When Adrianna Couto and Erika Reyes met at CSI, they instantly felt an “incredible connection,” largely ignited by their passion for sustainability. Neither of them could have predicted that just a couple years later, they would join forces as co-founders of Inwit, a social enterprise working to make the takeout industry circular and zero waste. In fact, before joining CSI, neither of them could have predicted they would become social entrepreneurs at all, let alone pilot Toronto’s first low-waste takeout platform.
“CSI actually inspired me to become an entrepreneur,” Adrianna explains. In Erika’s case, she was “familiar with entrepreneurship and the startup world, but I didn’t know the term ‘social entrepreneur’ until I arrived at CSI.” Both women quickly took our community and programs by storm, enrolling in the DECA program, Social Entrepreneurship 101, the WOSEN program and participating in Climate Ventures. Whew! What a list. Now, Inwit is set to launch after being ranked one of the top 15 global solutions in the international Circular Innovation City Challenge!
With an eye to disrupt Toronto’s single-use plastic takeout problem, the app-based program enables Torontonians to enjoy their favourite takeout dishes from across the city out of reusable containers.
It’s easy to wonder: how did they get here so quickly? Or worse, be left thinking: I could never do that. There are so many assumptions and myths tied to entrepreneurship (not to mention gendered stereotypes). Here’s a few: you’re either born an entrepreneur or you’re not. Entrepreneurs must work long hours alone, give up their social life, and have a surefire, original idea to even consider getting started. Make no mistake, Adrianna and Erika have persevered and worked very hard, but when it comes to old tropes like these, their story and success defy them all.
Here’s a glimpse into their path to social entrepreneurship:
Getting Started by Getting Involved
Erika: When I decided to research and pilot solutions to single-use plastics, I didn’t know how or with whom. I was a newcomer in the city with no network. I made the choice to leave the marketing industry to make the world a better place. I became a DECA at CSI to connect with others. I made amazing friends, and it gave me a feeling of belonging. It also gave me access to other entrepreneurs to challenge my ideas and connect with likeminded people.
Adrianna: I had an internship at the Ontario Council For International Cooperation, an organization based out of CSI Spadina. I also organized awareness events and meetings at CSI, whether for myself or other organizations I worked with, like Water Docs and Kids Right to Know. From there, I launched a single-use plastic reduction initiative called Beaches Reduces and moved on to become a DECA and CSI Member at the Annex location. CSI became my home away from home and as I expanded from my first initiative to my second, Collective Impact Journey, the CSI programs provided me with the tools I needed to feel confident as an entrepreneur.
Erika: CSI has supported me all the way from ideation to the creation of our business model, giving me access to a network, the skills to become a leader, and the space to pilot solutions and form my team.
Social Entrepreneurship 101 helped me identify my why, ideate my first business model and map all the different stakeholders that I needed to engage to make it happen.
The WOSEN program matched me with a wonderful coach who guided me and supported my leadership style.
Climate Ventures gave me the opportunity to incubate my ideas and nourish them, have access to advisors, and interact with other entrepreneurs working for climate solutions who challenge my ideas and inspire me.
The DECA program gave me a community of other members, DECAs and staff, as well as the opportunity to meet my wonderful co-founder and business partner.
The Meet Cute
Adrianna: Erika and I met at Climate Ventures. I was organizing a film screening event for Kids Right to Know at CSI at the time. Erika shared her passion for single-use plastic reduction with her first venture, Wisebird, and I asked Erika to table at our event; this was our ‘Meet Cute.’ The magic between us really happened, though, the second time we connected at CSI when I first became a DECA.
We shared a coffee in the lounge at CSI Annex and I filled her in on my new venture, Beaches Reduces, at the time. We almost immediately decided to put our passion for waste reduction together and started spreading awareness on sustainable living. Together, we launched The Zero Waste Cafe, Green Sunday and the Zero Waste Dine & Learn series at CSI.
Fast forward to May of 2020, when Erika called me up and asked me to join her in her new venture, a new and improved reusable container program. Of course, I was thrilled to once again join forces and here we are a year later, after having worked so hard building Inwit, and about to launch!
“Imagine ordering takeout that doesn’t compromise your love for food or the planet. Imagine returning our reusable containers while out walking your dog or heading to the grocery store.” Adrianna explains. “We are piloting Toronto’s first low waste takeout platform that will offer a glimpse into our low-carbon future.” By partnering with restaurants across the city, Inwit works in four simple steps: order, pickup, return, and repeat. Customers order their favoured takeout dish through Inwit’s website app, pick up their meal, and then return the reusable containers to any participating restaurant.
The Importance of Community
Erika: In a world where we have less and less community and interaction with each other, even with our neighbours, I never felt isolated at CSI. Being an entrepreneur is hard, and being a social entrepreneur is even harder. CSI gave me a community that has given me the resilience to try, fail and restart again.
Adrianna: There is something so magical about being in the space and getting to connect with so many members regularly. I had never been around so many humans who respected and understood why I was doing what I was doing; why I had this drive to make the world a better place. It was also inspiring to hear what other entrepreneurs in the space were working on and nice to know there was a whole community who was there to support, guide, and help with the many challenges social entrepreneurs face.
Having just completed the MVP stage of the startup (meaning they have successfully validated their concept and developed a workable, saleable product for use, otherwise known as a “minimum viable product”), Adrianna and Erika are hard at work on the ground, securing partnerships with restaurants and educating the community on how to best implement their reusable takeout container system. To follow along with their journey and to find out when you can get your hands on an Inwit-approved takeout dish, find them on instagram: @inwit.app
Their advice to emerging social entrepreneurs? No surprise here: “Find the people who really hear your voice because it reminds them of their own,” Adrianna says. They did and it shows.
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