Jerry Hildebrand

Pursue your dreams and aspirations, and then figure out how to make them a reality.


Jerry Hildebrand has a varied and extensive background in public service, international and domestic community development and microfinance. He currently works as the director of the Social Impact Lab at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Outside the office, he serves on the Cordes Foundation board of directors and the Semester at Sea corporate advisory board and work with Fair Trade University USA, Opportunity Collaboration, Stockton Impact Corps and The World We Want Foundation.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Lynn University has a longstanding history of citizenship; giving back to the community it serves through annual programs like the Citizenship Project, Alternative Spring Break and a variety of other community service initiatives.

We saw a great opportunity to expand on those efforts and build a culture within Lynn through implementation of the Social Impact Lab, an experiential learning space where students and professionals can generate positive impact through sustainable business concepts. By creating a hub for students to gain knowledge in emerging fields through experiential and academic training within the university, we are able to bridge students’ impact from inside the classroom and beyond.

Another passion project is mentoring students through the Ambassador Corps. Inspired by my time in the Peace Corps, the Ambassador Corps offers students an entry point to a purpose-driven career through completion of an 8-10 week internship with a social enterprise. This summer, we sent 14 students to complete assignments in Rwanda, Macedonia, Costa Rica, Belize and Boca Raton.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Every day is different, but one element is consistent: nonstop communication between students, faculty and fellow industry leaders. In order to grow the program, it is essential to build trust with current students. These students, as part of my tribe, are a priority and I make myself available regularly to bounce ideas and offer guidance for their business ventures.

We also recently implemented a Social Impact Council of Stakeholders consisting of 10 global leaders in social entrepreneurship and impact investing. I am in regular communication with our council to review programming, strategy, coordinate speaking opportunities and provide mentorship opportunities to students.

In order to best serve our students, I strive to ensure interaction and innovation in everything we do.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Communication is an essential ingredient for ideation. I find inspiration everywhere, from reading current events to participating in a classroom discussion. The key is having a small idea and digging deeper to see how we can make it happen. With an array of resources at hand at the Social Impact Lab, I encourage my students to dream big—and then we can have an informed discussion on methods available to bring their ideas to fruition.

What’s one trend that excites you?

A new generation of entrepreneurs and investors who see business as a way to add value not only to their bank accounts, but to the world and to their communities. I am inspired to see an uptick in both small family enterprises and big corporate entities using business as a catalyst for changing lives. The students and young professionals that I work with are redefining business by refusing to leave their values at the door in the process of making money.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m a self-proclaimed workaholic by way of purpose and passion. I have been working in this industry since the early 1960s and have seen the way businesses can truly make a positive, global impact. My passion is what keeps me hungry and I want my students to feel the same. I look to light the same fire in my students to make a positive change in the world they live in.

What advice would you give your younger self?

With age comes wisdom, I would offer a few suggestions:
• Pursue your dreams and aspirations, and then figure out how to make them a reality
• Stay open to ideas different than your own
• Talk to people and listen to what they say
• Maintain your humility, you are never too old to learn something new

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Young, inexperienced students without expertise have the ability to make an impact.

To prove my point, take a look at one Lynn student’s success in the Ambassador Corps. Through this social impact internship program, Rigoberto Beltran ’17 founded Lynn’s relationship with Vega Coffee, a Nicaraguan coffee brand dedicated to Fair Trade products. The connections he forged as an intern allowed him to help bring the brand to Lynn. Vega Coffee will be officially served on campus beginning fall 2018, deepening Lynn’s commitment to its status as a Fair Trade University.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Make a list and prioritize what’s most impactful, not what’s easiest.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Two strategies are essential: initial vision and translating it into a mission that is achievable. Consider my vision for the Social Impact Lab. Lynn’s dedication to citizenship existed from the onset, making the idea for a dedicated space within the university a tangible one. From there, using connections to leaders in the social impact arena, tapping into colleagues with experience planning successful programs and with the addition of a supportive faculty—we had the resources needed to make that dream a reality.

Credible success, like the implementation of the Social Impact Lab, is also a factor in continued success. Without our students in the Social Impact Lab, we would be unable to celebrate our newest accomplishments like Lynn’s designation as a Fair Trade University and a successful summer with the Ambassador Corps.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My passion has also served as an obstacle. There have been times when I was so passionate about what I could do; it was challenging to ratchet it down. It is hard to market passion—I have learned to put controls on it in order to translate into something tangible that others can understand and eventually believe in, too.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

In the 1980s, when I was doing regional economic development work on the Island of Antigua, I renovated an abandoned home and turned it into an Airbnb of sorts in order to generate income for local community development efforts. Hosting prospective funders was a great opportunity to build lasting relationships and to introduce them to the transformative power of investing in small-scale entrepreneurs.

When it comes to new ideas for business, I would say that I am more on the investor side of things given my background in microfinance. I think that oftentimes people get distracted by the shiny new toys of technology or excited by the next app. I am most inspired by making small but impactful investments that have community roots.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently contributed $100 to Sakena Yacoobi, the CEO of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL). The donation goes directly to the AIL to develop schools for women and girls in Afghanistan.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

The most outstanding resource available right at our fingertips—Google. With just a few clicks, I can delve into peer-reviewed articles, research potential partners and examine strategies for successful program planning.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek.

Everyone has a why—it’s the cause or belief that inspires you. Chase it and it will lead you to fulfillment in a purpose-driven life.

What is your favorite quote?

“Why not?”

Your fears or inhibitions should not stop you from following your passion. Once you find your “why,” do not let obstacles or self-doubt stop you from moving forward.

Key learnings:

• Communication is key: Discussion with colleagues and friends allows for ideation, support and ultimately, success.

• Find your “why” and follow it: Follow your dreams and aspirations, and then figure out how to make them a reality.

• Pursue your purpose: Prioritize what’s most impactful, not what’s easiest.