Coast Capital provides $1 million to Sauder for social ventures

By Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun September 27, 2012

Chantelle Buffie and Sonam Swarup think they have a great idea for a business.

They want to hire women who have recently immigrated to Canada — those with a grassroots passion for food and cooking, rather than a conventional culinary school diploma — to teach local foodies how to make authentic ethnic meals.

They have some teachers lined up, a brand name — Fusion Kitchen — and a conviction that they can both turn a profit and create a social benefit by providing work to people who normally struggle to find it.

Now they need some money, workspace, advice, and mentoring to give their business a kickstart. And they are hoping a new venture at Sauder School of Business will help.

Sauder’s Sauder S3i Research Centre is embarking on a project — with a $1-million, five-year donation from Coast Capital Savings — that is intended to support early-stage development of so-called “social ventures” — start-up companies that benefit the communities in which they operate.

If the duo’s business idea was based on technology, there would already be options. According to a CIBC report this week, B.C. is Canada’s top-ranking province for start-up business ventures per capita — and accelerator programs such as GrowLab’s Launch Academy for entrepreneurs in the mobile app sector are thriving, and there are angel investors and venture-capital companies to support them.

“All the accelerators that exist (in Metro Vancouver) are primarily focused on tech and online-related businesses,” Buffie said. “It’s really a shame that there’s nothing geared toward the social entrepreneurship field. There are other programs offered, but they are tailored towards more established and developed businesses, with nothing in the real start-up realm or the social enterprise world.”

A recent survey indicated that social ventures in B.C. generate a total of $46 million annually and provide paid jobs for 4,500 people.

Sauder will bring a new group of companies into the program each year, based on “their potential to have a positive impact and financial sustainability.”

Coast Capital’s donation was announced Wednesday afternoon in Vancouver.

“We believe if you want to be a great company, you first have to be a good company, one that balances the financial profits with doing the right thing by your customers in the communities that you operate in,” Tracy Redies, Coast Capital president and CEO, said in an interview.

“Social entrepreneurship often looks at tackling some of the most pressing problems in society, whether that’s impact on the environment, homelessness, poverty, things even like helping immigrants to acclimatize and prosper in our society.

“I think it’s really an interesting opportunity for business-focused students to come together with social entrepreneurs to try to tackle issues or find solutions to problems facing our community.”

CIBC said it expects Canada to experience an “unprecedented boom in new business” in the next 10 years, with educational services and health care leading the way. It estimates that entrepreneurs will create 150,000 new jobs by 2022.

Sauder Dean Robert Helsley described social ventures as an “interesting and new field” for all business schools to explore.

“It has a lot of value to us in terms of our connection to the community, in terms of contributing something back to a broader set of business activities in Vancouver. It’s a really neat opportunity for us, and we’re really grateful to Coast Capital for making it a reality,” Helsley said.

“It’s a really different domain and a really exciting one.”

Sauder S3i Executive Director James Tansey said a good idea and good management can help any business succeed.

“We just think there’s a great niche in Vancouver. This has been the home of so many really interesting social ventures. What we see in the community is lots of start-ups that are bouncing along in the early stages of development.

“We think if we can wrap our support around the best of them, and at the end of that process introduce them to potential funders and investors, that’s a high value role for the university and the business school to play.”

Sauder students will have the opportunity to work with the entrepreneurs, he said.

“I can’t think of any other place in Canada where it’s such a natural fit to try to do this, which is why we made it such a fundraising priority.

“The other part of it is our tax environment for low-revenue businesses, early stage ventures, and our R&D environment is also very good.”