Social entrepreneurs: Heroes in their own right

This article is one of a series highlighting the finalists in the 2013 Social Enterprise Heroes event, presented for the third consecutive year by Junxion, along with KPMG and JDQ Systems. See the original article in the March 2013 issue of SEE Change Magazine.

Three mission-based business finalists for ENP’s Fifth Annual Social Enterprise Heroes tell their stories with Junxion’s Hilary Mandel. Take a read and help promote businesses making a difference and propelling real change.

You might say Heather Johnstone, right, is your typical Vancouver North Shore anthropologist-turned-farmer-turned-social-entrepreneur. Only she doesn’t quite see herself that way. “I’m a farmer,” laughs Johnstone, who’s been managing the North Shore Neighourhood Houses’s Edible Garden Project for the last three years, “not a business person.”

And then she proceeds to casually mention her goal to have her project’s social enterprise, the Loutet Farm, “sustainably self-sustaining within five years,” tossing in words like “break-even” and “profit margin” in the same breath. Despite her protestation, it turns out Johnstone’s got some social venture chops after all.

Those chops should serve her well as she, along with two other talented social entrepreneurs, pitch their three mission-based businesses competitively as selected finalists in Enterprising Non Profit’s Fifth Annual “Social Enterprise Heroes,” to be held the evening of March 27th at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Arts Centre.

For the third consecutive year, among other cash and in-kind prizes valued at up to $10,000, one winner will receive free consulting services from Junxion.

Social enterprise central

One part cocktail reception, a splash of tongue-in-cheek reality show, and a healthy dose of serious professional development, Social Enterprise Heroes is the signature event capping a full day of activities dedicated to social enterprise and social entrepreneurship in BC, including a Day of Learning and a tradeshow.

Junxion is once again a sponsor of this public event, providing mentorship and coaching services to one of the three finalists, Ktunaxa/Kinbasket Child and Family Services. Tradeworks Training Society is the third social enterprise finalist rounding out the competition.

Building on past experience

Tradeworks, located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, has the distinction of being the only nonprofit to have been invited back to pitch a second time at Social Enterprise Heroes. As participants in 2009’s inaugural competition, they put forward their Tradeworks Custom Products program, which provides women in challenging circumstances with entry-level employment, carpentry skills and confidence, to launch them into careers in trades.

Flash forward to January 2, 2013. Maninder Dhaliwal, left, Tradeworks’ executive director, had been in her new job for less than one day when she decided to enter Tradeworks’ other social enterprise, the Rona FabShop, into the Social Enterprise Heroes competition. “I saw we needed help streamlining the organisation’s message, sharing who we are and what we do in a consistent manner,” she explained.

The FabShop is a social enterprise and training program aimed at helping at-risk young adults learn basic woodworking and job skills and find their way into the workforce. Dhaliwal, who also serves as the FabShop’s interim manager, sees the March 27th event and, even more significantly, the mentoring that is provided to each of the finalists, as “a great opportunity to meet the whole social enterprise community.”

A winning model of service delivery

As that community continues to expand throughout the province, it’s apt that this year’s finalists once again include an organisation from outside BC’s Lower Mainland. Eva Coles, right, will present the newest social enterprise of the group, a training and consulting service launched in April 2012, whose revenues support Ktunaxa/Kinbasket Child and Family Services, based in the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia.

The agency, where Coles has worked as Manager of Innovation and Prevention Services for the past 13 years, has developed an award-winning model for delivering services to keep families intact, designed to allow Aboriginal children to know their families of origin, and to prevent more children from entering the foster care and adoption streams.

The new business was sparked by Coles’ desire to respond to the growing demand for workshops and speaking engagements about the new model, which until last year they were providing for free. She and her team decided to test the waters to see if there was a market willing to pay for these services. They started charging fees, and with only word-of-mouth marketing, they now have “more business than we know what to do with.” Thus, a social enterprise was born.

Growth is good

In addition to receiving mentoring prior to the March 27th event, Coles and the other finalists will be seeking advice on managing their enterprises’ respective stages of growth from a panel of four judges, all of whom bring an impressive mixture of business acumen and appreciation for the intricacies of social enterprise.

This year’s “Super Enterprise Heroes” include Jon Morris (President, JDQ Systems), who returns for his fifth consecutive year as a participant and third time as a judge, as well as first-time judges Lorne Burns (Partner, KPMG), Janet Austin (CEO, Vancouver YWCA) and Michael McCarthy (VP, BC Small and Medium Business, TELUS). Prizes include financial and consulting support from other sponsoring companies, including JDQ Systems, KPMG, TELUS, ASQ, and the Vancity Community Foundation.

Johnstone admits that she’s beginning to appreciate that the “art” of business can actually be a very creative process. “The only limitation we’re faced with is the size of the site,” she says, referring to Edible Garden Project’s half-acre urban farm on public farmland. “We don’t have any more land, and we’re well on our way to reaching production capacity.” Like her fellow finalists, Johnstone knows that growth is a good problem to have, and being the farmer she is, she’s not afraid to get her hands a little dirty along the way.


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