Social venture incubator a recipe for success

two women at the Sauder Fusion Kitchen

Founded a year ago by Sonam Swarup and Chantelle Buffie, Fusion Kitchen is a social venture that empowers and integrates recently arrived immigrant women by employing them to teach cooking classes.

 “By sharing their cultural background and favourite dishes, our teachers gain work experience and develop transferable skills and self-confidence,” explains Buffie, who was inspired to start the business by her own immigrant relatives.

Buffie and Swarup are keen to continue helping immigrant women expand their careers while earning revenue from foodies hungry to learn authentic techniques of ethnic cooking. It’s a self-sustaining business model, with a social benefit. The young social entrepreneurs’ venture is part of a burgeoning new sector of businesses which seek to solve social and environment problems using innovative business models. 

The operation is one of six to ten social ventures that could soon gain substantial support through a new program led by the ISIS Research Centre at the Sauder School of Business, launched on September 26 with $1 million in funding from Coast Capital Savings through UBC’s start an evolution campaign.

Fully funded to operate for five years, the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub will provide a series of one-year programs offering early-stage social ventures working space for their operations, mentoring from Sauder faculty, alumni and industry experts, and full time support from Sauder interns, who act as business consultants. 

The innovative program aims to make a major impact in communities across the province by harnessing British Columbia’s entrepreneurial talent to promote economic, social and environmental change.  Social ventures are the fastest growing area of the nonprofit sector. The most recent survey of social ventures in British Columbia in 2009 reported the organizations provided paid employment to 4,500, training to 10,450, services to 678,000, and annual revenues of $46 million dollars. It is widely accepted that these numbers have grown substantially in recent years.

“Today’s toughest challenges require innovative new approaches that transcend the line between the private and public sectors,” says Tracy Redies, CEO of Coast Capital Savings. “Coast Capital Savings is honoured to partner with ISIS and Sauder in creating the Innovation Hub to equip young social entrepreneurs with the business skills and tools they need to make a lasting impact in our community and society at large.”

Innovation Hub participants will be selected through a competitive process. During the program they will be brought together in a shared working environment to attend regular boot camps on business development strategies, with access to expert advisors from the Sauder community and industry leaders, and fellow ventures engaged in the program.

The ventures will be given support and expertise to develop their business strategies, and refine their business value and social impact models to help ensure they achieve maximum results. Working closely with student interns for four months of the program, the ventures will also gain a dedicated employee with extensive business training, while in turn providing students with intensive work experience in an entrepreneurial environment. Finally the ventures will be coached in approaching investors, preparing a proposal for private funding and closing the deal.

“Ultimately this program is designed to get social ventures investment-ready so that they are able to pitch for and accept investment, and move onto the next stage of growth,” says Sauder Professor James Tansey, Director of ISIS. “The five-year vision for the Innovation Hub is to establish British Columbia as a world class centre for social venture development.”

Fusion Kitchen’s founders are excited to compete for an opportunity to be part of the Innovation Hub, saying it will provide them with the dedicated resources, training, expertise and time to develop into a full-time operation. 

“The Coast Capital Innovation Hub would be a great way for us to get more experience and support in everything from securing better venues for Fusion Kitchen, to marketing our business and turning awareness into paying customers,” says Buffie. 

“It would also be motivating to be surrounded by like-minded social entrepreneurs and feed off each other’s ideas,” adds Buffie.

The Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub launches on September 26 with an Innovation Jam to jump start the program and open the application process for social ventures.