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canadian university report 2014: social entrepreneurship

A graduate of the University of Waterloo, Jonathan Rivard founded CANGO Consulting Inc. to provide management consulting services to philanthropic funders.Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail

Just three months after graduating this year from the University of Waterloo, Jonathan Rivard's startup company had generated $130,000 in revenue.

No, the 28-year-old is not another high-tech hotshot from the university in Waterloo, Ont., known for its innovative graduates. He is among a new generation of social entrepreneurs who want to make the world a better place, and make money doing it.

Social entrepreneurship – whether as new or existing ventures, with an environmental or social-justice focus – is a hot topic on campus. Universities are adding courses and programs, establishing incubators to nurture ideas and offering mentoring and other support for those who see a career in this expanding sector.

"It is a generational zeitgeist, no doubt about it," says Anita Nowak, integrating director of the Social Economy Initiative, at McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal.

"This generation has inherited a whole series of global problems – climate change, income inequality – and they really get it. There is a critical mass of students who are enlightened and want to do something different," she says. "For them it is not a matter of graduating and getting a job."

New initiatives are popping up on campuses across the country.

This fall, the University of British Columbia in Burnaby, B.C., offered a new course, informally known as Entrepreneurship 101 and developed in collaboration with its Sauder School of Business, for students in second year or above from any faculty.

Last spring, Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business, also in Vancouver, set up an interdisciplinary social innovation lab and venture incubator, for students across campus to develop and market "radical ideas, useful to society."

Last year, Ms. Nowak's Social Economy Initiative introduced an elective in social entrepreneurship and social innovation and has plans to add more undergraduate courses.

The University of Waterloo's Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre, part of the engineering faculty, offers a for-credit co-op option for students starting their own business in any field.

Mr. Rivard graduated from the centre this year with a master of business, entrepreneurship and technology, founding CANGO Consulting Inc. to provide management consulting services to philanthropic funders.

The typical trajectory after business school of joining a large firm at the entry level held no interest.

"It didn't seem appealing to me and I don't think it is appealing to a lot of people," he says. Instead, with one full-time colleague and several more on contract, Mr. Rivard's Waterloo-based company works with donors such as the United Way of Kitchener-Waterloo to improve the performance of non-profit agencies.

"It is incredibly exciting," he says of his startup. "I'm 28, still in my prime and fresh out of my master's program," he says. "This is my career and what I get to do for the rest of my life. It is exactly what I want to be doing and I couldn't be happier." His outlook resonates with David Dunne, a senior fellow at SFU's Beedie and chairman of RADIUS, the social innovation lab and new venture incubator set up earlier this year.

"What I see with younger colleagues and with students is that there is a real sense they are not prepared to buy in to the business agenda as they see it out there," he says.

"What they want to do is reshape business on their own terms."

Prof. Dunne says RADIUS (short for radical ideas, useful to society) was established to solve what he calls "wicked problems" – critical, chronic problems in society and business with no clear start or end point.

This fall, 60 students from business, environmental studies and design are to work in teams at the lab using new analytical methodologies, such as problem-framing and ethnography, to solve real-world social problems.

As at Simon Fraser, UBC's new Entrepreneurship 101 course is open to students across campus.

In one measure of interest, students from 14 faculties signed up for the semester-long course that had to be opened up for three sections of class, not one.

By design, the course has no prerequisites.

"The premise is that you don't know what you don't know," says Sauder marketing and social media professor Paul Cubbon, who helped to develop the course. "If you get an opportunity to be exposed to things, often it can shape your decision for other courses and studies."

Students will learn the essentials of entrepreneurship, for profit and not for profit, with access to new venture experts in Vancouver.

"We are a startup city and it's one of our best-kept secrets," he says. "Local students are starting to realize that."

Student business competitions are also raising the profile of social entrepreneurship. Three years ago, the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies at McGill's Desautels Faculty of Management included social ventures in its annual startup competition.

The Dobson Cup is structured so that students present their ideas to a panel of experts over several months and successive rounds, competing for cash prizes and mentoring advice.

In 2012, the first prize winner in the not-for-profit category was Montreal-based Hearing Express for its plan to distribute affordable hearing aids for children in developing countries.

"As a social entrepreneur, winning the Dobson Cup was a confirmation for us that we were on the right track in aiming to provide high quality, affordable hearing aids to the hundreds of millions of people who suffer from hearing loss in developing countries," said Audra Renyi, executive director of World Wide Hearing Foundation International (Hearing Express), in an e-mail.

As important as winning $7,000 in seed funding, she adds, was feedback and contacts provided by the judges.

The venture later won a grant of $113,000 from the federal government's Grand Challenges Canada program, which supports high-impact projects in global health, to set up a pilot project in Jordan.

Raising the profile of entrepreneurship (for profit and not for profit) is now part of branding efforts by some universities.

This fall, Waterloo named Conrad founding director Howard Armitage to the new post of special adviser to the president on entrepreneurship.

"There is a very strong desire [by young people] to give back and feel part of a larger solution, recognizing that profit and performance metrics are important but are not the only thing," Prof. Armitage says.

Since the 2008 global financial meltdown, he has seen increased interest by students at the centre to start new ventures with a societal focus.

"They would like to make a contribution in the social entrepreneurship arena and would love to make some money on it if possible," he says.

Waterloo social entrepreneur incubator

A greenhouse program at the University of Waterloo aims to give startup skills to students who could potentially run their own ventures.

At 20, pursuing studies in international development, environment and resources at the University of Waterloo, Lexi Salt has a lot of self-described "passions" – water quality, sanitation and gender equality among them.

A career in the non-profit sector has always been on her radar, but she had never thought of starting her own venture. Then she heard about a new incubator for social entrepreneurs that opened its doors on campus this fall.

Greenhouse, based at St. Paul's University College (one of the university's four colleges in Waterloo, ont.), is a residence-based program for students in second year or higher who have an idea for environmental or social justice change. Students work with each other, and mentors, over a period of four to eight months, to take their idea to the next step.

"To have your own organization and to know that you started it from nothing, that is so phenomenal," says Ms. Salt, who credits Greenhouse with opening her eyes to the potential of social entrepreneurship.

"I hope to gain the necessary skills that could prepare me to create my own NGO [non-governmental organization] in the future," she says, including leadership, entrepreneurial, brainstorming and networking experience.

Tapping the energy and passion of youth to tackle environmental and social justice issues is the mission of Greenhouse, says director Tania Del Matto, a co-founder of My Sustainable Canada, a national not-for-profit organization that promotes environmentally conscious choices. "For those students who want to make a difference and are passionate about issues and are looking to come up with solutions to a challenge, Greenhouse provides the space."

The not-for-credit program is patterned on Waterloo's successful velocity program, a residence-based setting for entrepreneurial-minded students with a computer and technology background.

For its inaugural class, Greenhouse selected 12 students, including Ms. Salt. over time, Ms. Del Matto hopes to expand the program to to 30 to 35 students.

While at St. Paul's, students will work in teams to identify a project, refine the pitch and get advice from mentors. By December, they present their idea at a public event.

Rhea Daniels, a third-year student in environmental and resource studies, plans to use her time at Greenhouse to develop an interactive website for city residents to learn about local food production.

"It is important for people to see the processes that food goes through before it arrives at the table," says Ms. Daniels, who worked on an organic farm in Flamborough, Ont., this past summer, occasionally blogging about what she learned. "Hopefully it [her project] will encourage them to support local food or at least take the time out of their schedule to visit a farmer."

Student startups doing social good

Social entrepreneurs have ambitions to 'do good' for society and make money. Here are three student startups in progress


Troubled by reports of drug-administration errors in hospitals, two McGill University students decided to look for a solution. This year, fourth-year honours students Jassi Pannu (biology) and Jessica Wang (psychology and international development) developed an idea for special packaging for nurses and doctors to recognize pharmaceutical containers with high-risk ingredients. Eventually, the McGill students hope to sell the packaging to hospitals and other health-care facilities.

They entered their venture in a startup competition organized by the Dobson Centre for entrepreneurial studies at McGill's Desautels Faculty of Management. The students shared first prize in the social-enterprise category, winning $10,000 and mentoring advice. They are developing a website and preparing a patent application.

The win changed their career plans. "I do now plan to become a social entrepreneur," says Ms. Wang, 20. "Whether this project is the first of many or becomes a long-term career, only time will tell."

This fall, they are reducing their academic course load to make time to bring their idea to market. "This is our baby from now on and we are really committed to it," says Ms. Pannu, 21.


With personal family experience of newcomers cracking the Canadian job market, Simon Fraser University students Chantelle Buffie, 23, and Sonam Swarup, 22, put their love of food and a desire to help others into Fusion Kitchen (

The social venture offers cooking classes led by immigrant women who share their ethnic dishes and, in the process, gain confidence and transferable jobs skills for the Canadian market. Participants pay $60 to $80 for one cooking lesson, with the women earning a fee for their expertise. Fusion Kitchen takes a small percentage for providing the venue for classes.

What began as a class project in 2011 was later nurtured in SFU's social entrepreneurship accelerator, a six-week incubator program developed by Shawn Smith, a professor at the Beedie School of Business.

After almost two years of operation, Ms. Buffie says she and her business partner "are looking for ways to make it [Fusion Kitchen] more scalable and sustainable.

"Social impact is at the heart of the operation, but you still need to think about the business side," she says.


Norex, a Halifax-based Web design company, allows employees to contribute 20 per cent of their time for innovative projects with an inspirational twist.

Norex co-owners Leah Skerry and Julia Rivard thought up a venture in 2012 to help amateur athletes finance their dreams.

Ms. Skerry, a former gymnast, and Ms. Rivard, a former Olympic paddler, recognize the funding gap for athletes training to compete in the Olympics and other world competitions. They set up as a crowdfunding website for athletes to tell their story, generate funds and connect with their supporters.

For example, alpine skier Larisa Yurkiw raised more than $22,000 by hand-kitting tuques for $250 each.

To date, athletes have raised more than $128,000 through Its co-founders volunteer their time and receive 10 per cent of the proceeds to maintain the micro-funding platform.

"We never want an athlete to have to choose not to do their sport because of funding," Ms. Skerry says.

an unexpected result of the success of has been a higher profile of Norex, Ms. Rivard says,

with organizations seeking their for-profit expertise in building crowdfunding platforms.

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