Whistler Centre for Sustainability seeks socially minded entrepreneurs

The organization is launching its Social Venture Challenge on Friday (May 8)

The Whistler Centre for Sustainability (WCS) is looking for entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in the Sea to Sky corridor through its new Social Venture Challenge.

The WCS is kicking off its inaugural challenge starting with a learning event called “Social Ventures: Doing Good through Business” on Friday (May 8), which will include talks by David van Seters, founder and president of Sustainability Ventures, and David Cameron, co-founder of SFU Radius Ventures.

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“It’s a leap of faith for a lot of people and I think (events like this) become a safe gateway for people who may not have grown up in an entrepreneurial family where they look at business as a strange thing or risk in a different way,” said Cameron. “This becomes a stepping stone into the opportunity to believing in your ability to create the business and surround yourself with others that want to do the same thing or have already done it.”

Social ventures are business ideas or objectives that aim to make a positive change in the community, environmentally, socially or otherwise. Cameron said a good example of a venture is Bob’s Red Mill in Oregon, a producer of organic, gluten-free grain products. It was a cause the employees and community believed in so much, they helped fund the rebuilding of the mill when it burned down in 1988.

For those in the corridor looking to start a venture, the event will also feature case studies and show attendees how to raise capital and finance resources — all useful tools that can be applied to the challenge, which accepts applications until May 29. It’s open to everyone, whether they own a well-established business or non-profit or simply have an idea. Six of the applicants will be selected for a three-month program, pairing them with mentors to help develop their idea into a business model before presenting it in front of a panel of judges.

“We have such an innovative and entrepreneurial culture in the region, and everyone wants to do good for our community. So this is a chance to come up with new ways of doing both — growing business opportunities as well as providing benefit for our community,” said Cheeying Ho, the centre’s executive director, in a release.

Ho also reminded interested applicants that the WCS is not exactly looking for a fully developed business idea, but rather a clear understanding of a community issue and a value proposition.

The winner of the contest will receive $3,000 and financial advice from Squamish Savings in order to help launch their venture.

Cameron has seen many ventures come through Radius, his incubator at SFU, and warns about believing in one’s cause too much. No matter what your goal is, it is still a business that needs to provide value to stakeholders. But the biggest advice Cameron gave was: “Focus on your customer. Validate every accomplishment you have. If you see a path forward step back and rethink it, because there is probably a path that is 95 per cent faster. Always have a bias towards action. If you are stuck, move; if that doesn’t work, move again. If you’re stuck and you decide you won’t keep moving, the business will be a side desk project for the rest of your life.”

You can hear more advice at the event on May 8 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the WCS. Tickets are $45 and include lunch and a wine social afterwards.

For more visit info@whistlercentre.ca.

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