Nika entrepreneur inspires students

by Hannah Beausang

Photo by Monica Linzemeier, assistant photo editor
Photo by Monica Linzemeier, assistant photo editor

Nika Water company co-founder Jeff Church visited San Diego State to speak about social entrepreneurship on Monday.
Church spoke at SDSU for the 14th annual L. Robert Payne Distinguished Entrepreneur Lecture Series. Church was welcomed by SDSU President Elliot Hirshman.

The event was an opportunity for students, faculty and community members to meet Church and listen to an informative lecture about social entrepreneurship.

Nika Water is an eco-friendly brand of bottled water sold nationwide. All the profits are donated to help provide vital resources such as clean water, education and sanitation efforts.  The company has already donated $400,000 to implement various water sanitation devices, promote education and plant trees in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Brazil, Sri Lanka and Nicaragua. According to Church, the company has been able to provide clean water to 26,000 people in Ethiopia.
Church said he and his family were inspired to make a lasting difference by providing resources in impoverished communities after a trip to Africa. He said he wanted his children to understand the difference between relative and absolute poverty—a message that motivated one of his greatest innovations.

“We wanted to create a sustainable donation model,” Church said. “It’s one thing to write a check every year … but it’s another thing to make it sustainable.”

Nika Water is packaged in recycled bottles to further contribute to sustainability efforts. The company is also carbon-neutral, and Church attempts to offset the effects of plastic products by planting a tree for every 98 bottles produced.

Church has also established school recycling programs in non-bottle bill states to encourage students to recycle by reimbursing the schools a few cents per bottle.

Church cited companies such as Newman’s Own, Tom’s, Feed and Jedidah as successful models for social entrepreneurship. Church stressed the importance of innovative thinking and said millennials have the ability to make a lasting impact to benefit our society as well as future generations.

“This age group can be part of this coming wave of social entrepreneurship that has the ability to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems,” Church said. “I think young people are at the right stage to really make a difference … Take the entrepreneurial plunge—try to put yourself outside of your comfort zone.”

Director of Lavin Entrepreneurship Center Programs Bernhard Schroeder said bringing guest speakers to SDSU helps students define their goals and learn important lessons from working professionals.

“These people have a set of life experiences that are valuable,” Schroeder said. “They’ve been there and they’ve done it, so when students aren’t quite sure what they should chase or what they should do, it’s nice hearing from people who’ve have experience.”

Dean of College of Business Administration Michael Cunningham said SDSU’s entrepreneurship program helps foster creativity and the guest speakers contribute relevant perspectives that provide students a well-rounded view of the professional world.
“San Diego is an entrepreneurial city and our students are really excited about creating,” Cunningham said. “It goes much farther than creating a business; it goes to the notion of entrepreneurial thinking.”

Psychology and integrated marketing communications senior Elaine Farinas said the event was powerful and inspired her career.

“I thought it was very insightful—it got me pumped up a lot more,” Farinas said. “I want to be a social entrepreneur, so being able to see those people who have started from the bottom and established themselves as social entrepreneurs in the community is great.”

The lecture series was founded in 1996 with funding provided by SDSU alumnus and entrepreneur L. Robert Payne and has featured speakers such as chairman and CEO of Qualcomm Inc. Irwin Jacobs, co-founder and CEO of Costco Jim Sinegal and former chairman and CEO of Jack in the Box Robert J. Nugent.