Some university students and staff are working to help develop solutions for long-standing social issues through a new civic engagement initiative, The Impact Factory.
The Impact Factory is an organization that promotes civic innovation, entrepreneurship, service and learning at UT and was founded by Michael Hole, a Dell Medical School and Lyndon B. Johnson School faculty member. The initiative aims to alleviate prominent social justice issues using cross-sector collaboration among different departments at UT as well as businesses from across the country.
“There are a whole host of issues in the United States, both long-standing and new, that are causing harm to Americans lives and livelihoods,” Hole said. “It’s my belief that each of those problems could be addressed in a new way if we set loose energetic and talented entrepreneurs to innovate on them.”
Since its development, The Impact Factory has established four core operations: prototyping, acceleration, teaching and capacity-building. These initiatives have involved expanding relief programs from other states to Texas, helping young entrepreneurs start their businesses and academic workshops, Hole said.
Allen Zhou, electrical and computer engineering sophomore, said he founded Big & Mini in April 2020, a platform that creates one-on-one connections between youth and older adults. His program has since been featured on the Today Show, which prompted Hole to offer him a partnership with The Impact Factory.
“I think it was a really opportune time because we honestly were looking for mentorship in a social impact space, and we were trying to do good.” Zhou said. “(Hole has) been really helpful in terms of mentorship and helping manage our impact and growth over time.”
With the help of Hole and The Impact Factory, Zhou was able to connect with people in the Austin area who could further help him improve and market his product, which has connected over 2,500 people to date, according to the Big & Mini website.
The Impact Factory also partners with University faculty to create solutions to help vulnerable populations in Texas through research and academic workshops.
Michael Mackert, director of the UT Center for Health Communication and impact fellow for The Impact Factory, said he helps provide information for communication-related inquiries, specifically public health marketing.
“If different projects that are going on ever had the need for some kind of communications department or any kind of health communication problem or issue, I can be a connection both for what I personally have to offer but also getting the teams that will be part of The Impact Factory connected with the right faculty member or grad student,” Mackert said.
There are multiple ways for UT students to get involved with The Impact Factory, whether it be through taking portfolio courses or being part of workshops to learn new skills, Hole said.
“We have a whole host of volunteer opportunities if students are looking to get involved in their community, get their hands dirty, gain some practical experience learning good things while they do good things,” Hole said. “Most all of our organizations in the portfolio have opportunities for passionate people who are willing to donate some of their time to a good cause.”