Celebrating our alumni small business owners
The UBC Sauder alumni community is home to thousands of small business owners. We caught up with five alums who are thriving as entrepreneurs and innovators. They shared their insights on what it’s like being a business owner, how they action responsible leadership, and what insights they have for those dreaming of being their own boss.
Co-founder and CEO, Casca Designs
What impact is your business having on people and the planet?
A lot of waste in footwear comes from the manufacturing process, so we wanted to make a pair of shoes that could last for years and combine that with sustainability. We use recycled water bottles in our knit shoes and other closed-loop materials in our insoles and rubber outsoles. Then, in terms of leading responsibly, Casca donates proceeds per pair sold to Code.org and I personally try to volunteer as much as I can. I especially enjoy talking to high school or university students about entrepreneurship. I think education is the best single investment you can make to create positive change.
What advice do you have for those contemplating launching a startup?
My biggest piece of advice is to not overthink things. There’s no way you can analyze every situation that may happen, so taking action is the biggest and most important thing you can do. A lot of people get stuck in analysis paralysis because they are afraid to fail. But what I’ve learned is that failure is feedback. So it’s better to act and fail and have feedback than sit on the sidelines and try to think of every single thing that could happen.
Co-founder and CEO, Sisters Sage
What need does your business fill?
The need that we’re fulfilling is Indigenous representation. It’s almost more important than the products themselves. Each wellness product tells a story or shares a social issue about Indigenous culture and highlights it in a positive way. I consider myself part business owner and part activist. I teach people about issues facing our community and when someone says to me, “I didn’t know that,” then I know I’ve had an impact and that’s how I measure success.
What would you tell someone who’s launching a small business?
I would tell them that growth doesn’t come at the speed of comfort. If I’m in an uncomfortable situation, like giving a national pitch, it feels scary, but I know that I am growing and I’m learning how to be better. I would also tell aspiring entrepreneurs to do your research. Know your product, your public, your audience. I did tons of research before I made a single bar of soap. And lastly, I would say have that belief in yourself. Build a community that lifts you up and supports you.
Founder and COO, GrantMe
What impact is your business having on society?
We are securing students’ futures at GrantMe. We do this by ensuring that students get into their top choice of schools and have the funding to pay for it. As the first education consulting company that’s using technology to scale, we’re making post-secondary planning resources available to families across Canada regardless of where they live.
What does responsible leadership mean to you?
Responsible leadership is about living your core values and for me, one of those core values is integrity. We ask our entire team and our customers to act with integrity. By living out our core values, we’ve found it easier to make clear business decisions. Beyond that, we also focus on giving back to the community. We run free workshops for families on a monthly basis that allows them to appropriately plan their post-secondary journey. We’ve also created numerous scholarships of our own and partnered with organizations to create scholarships for B.C. students.
Co-founder and CEO, Better Basics
What are some of the personal rewards of entrepreneurship?
Launching a business has provided me with the creative freedom to innovate and the autonomy to lead. I am responsible for seeing the opportunities and taking action. I have to make big and little decisions, from how to respond to a customer to what we should be investing in for growth. When you have your own business and start to experience success or positive feedback, you know you can attribute it to your own hard work.
What is your philosophy around responsible business?
Responsible business is choosing a mission that is not just about profit. It’s about choosing a people or planet goal, balancing the profit aspect, and empowering your team and community to contribute and evolve that goal. As a business leader, I set a vision and then try to inspire others to join along with it. I know that my personal impact will only go so far, so I hope to use Better Basics as an accelerator for the next generation of leaders who also want to make a positive impact on the world.
Founder and CEO, Laid Back Snacks
What’s it like running a small business and how do you approach sustainability?
Life is always interesting. I’ve worked in large corporations where people have pretty defined roles. Working in a small business, there’s more flexibility and things are constantly changing, which I love. In terms of sustainability, we are registered as a B Corporation and recently achieved our Climate Neutral certification. Today, all our bags are recyclable and our boxes are made using reclaimed products. We also have a charitable giving component. With every order that customers place online, we give to Breakfast Club of Canada, a national non-profit that addresses food insecurity among young children.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you have an incredible idea and you wake up each morning with this feeling in your belly that this is something you’ve got to do, persevere. Double down on your ability to push through barriers, to problem-solve, and to find a way to make your idea work. Vancouver has a really great ecosystem for entrepreneurs where you can find the mentors and support that you will need.