Social Enterprising Scales Up

Presenters and attendees of the 6th annual Social Enterprise Heroes event on April 16 gather enthusiastically to celebrate prizes that will advance their social enterprise missions.


Social Enterprising Scales Up

SE Heroes event provides established ventures opportunity to grow impact

VANCOUVER - Social enterprises are reshaping the cultural fabric and understanding of the economy, said Kevin McCort in his closing remarks at the 6th annual Social Enterprise Heroes (SE Heroes) event hosted by Enterprising Non-profits (ENP) April 16. There are thousands of stories like the three shared at the event’s pitch competition among the 22,000 charities in B.C., says the president and CEO of the Vancouver Foundation.

“There’s actually enough now that it’s changing the public’s expectation of what the economy is,” he said alongside the “veteran” master of ceremony, Derek Gent. Derek, executive director of Vancity Community Foundation, held a hockey stick during the three nine-minute pitches, playfully insinuating that he would have to pull presenters away if they spoke past their allotted time.

  Social Enterprise Heroes 2014 judges.

A room of 150 people listened attentively and cheered on pitches from Beaufort Association’s Pet Treat Bakery, Pearl’s Value & Vintage in support of Howe Sound Women’s Centre Society and The Cleaning Solution, a commercial cleaning social enterprise that provides long-term, supportive employment for people living with mental illness.

During prompt six-minute question-and answer-periods following the presentations, judges asked probing questions to assess needs and potential impacts that could amount from awarding prizes to each enterprise.

“I’m wondering how much thought you’ve put into . . . whether expansion could jeopardize your status with the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency)” asked judge “ryu” Janet Austin, CEO of Vancouver YWCA. She evaluated pitches along with “super evaluator” Marco Tomassetti, managing director of KPMG Corporate Finance, “biz-wiz” Michael McCarthy, vice-president of TELUS Business Solutions BC, and “mojo” Jon Morris, president of JDQ Systems. Jon played a particularly playful role in building and holding suspense before announcing the winners.

“As judges, we’re not obligated to give away all the awards,” he teased, sparking laughter from a lively crowd.

They deliberated during a “half-time” discussion between Mike Rowlands and Sherry Campbell and an inquisitive audience. Mike, principal of Junxion Strategy, asked Sherry, Sierra Systems director of management consulting, to elaborate on intergenerational labour issues, noting the ability to keep employees happy and engaged as one of the greatest challenges that connect social enterprises.

Enterprising Behind-the-scenes

Trainers and students from the North Shore Culinary School provided sushi, sliders and other hot and cold treats to attendees before the pitches began. Don Guthro started Culinary Choreography, a catering social enterprise that supports the school, five years ago without an understanding of how his work fit the social enterprise bill.

“I developed the culinary school and the training program and tried to figure out a way to make the business work without having to apply for grants, because that’s a lot of work,” the founder and director says. “I started the social enterprise without really knowing what I was doing.”

  Students from all levels of the North Shore Culinary School and two trainers catered a networking session before the pitches began.

Two years later, Don was approached by David LePage, former team manager at ENP, who told him that his work was a model for social enterprise.

“He said to me, ‘you realize, Don, that you’re a poster boy — you’ve developed something that’s running successfully and you didn’t really know what you were doing,” Don recalls.

The tuition-free training facility for food service professionals runs on support from Culinary Choreography, as well as a café at Jericho Beach in Vancouver. A new café set to open on the North Shore this year will add to the mix.

The program has operated successfully for five years, supporting people with barriers to employment. Sales are growing, so they must be doing something right, Don says.

The society also serves meals to 3,000 people in B.C. in at-risk populations on a weekly basis in North Vancouver, Vancouver, Burnaby and Coquitlam. While busying himself with the school and its various programs, Don is delighted to cater events like SE Heroes as it provides an opportunity for him and others at the school to mix with people in the social enterprise community.

“It enlightens me to think that there are a lot of other people out there who want to support people who are disadvantaged or at risk and give them a second chance to succeed at life,” Don says.

And the Winner Is . . .

Judges began the “second half” by sharing their appreciation for the social causes being supported through the presenting social enterprises. They collectively provide meaningful work for people with barriers to employment, encourage home de-cluttering through donations to the vintage shop and support a women’s centre that offers resources for the safety of women and children.

  Beaufort Association’s executive director Susan Bunn makes her nine-minute pitch at the April 16 Social Enterprise Heroes event in Vancouver.

Beaufort Association’s executive director Susan Bunn was brought to tears as she received a total of $15,000 in grants from TELUS and the Vancity Community Foundation, which was more cash than the organization had requested. Beaufort's social enterprise, Pet Treat Bakery, could purchase at least two new dehydrators with this money, helping them increase capacity by 50 per cent and hire eight new employees, she noted in her presentation. They were also awarded eight hours of consulting from Demonstrating Value to measure the business performance and social impacts these grants would enable.

Pearl’s Value & Vintage was awarded process improvement expertise hours from JDQ Systems and ASQ Vancouver at a value of $20,000 to help streamline their inventory processes and move away from their back room looking like a teenager’s bedroom.

The Cleaning Solution received consulting hours from KPMG finance, Sierra Systems Management Consulting and Junxion Strategy for marketing support, at a total value of $20,000.

Akram Al-Otumi was struck by how well the finalists demonstrated strong business cases and quality products and services. He flew in from Halifax to attend SE Heroes and other Social Enterprise Month events in B.C.

“Without a doubt, B.C. is a great example of a supportive social enterprise ecosystem. The support from all levels — the provincial government, students, social enterprises, innovators, the media and business leaders all seem to be behind this movement and are really giving it momentum,” he says.

Akram hopes to build stronger ties between B.C. and provinces like Nova Scotia to advance the economy through “the positive power of social entrepreneurship,” he adds.

The next round of submissions for SE Heroes will be announced on the ENP website and newsletter in the fall. Letters of intent are typically requested in the fall, followed by full applications a few months later.

A version of this article was originally written for the Enterprising Non-profits Canada news service. This repost, for which we received permission, follows the style guidelines of the original post. To learn more about generative newsroom options for your organization or community, please contact peter(at)

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