Social Venture Challenge kicks off second installment

Event aims to inspire social entrepreneurs at the SLCC on Friday (March 18)

To kick off this year’s Social Venture Challenge, Cheeying Ho thought about what people in the Sea to Sky corridor like.

“Food and beer is always a good one,” said Ho, executive director of the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, which is hosting the challenge for a second year. “We have such interesting food and beverage enterprises.”

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To that end, she recruited five speakers — including Dion Whyte, general manager at Persephone Brewing Co. and Bobby Lax, chef and community food coordinator at the Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild — to share the story of how they launched a business that’s both successful and has a social conscience.  

The goal is to help motivate and inspire locals to apply for the centre’s 2016 Social Venture Challenge. Applicants will receive mentoring on business concepts before a pitch event in which one social venture will be awarded $5,000 in seed funding in a Dragon’s Den-like pitch event. While last year’s inaugural winner was The Freed Food Society — a non-profit organization that diverts edible food that’s going to be thrown away and turns it into canned or pickled products as well as meals — every venture walked away with some funding, Ho said. “We were really happy with it,” she said. “We had 18 applicants, which totally exceeded our expectations. We accepted eight applicants and we went through the program with them… The judges were so impressed with all the pitches that they personally donated money to give the other seven $1,000 each.”

While that’s not a guarantee for this year, Ho said she’s expecting the initiative will be even bigger, building on last year’s success. “I think word is spreading and the entrepreneurs themselves are spreading the word too,” she said.

But first, the full-day kick off event will take place on Friday (March 18) at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. Registration and networking will begin at 8 a.m. followed by a series of speakers at 9 a.m.

Along with Persephone Brewing and the culinary guild, the list also includes Mike Rowlands, CEO of Juxion, a consultancy firm that promotes social and environmental sustainability, Derek Gent, executive director of the Vancity Community Foundation and Laura Barreca, operations manager at CleanStart, a junk removal company that employs people with barriers to employment.

“It’s so inspiring hearing how different people are addressing some of society’s challenges in different ways — the fact that you can do good for the community and make money, seeing these case studies shows it’s possible,” Ho said. “Hearing what they’re actually doing for the community or environment is very inspiring.”

After that, there will be an “Angel Den” challenge, in which a local business or two can share a business challenge they’re experiencing — from scaling up to the next level to an HR issue — and get feedback from experts, as well as the audience.

“It’s an opportunity to get some really good feedback, but you do have to do it in front of an audience,” Ho said. “You’re a bit vulnerable, but we ask for confidentiality in the room. It’s an opportunity to get some really smart advice.”

After that, participants will have the chance to toss around ideas for their social venture. To that end, if anyone in the corridor has an idea they’d like to run by the organization before applying for the program before the March 31 deadline, Ho said they’re welcome to call her. “If people have an idea that they’re not sure could fly or have identified something that needs solving in the community that would make our community a better place they can give us a call,” she said.

She can be reached at or at 604-935-8209. Tickets for the kick off event are $50 at by searching “Social Venture Challenge” in Whistler.  

For more information or to apply for the challenge visit

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