When he was 21, Andrew Hall had the idea to change the world, one plate at a time.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, he dreamed of opening a restaurant that would provide a meal for those in need, for every order purchased. Fast forward two years later and with further tweaking of the idea with the help of his cousin and best friend, co-founder Jeremy Bryant, Mealshare was born.
“Jeremy and I were able to travel and volunteer as kids, so we had an early sense of gratitude for everything we have,” Andrew says. “We wanted to give back, and Mealshare was a way to do this.”
So, in 2013, the two quit their accounting careers and partnered with four restaurants to bring their vision to life. Through its website, conscientious diners can locate a participating Mealshare restaurant in their community. When they visit the restaurant and order a Mealshare-labelled menu item, Mealshare will provide a meal to someone who would otherwise have gone hungry. Today, there are more than 150 Mealshare partner restaurants across Canada and this simple but innovative social enterprise concept has served over 200,000 meals—and counting—to those who can’t afford it.
Mealshare was a young social venture and the founders were open to all the help they could get, considering that nearly 50 per cent of small businesses fail within five years, according to Industry Canada. When they heard of the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub, a social venture accelerator run out of UBC’s Sauder School of Business, the Mealshare founders knew it was exactly what they needed.
The social venture accelerator was created in 2012 through a $1 million commitment from Coast Capital Savings. It is delivered by the Sauder School of Business Centre for Social Innovation and Impact Investing and was launched in 2014. Over a 12-month period, the program provides participating ventures with benefits like co-working space, workshops tailored to their unique needs, access to knowledge capital, business coaching and advisory services, mentorship from industry experts, and a full-time summer intern.
According to Andrew, whose organization was part of the 2014 cohort, the program helped enhance the organization’s business model.
“The Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub helped us complete a thorough evaluation of our marketing strategy, which was heavily focused on promoting our partner restaurants, because we assumed that would keep them in the program,” Andrew says. “One of the coaches at the Innovation Hub challenged our assumptions and helped us realize that the real value we were bringing to our partners was not marketing, but the Mealshare service itself. When we asked our partners, they agreed, so we’re now re-directing our marketing budget towards operational costs.”
Andrew says the program included several workshops that provided both inspiration and strategic insight to participants. A workshop by one of the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub’s strategy gurus, Chris Kantowicz, was particularly helpful, he adds.
“We learned how we could better use financial forecasting strategies to plan our activities and to be more forward-thinking in our operations,” says Andrew.
Another workshop helped Mealshare gain a better understanding of its partners and has made the organization more customer-centered.
“We are doing more intentional check-ins with our restaurants as a result,” says Andrew. “We are seeking constant feedback from our partners in order to improve the model and improve our service. The information also helped us complete a sharper analysis of the service we offer, who our best customers are, and the channels through which we reach them.”
While Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub speakers provided much food for thought, Andrew says one of the best features of the program was the opportunity it provided for synergy.
“Throughout the day, there would usually be collaborative sessions, we’d overhear discussions among peers, and we’d help each other out where we could,” he says. “It was always fun to see familiar faces coming and going and struggling and thriving together, rather than working from a tiny office alone or from home.”
Joanna Buczkowska, who manages the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub, is particularly pleased about the opportunity it provides for fruitful collaboration and the impact it is making on organizations like Mealshare. She says unlike many other accelerators, the program is free to participants and provides a longer period of hands-on coaching and mentoring than the typical six months offered by most.
“The reality is that the support systems and tools that these start-up social ventures need to navigate the marketplace during this very critical phase of their business would be costly and serve as a deterrent to them accessing these resources,” Joanna says. “Providing no-cost access to these resources through the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub can mean the difference between success and failure for many social ventures.”
Andrew adds that in addition to bolstering existing ventures and helping them make it through the early years, the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub will encourage young entrepreneurs who might otherwise not get started, for fear of failure.
“They are more likely to give their social venture idea a shot, because there’s support available” he says. “This means there will be more cause-related businesses because of programs like the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub.”
This article was originally published by Coast Capital Savings.