through a blind reading process in order to protect the integrity of the contest, ISE Committee members and proposed applications.

Applications are due, July 1st!

Check out some of our previous contest winners:

  • Full Circle ARTS, a retail and online store of JRI featuring eco-friendly artwork and other creative products made and sold by adults with disabilities (2011 Winner).

"The collaboration with the BU Team gave us tremendous momentum and confidence, raised the profile of the project within JRI and provided us with a blue print for implementation.  The team’s business plan provided us with key development information, including financial data, sales benchmarks, goals for product development, market research, and an operational marketing strategy." - Deirdre Hunter, Justice Resource Institute

  • Cloud4Causes, an IT services business of HMEA which provides IT services and network administration to peer nonprofits (2011 Winner).

"Student work provided some good market data that changed our thinking about the optimal customer in terms of size and IT needs." - Mike Moloney, HMEA

  • The Cafe at Whole Children, a cafe run by The Association For Community Living that serves as a job-training site for teens and young adults with developmental disabilities and a community social hub and gathering place featuring talent shows, art openings, and performance opportunities (2012 Winner).
  • The Amego, Inc. Coffee Shop, which provides employment opportunities for individuals in Amego's Day Programs and offers Fair Trade coffee and baked goods (2012 Winner).

"The students assigned to create our business plan for the café were extremely positive, energetic, available, and committed to providing us with a plan that is both useful and effective in helping us achieve our long term goals." - Bill Barefoot, Amego, Inc.

  • Cobblestone Farm and Enrichment Center, an enterprise of Road to Responsibility that will provide employment opportunities in farming, gardening, and animal care, sell products at a farmstand, and will also offer fee-for-service classes to the community (2013 Winner). 

Thank you to our previous contest sponsors!

Graduate School of Social Work, Boston College

Masters of Public Administration Program, College of Professional and Continuing Education, Clark University

All agencies must be members of the Providers’ Council to be eligible to win. 

For more information, please contact Liz Woodbury at 617.428.3637 x125.