The First National Market Study on Canadian Black Women Founders is Here

“We just have to do it ourselves,” Amoye Henry, co-founder of Pitch Better and former CSI WOSEN coach, says as she explains the realization that led to the FoundHers Report, the first national market study on Black women founders in the Canadian for-profit and nonprofit sectors. 

“There was a lack of disaggregated data in the market when it came to diverse entrepreneurs,” Amoye explains. “Part of what Pitch Better does is work with entrepreneurs who are creating pitch decks to pitch their businesses to either clients or investors. [Diverse women] don’t have any data on their business or their market opportunity, or their industry, period. The culturally competent data that was needed to help these investors or institutional stakeholders have a better understanding of these entrepreneurs’ challenges wasn’t there.” 

Amoye and co-founder, Adeela Carter, approached Statistics Canada and Industry Canada but were told they only collected data on women. “Black women are just considered women in Canada. Okay, that’s fair [but] there are very nuanced experiences that women of colour, Black women, and BIPOC people overall face,” Amoye emphasizes. Fast forward to the FoundHers campaign: 1545 participants surveyed across Canada, generating thousands of data points on what it’s like to be a Black woman founder in Canada. Read the report here and check out their interactive dashboard: 

The Findings 

At a glance:

  • 59% of Black women entrepreneurs earn a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • 33% of Black women founders are familiar with social financing
  • 86% of Black women NPO founders indicated they need less than $250,000 in funding to grow their organizations
  • 42% of NPO founders feel ready to take on investment capital
  • 65% reported that they have not secured funding, or have secured less than 50K in external funding
  • 53% have generated less than 50K; and 51% profited less than 25K in the past 12 months
  • 41% of the respondents reported that the global pandemic has significantly impacted their revenue and/or profit

What did Amoye find most surprising? 

“59% of Black women entrepreneurs have a bachelor degree or higher,” Amoye emphasizes. “That was shocking because a lot of social and pop culture references would indicate that black women are not that educated or BIPOC people don’t have access to information. […] They’re a highly educated group but they don’t have the opportunities and the networks. That was very clear.” 

In order to create a network, you need to know who else is out there. The FoundHers research team created an interactive dashboard mapping many of the Black women-owned and -led organizations from the study. Displayed as a map of Canada, the dashboard enables investors, customers, and fellow founders to find organizations they want to support through profiles on the organizations’ profit structure, type of industry, location, demographics, fundraising, and more. Take a look for yourself! 

It’s about visibility. “Black women make incredible contributions to the economy,” Amoye says. “56% of Black women entrepreneurs are mothers. We’re bearing the leaders of tomorrow, making vast contributions to society, and doing it with two strikes against us: being Black and being women. So the fact that you’ll see women who have success stories, like Viviane King, who has a seven figure haircare business, or you have Delores Lawrence, who owns a one hundred staff healthcare agency…there’s so much greatness coming out of our communities. They just need the investment and tools to scale.”

WOSEN’s Design Principles: Moving Beyond Checkboxes to Create Systems Change

CSI has been a proud member of the Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN) since its inception. In this blog, the WOSEN team — including our very own Jo Reynolds, Social Innovation Specialist, and Mitalie Makhani, Senior Program Manager — reflect on the unique approach they took to designing business supports: how they arrived at their seven design principles, and how their understanding of each principle evolved over time.

Can redesigning the way business supports are provided unlock the potential of diverse women entrepreneurs? When Pillar Nonprofit Network, CSI, SVX and Nordik Institute set out to form the Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN), we began with that question in mind. Our goal was to reimagine the entrepreneurship ecosystem to support  women entrepreneurs from equity-deserving communities who are often excluded from traditional business supports. We knew that ending these inequities would require a unique approach.

When we refer to “women entrepreneurs” this includes ALL women. WOSEN recognizes the vast spectrum of gender diversity and as such programming is also inclusive of Two-Spirit, non-binary and genderqueer individuals. Admittedly, our learning of inclusive language continues to evolve. 

WOSEN has been asking equity-deserving founders how entrepreneurial support services can better meet their needs. We heard that talented entrepreneurs continue to face barriers as they navigate systems that were not built for them. These barriers include: lack of access to capital and investment, systemic racism, biases towards hyper growth and institutionalized stereotypes and biases, just to name a few.

We know that our social and economic systems are built on a foundation of colonization and white supremacy. As a result, traditional business supports uphold these oppressive systems. Without honest examination, acknowledgement and change, these systems and supports will continue to perpetuate harm to entrepreneurs from systemically-oppressed communities by creating barriers to success. This fuels a lack of trust, increases stress and impedes the entrepreneurs’ ability to build the enterprises that serve our communities.

In response, at the outset of WOSEN, the collaborative began with our own reflective process. From there, we co-created seven Design Principles to help reimagine how to equitably reach and support a diverse group of social entrepreneurs to meet their potential. The principles have evolved beyond checkboxes for inclusive design and have become the root system that nurtures this entire network.

The Design Principles, Inclusive & Accessible, Systems-Informed, Decolonized, Responsive, Human-Centred, Anti-Oppressive and Ecosystem Approach are the foundation to all aspects of the WOSEN project. They guide recruitment and onboarding, inform design and delivery, build reflection in evaluations and create connection in partner collaborations. They are introduced to all external delivery partners and facilitators and are discussed frequently in internal meetings. 

Most importantly, the principles are interconnected and relational – they are not meant to be expressed or lived in isolation. They are linked to each other. This connectedness is deeply felt in how the principles show up within the relationships between the collaborators, program partners and participants. The WOSEN collaborators are constantly learning together and the way we understand, define and demonstrate these principles continues to evolve.

Rooted in relationship, the Design Principles are critical to building inclusive programming and a community where women entrepreneurs feel they belong. In our experience, being in authentic relationship means engaging participants in the process of program design to ensure it is meeting their needs, then iterating and responding to feedback along the way. Eaman Fahmy, Inclusive Program Designer for Pillar Nonprofit Network explains that the importance of “connection before content” cannot be underplayed. “We really have to establish that trust and connection before moving forward with the content,” she explains. 

Jo Reynolds, Social Innovation Specialist at the Centre for Social Innovation, adds: “For people like myself who design programs, the Inclusive Design Principles is an invitation to do it differently. Nothing for us, without us, is very important.”

Exploring the Design Principles has prompted a deep inner and external learning journey for all WOSEN collaborators. Developing new ways of working that challenge our current oppressive systems while still mentally steeped in the dominant narrative requires a great deal of personal development, un-learning and reframing. A commitment to this type of learning also requires the ability to let go of the need for perfection, to lean into discomfort and to appreciate the iterative nature of changing thought patterns, and ultimately, developing new systems. 

“I’d like to share with someone who’s going on their learning journey that it doesn’t always feel like you’re moving forward and there’s an ebb and flow. I love the mentality of honoring the process and that it isn’t linear, said Mitalie Makhani, Senior Program Manager at the Centre for Social Innovation. “These aren’t checkboxes, you don’t get to say, I’m now decolonized and I’m officially anti-oppressive. That doesn’t happen. It is ongoing and continuous.”

To share what we have learned with others who design and deliver business development programming, and those engaged in system shifting collaborative projects, the collective has developed knowledge products including a set of comprehensive definitions and a series of videos launching today. These products, along with a deck of conversation cards that is currently in development, will help facilitators and collaborators integrate the teachings into their relationships and content development.

By creating space to reflect, the following videos capture the principles in an organic way and illustrate how they are interpreted and explored by the people who use them every day. The series is narrated by Storyteller, Performer, Arts Educator, and Creative Consultant, Timaj Garad, who beautifully weaves the metaphor of the honeycomb as representing the interconnectedness of the collaborative and how the principles connect and overlap. As an artistic artifact, they present the content in a human-centred and heart-led way that is accessible and engaging, inviting viewers to tap into the emotion that exists as we uncover deep questions. 

Reflecting on Systems-Informed and Anti-Oppressive 

We can all place ourselves within systems. It takes time to understand our positionality and learn how to navigate these complex systems which are rooted in colonization and not built to serve everyone equally. It takes time and energy to stay Systems-Informed but the work is necessary to challenge these systems and pave new ways to navigate and bring about the change that our communities desire.

We seek to recognize the different forms of oppression that exist in our society, and attempt to mitigate their effects and eventually equalize the power imbalance in our communities. Practicing Anti-Oppressive work in real terms is not only confronting individual examples of power and oppression or confronting societal examples, it is also confronting ourselves in recognizing our own roles in upholding systems of oppression. 

Reflecting on Inclusive & Accessible

As we’ve embarked on an un-learning and re-learning journey, we’ve had to consider the power of perspective; recognize power dynamics and reimagine inclusion and representation as belonging rather than participation. With these mindset changes, we begin to foster safe, brave spaces to co-create and co-learn with one another and create more opportunities to fill gaps and bridge barriers. All decisions have consequences and it’s vital that we approach decision-making with intention and inclusion if we are to make shifts in the ecosystem. 

Reflecting on Decolonized

Being decolonized means reflecting on the history of colonization and recognizing that these oppressive systems still exist today. It means being committed to an ongoing learning journey that isn’t only captured through academia, intellectual theory and western knowledge. Taking a Decolonized approach recognizes that knowledge is also held in the body, in the earth, in our spirits, in ancestral wisdom and cultural traditions. It means listening in a deep and generative way, not only with our ears, but with our hearts. Taking a Decolonized approach requires hard work and heart work and honoring that we all hold knowledge and lived experience. It means changing the narrative together. 

Reflecting on Human-Centred, Ecosystem Approach & Responsive

We are all human, but centering the human experience has not traditionally been the norm in entrepreneurship. If we believe that the people are more important than anything else we must create an environment to hold space for Human-Centered design. The Responsive nature of this approach is not a one way street, it requires co-creation with program participants. It means working together to share knowledge and gain more clarity about the ecosystems that we work within. Relationships are the foundation for everything, including how we define success and how we affect change.

The WOSEN collaborative partners hope that these knowledge products will help to amplify and disseminate what they have learned so that others working with entrepreneurs can adapt their offerings to be more equitable, inclusive and responsive for existing and emergent talent. By sharing their collective insights, learnings and un-learnings in using the design principles, they hope to encourage program designers in the entrepreneurial ecosystem to also dive deeper into their work to enhance their program design, relationships and facilitation practice. 

Learn more about WOSEN and the design principles here

The Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network is a collaboration between Pillar Nonprofit Network, Centre for Social Innovation (CSI)SVX and NORDIK Institute’s Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (SEE). Lean 4 Flourishing supported the development of the Design Principles. This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.


How Temo Primrose Gare Created a Television Series to Tell “Our Stories” Differently

“Bell Media is my first client. And I got this client before I even started my company!” Temo Primrose Gare says, laughing. After speaking with this WOSEN alum about how she landed a six-part television series while completing CSI’s WOSEN Start program, it’s easy to see why a group of major media execs signed on to platform her first project: Temo’s conviction is infectious. So is her vision. 

After working as a journalist for years, often covering stories about people from marginalized communities, something shifted for Temo when news of George Floyd’s murder broke. A year later, her debut show, “Our Stories,” (now streaming on Bell Fibe TV1) is the result; a series determined to tell the stories of marginalized people beyond the limits of a tragic news cycle or a trending topic: 

The Idea 

In May of 2020, a video of George Floyd’s final moments went viral. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds captured the world’s attention. And while George Floyd’s murder reignited a multinational movement against police brutality and systematic racism, the constant sharing and re-sharing of the video was also unsettling. While many non-Black people spoke to how it ‘opened their eyes,’ many Black people asked: at whose expense? Soon, people took to social media to express the trauma and dehumanization bound up in having to watch George Floyd die again and again across their screens. 

It’s part of what Temo says is an ongoing trend, a tendency for news stories about marginalized people to centre on violence and by extension, for marginalized communities to be associated with violence, loss, and helplessness. In the midst of the horror and ensuing media frenzy, Temo desired a different outcome. So, she created one. 

“[In journalism, there’s a saying:] if it bleeds, it leads. If the story is full of violence and blood, that’s the story that leads. At the same time, there’s no context,” Temo explains. “What happened before? What happened during? And what happened after? It’s why I wanted to do this show. It’s great that we are telling these stories, but we need to give people hope. I didn’t want to just be part of talking about the problem. If I tell my stories of racial discrimination, it will probably go viral for a day or two and then what? I wanted to take action in a way that would be unforgettable. ‘Our Stories’ is here to stay.”

Developing the Show 

“Our Stories” moves beyond the scope of the two-minute news stories Temo covered. “I wanted to be able to tell stories that are really critical to marginalized communities,” She explains. “I really wanted to go into these communities, sit down with these people and give them a platform to tell their own stories in their own voices.” 

But, before she could create the show, she needed funding, and if she was going to make good on her vision of reframing mainstream narratives, the show needed a major platform.

True to form, Temo dreamed big: she sent her project proposal to Bell Media. At the same time, she applied for CSI’s WOSEN Start program. Why? Her research showed it usually takes nine weeks for major media producers to respond, so the nine-week WOSEN program seemed like perfect timing for someone without business experience to learn the foundations of entrepreneurship. Temo jokes she wanted to learn “how to sound like a business person” for when she got in front of the big-time execs. 

Well, it turns out her research was wrong. Bell Media emailed her just two weeks later. They asked to set up a call. Temo says she was “freaking out. I don’t know what I’m doing. I didn’t know anything!” She recalls one of the WOSEN coaches telling her, “If they were able to look at your proposal and think it was good enough to schedule a meeting, it means they saw something in you. You are downplaying yourself right now. Just fake it till you make it. Just go for it.”

So, she did. The meeting went very well. The Bell execs liked what they heard and wanted to form a partnership with her media company. The only problem was,“I didn’t have a company!” Temo recalls, laughing. But, she was determined. She’d always dreamt of creating a multimedia production company; it was just becoming official a lot sooner than expected. Fake it till you make it, right? Okavango Media was born. 

“As soon as they gave me that contract, I had to register for the business name on the same day. I ran to the bank and opened a bank account,” Temo exclaims. “I started to look for other creators. I found an editor, a photographer, a videographer, and I allocated money for them from my budget.” A production budget, she says, she learned how to create through the WOSEN program, along with other business skills. 

“Through the WOSEN program, I learned how to fine tune my idea [so as] to produce a viable product,” Temo explains. “WOSEN [program leads] Mitalie and Peggy Sue will ask you: what is the problem you are trying to solve? How are you going to solve that problem? What are the pros and cons? What it really teaches you is how to hone in on the most important aspect of the idea that you could take and scale your business with. It really helped me to flush my idea down, tear it apart and build it up. I plan on making Okavango Media one of the largest independent media companies in Canada.” 

That plan began with last week’s launch of “Our Stories.” 

The Premiere  

Just over a year after Temo first had the idea, “Our Stories” is now streaming on Bell Media’s Fibe TV1 and on the Bell Fibe TV app. The six-part series goes in-depth; each episode focuses on a different issue, including anti-Black racism, transgender workplace discrimination, homelessness, immigration, and drug addiction. 

“I invite someone to tell me their story, what hardships they’ve experienced and then, what they did to overcome them. My last question centres on: what did you do to get yourself out of that situation? Who helped you? Because I want to give people hope,” Temo emphasizes. “I want people to think, ‘Oh, so if I am discriminated against in this manner, I can go to this person to seek legal help.’ Not only do we tell stories, we also invite subject matter experts to say ‘if you are a refugee claimant and you’ve been told to leave Canada but you cannot go to your native country because you are seeking refuge, this is what [you can do].’ We talk about really serious topics but there is also joy in it. It gives people the feeling that ‘you know what, I may be going through this but here is someone who can help me and I am going to pick up the phone and take action.’”

That’s what Temo did. She saw a problem, she had a dream, and after seeking out people to help her, she created a solution.

Her advice for entrepreneurs just starting out? 

“There will never ever be a better time to start than right now,” Temo promises. “What would have happened if I had said, ‘you know, I don’t have a company yet so I can’t send this proposal to Bell right now?’ I would still be working on myself waiting for the right time to come. No, you don’t need anything to start. You just need your idea and the passion you have for your idea. You don’t need money. I started this with zero dollars. I didn’t have a bank account for my business. My advice is if you are waiting for the right time, you are wasting your time. The right time is right now.”

And if, like Temo, you’re looking for guidance and a supportive network as you get started,  applications for the WOSEN Start program are now open.

Here’s how you can watch her show (right now)
  • If you are already a Bell Fibe TV customer, go to TV1, and look for “Our Stories.” You can watch the series right away.
  • You can also watch the show on-demand with the Bell Fibe TV App on your smart device.

Congratulations, Temo! 

Are you an emerging entrepreneur looking to hone your vision and gain the skills to start your social enterprise?

Applications for our WOSEN Start program are now open! Over 9 weeks, you’ll refine your social purpose idea, build a business model, and develop an action plan to help you move forward alongside a tight-knit, supportive group of early-stage women and gender non-binary entrepreneurs. Apply by August 29, 2021!

17 Innovators and Innovations to Celebrate 17 Years!

In June of 2004, CSI opened its doors with fourteen founding members in tow to solve the “photocopier problem,” the tendency for organizations to work in silos instead of sharing resources and solutions. Enter 5,000 sq. ft. at 215 Spadina Avenue – one of the very first coworking spaces in the world! 

If you know us, you know our story. But, do you know our members? Since our start, over 6000 alumni have passed through the halls (and multiple buildings) of CSI, accessing programming, building community, accelerating their ventures, and creating solutions for systems-level change. Now, as we expand from community-building to building the Next Economy (with a new methodology and increased programming to support innovations at every stage), our members continue to expand with us. Their stories tell the larger story of the life cycle of CSI.

On Friday, we held a virtual Innovator Toast for members, old and new, to toast seventeen years this June and to clink our glass to the thousands who have made CSI the cacophony of connections that it is. To celebrate seventeen years, here’s a look at seventeen of the countless innovators and innovations who’ve left a mark on us and who continue to leave their mark on the world:

System Changers 

Nadia Hamilton, Founder of Magnusmode 

In 2011, Nadia Hamilton was named the winner of CSI’s Project Wildfire. The $25,000 grand prize helped her turn her vision of reducing barriers for people in the autism and disabled community into a full-fledged social enterprise. Inspired by her younger autistic brother, Nadia founded Magnusmode, an organization that creates assistive technology so that people with autism can lead more independent, integrated lives. Their flagship product, Magnus Cards, is a digital library of guides, much like the hand-drawn guides Nadia would make for her brother growing up. Partnering with different businesses and organizations, Magnus Cards are a step-by-step roadmap that guide users through different products, services, and everyday experiences, empowering people to participate with more agency and peace of mind. 

Bryce Jones, CEO and Co-Founder of Flash Forest

Flash Forest is revolutionizing reforestation with tree-planting drones. Right now, planting trees is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to sequester carbon but as Bryce Jones and his fellow co-founders noticed, tree planting hasn’t changed much in the last century. Seeing an opportunity for innovation, they created Flash Forest, Canada’s first-to-market drone reforestation company. Using drones that fire seed pods into the ground at a rate of one per second, they’re on a mission to plant one billion trees by 2028. We met Bryce and the team through Earth Tech, our six-month Climate Ventures accelerator for startups and ventures working on climate and freshwater solutions. The team recently secured over $3.5M in funding for the next stage of their mission, including 100K from the SDTC fund for which we were proud to nominate them. We can’t wait to see what’s next! 

Elsie Amoako, Founder and CEO of Mommy Monitor

As the founder of both Mommy Monitor and the Racialized Maternal Health Conference, Elsie Amoako is a rising leader in racialized maternal health. A CSI Spadina Member, she first joined CSI through our Agents of Change: Community Health program, where she worked with leading advisors and received a $10,000 grant to accelerate her enterprise. Now, Mommy Monitor is a full-service social enterprise and app that offers customized maternal health services, support and education. The vision? Provide maternal health services globally in a way that is virtual, culturally safe, promotes autonomy over the body and birth, and prevents adverse outcomes. 

Maayan Ziv, Founder of Access Now

 In 2016, Maayan Ziv also took part in CSI’s Agents of Change: Community Health cohort for AccessNow, a crowdsourced mobile and web platform that pinpoints accessibility information for locations worldwide. Known widely as a leading advocate for disability and inclusion, Maayan catalyzed her experiences in community (including three years at CSI) to create a grassroots movement: anyone anywhere can review locations by dropping a “pin” on AccessNow’s map, thereby improving accessibility through accountability and knowledge sharing. 

Adrianna Couto, Co-Founder of Inwit

Adrianna Couto, alongside co-founder Erika Reyes, wants to make sustainability “irresistible to all Torontonians.” The two met through our DECA program and now, after participating in our WOSEN incubator, ‍Inwit is on a mission to make the takeout industry circular and zero waste.

“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. It’s been a great joy to witness and support their success from the start. Now, the world is catching on: Inwit was recently chosen as one of the top 15 solutions out of Toronto, New York, Amsterdam, Glasgow, and Copenhagen, to move on to the second phase of the Circular Innovation City Challenge

Daniel Bida, Executive Director of ZooShare

ZooShare, a nonprofit cooperative, built a biogas plant at the Toronto Zoo’s existing compost facility that converts zoo poo and food waste into renewable energy, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. You heard that right! Using Zoo poo as a source of energy is a beloved solution in the CSI zeitgeist. 

Back in 2012, the biogas cooperative and CSI member won the Toronto Community Foundation’s Green Innovation Award after participating in the ClimateSpark Social Venture Challenge, a collaboration between CSI, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and the Toronto Community Foundation. At the time, Executive Director of ZooShare, Daniel Bida, said “Participation in ClimateSpark really helped to hone the unique selling points of the project as a result of getting feedback from so many individuals and experts from around the city.” Since then, ZooShare has been going strong, financing its operations by issuing Community Bonds (something we know a little about) with over five hundred impact investors.

Peter Deitz, Co-Founder of Grantbook and Unwrapit 

In our latest Next Economy Conversation, Peter sat down  to discuss his organization’s journey to employee ownership through an Employee Shared Ownership Plan (ESOP). Reflecting on his career as a serial social entrepreneur, he credited CSI as a “core influence” in his life. Having been a part of the CSI community for over fifteen years, Peter has incubated, launched and scaled multiple social enterprises out of our spaces. His latest venture, Unwrapit, is a social purpose business that provides companies with digital alternatives to traditional corporate and event gifting practices in order to reduce waste destined for landfill and create meaningful, personalized connections.

Myra Arshad, Co-Founder of ALT TEX 

ALT TEX is creating sustainable textiles out of fermented food waste. Best friends and co-founders Myra Arshad and Avneet Ghotra developed a polyester alternative with an eye to disrupt the near $104 billion (USD) polyester industry by creating a circular, biodegradable, and carbon neutral product that addresses two major consumption problems: plastic and food waste. They recently closed their pre-seed round of funding at $1.5 M, proving there is a major appetite for solving fashion’s microplastic problem and upending the fast fashion market. 

When we asked our 2021 Earth Tech venture what this support means to them, Co-Founder Myra Arshad said: “Having support from organizations that offer a platform, mentorship and funds is the reason ALT TEX has been able to get this far – it’s incredible how this ecosystem comes together to support entrepreneurs.”

Amoye Henry, Co-Founder of Pitch Better

Amoye Henry describes herself as “a rockstar millennial entrepreneur.” The description fits: in 2018, Amoye was named one of Canada’s top 100 Accomplished Black Women. She is on a mission to help scale growth-based businesses led by unique founders. “Basically, I want to see the underdog win,” she says. 

Co-founding Pitch Better with Adeela Carter-Charles, Amoye is bridging the gap between women-led start-ups and their means of acquiring capital through grants and investments. With a mandate to “create more women millionaires,” Pitch Better connects innovative Black women entrepreneurs with seasoned professionals via workshops, talks and coaching sessions. Amoye expands on this mission as one of our WOSEN coaches. 

Taking their work to the systems-level, Pitch Better is currently completing the first national market analysis of Black women founders in Canada. The FoundHers campaign aims to address gaps in the social economy by resolving gaps in data collection.

Ilana Ben-Ari, Founder of Twenty One Toys

One of CSI’s Youth Agent of Change award winners, Ilana Ben-Ari began Twenty One Toys with the belief that toys could be the new textbooks by, in part, teaching us collaboration, creativity and empathy. She first created the Empathy toy as a way to bridge gaps between visually impaired and sighted communities through play. It turns out, the toy bridged gaps and evoked empathy in anyone who played – from students to teachers to business executives and beyond. Since then, Ilana has been “mass-producing empathy,” as the toys show up all over the world in professional development workshops, leadership programs and even in job interviews! What’s next?  A true innovator in heart and spirit, she’s currently launching new toy to reframe how people understand failure, aptly named the Failure toy.

Network Weavers 

Social Innovation Canada

Catalyzed by CSI, Social Innovation Canada is working to provide the collaborative infrastructure to strengthen Canada’s social innovation ecosystem, empowering people, organizations and systems with the tools, knowledge, skills and connections that they need to solve real and complex problems.

How it works: SI Canada consists of a small ‘secretariat’ team at the national and operations level, working in partnership with regional ‘nodes‘ or host partners in various parts of Canada. Each node has a ‘weaver’. These ‘weavers’ are natural networks who are responsible for convening regional gatherings and learning events to revel, share, unlock, and enable people, organization and systems to thrive. They meet regularly and work together to reflect the vibrancy, diversity and knowledge that is emerging from coast to coast to coast. CSI is proud to be Ontario’s node and the backbone, operational support for SI Canada as we work to connect Canada’s social innovation ecosystem.

Ontario Nonprofit Network

The Ontario Nonprofit Network breaks down silos by developing working groups, provincial strategies and building regional nonprofit networks to actualize the potential of the Ontario nonprofit sector. Back in 2007, when the ONN was a fledgling initiative with a vision to build a network of nonprofits, CSI incubated ONN. We acted as a trustee, providing insurance, bookkeeping, leadership, accounting, management, and a board of directors. In fact, our CEO, Tonya Surman, was the founding co-chair for ONN’s steering committee. This allowed the ONN leadership to figure out what worked (and what didn’t), build a strong foundation, and grow their network. In 2015, after spending seven years at CSI, they incorporated into a stand-alone organization. We’ve watched with complete admiration and inspiration at the incredible impact ONN continues to achieve.

Community Builders

Tapestry Community Capital

CSI Member Tapestry Community Capital is a non-profit co-op that supports other co-ops and nonprofits in raising and managing community investment. With the help of Tapestry (and 120 incredible community investors), CSI was able to raise 1.9M in under two months in our most recent bond project. Tapestry has been a key player in our Community Bond initiatives – an innovation CSI invented that allows nonprofits to leverage nonprofit social capital into financial capital. To date, Tapestry has helped organizations across sectors raise and manage over $70 million from 3,900 investors. Building community by building resiliency, they are not only vital to CSI but to our social innovation sector. 

Toronto Tool Library

Much like CSI’s founding mission to resolve the “photocopier problem” by sharing resources and space, Toronto Tool Library is on a mission to maximize the benefits of the sharing economy. A part of the broader tool sharing movement as one of over forty tool libraries across North America, this CSI Spadina member provides tools, skill-sharing, and community assistance initiatives that enable individuals, nonprofit organizations, and communities to connect through cooperative sharing. It’s been such a privilege to provide space to TTL over the years as they give so much to our CSI community. 

Cycle Toronto

Long-time CSI member Cycle Toronto has been with us through every key stage of their journey, from starting small, moving from office to office at CSI Annex as they grew, and then eventually landing at CSI Spadina where they’ve expanded their team and their vision. Now a registered charity, Cycle Toronto is a vital part of Toronto, shaping policy, infrastructure and community to transform the city’s cycling culture to make cycling a viable option for Torontonians.

Fresh City Farms

Fresh City Farms delivers organic produce, groceries, meal kits and a variety of prepared meals right to your door. Recipients of a CSI Catapult Loan in 2015, and part of our 2016 Agents of Change cohort, their growth has been nothing short of phenomenal since then. In April of 2019, they acquired Mabel’s Bakery & Specialty Foods. A month later, they announced the acquisition of The Healthy Butcher, a pioneer in organic and 100% grass-fed meat and sustainable seafood. Last year, during the pandemic, they waived delivery fees for a while, providing food access and stability to many of our community members.

Silo Breakers 


 Canopy works with “the forest industry’s biggest customers and their suppliers to develop business solutions that protect these last frontier forests.” Taking a truly systems-level approach, the organization transforms unsustainable product supply chains by engaging business executives on the importance of forest conservation and the power of greening their practices. 

When the Vancouver-based organization looked to branch out to Toronto, they chose to call CSI home. A decade into seeing their work up close, we were thrilled when Ashoka Fellow and Founder of Canopy, Nicole Rycroft, recently won the prestigious Climate Breakthrough Award. Last week, she sat down with Barnabe Geis, our Executive Director of Climate Ventures, for a Climate Ventures Conversation to discuss where their work will take them next. 

Breaking silos is at the heart of what we do. When an organization expands their impact by branching out into our spaces, their vision invariably influences ours. We are so grateful to those who’ve chosen to be a part of the community! Honourable mentions include: the David Suzuki Foundation, Vancity Community Investment Bank, Jack.Org, and the Greenbelt Foundation.

With that, cheers to seventeen years! 

Reclaiming the Narrative: A Spotlight on Queer of Colour

headshot of Eileen Liu
Eileen Liu (Photo by Emily Ding)

Eileen Liu is “fighting injustice through storytelling.” The full-time writer, podcast host, and author of four novels founded Queer of Colour, a storytelling platform, as a way of reclaiming how queer people of colour are represented in society and by extension, how they see themselves. 

Through long-form interviews and photographs, her work gives space for the kind of sincerity and candour people often yearn for online. Eileen reaches out to friends and strangers across different communities, inviting them to tell the stories of their lives. From there, she often meets participants in parks across the city where, sitting across from her for a few hours, people unfold themselves. They share their passions, struggles, careers, upbringings. “I always tell them that if there is a question they don’t want to talk about then we don’t talk about it. They have full control over what they want to say. But up until now, no one has refused to answer a question,” Eileen explains, smiling. 

Joining CSI as a member after participating in the fall 2020 iteration of the WOSEN Start program, Eileen says what she thought would be a how-to on business management quickly turned into an eight-week, therapeutic deep dive into her purpose. WOSEN gave her the opportunity to sit with her “overarching why?,” a question, incidentally, she’s more used to asking than answering since she started Queer of Colour last February. 

Continuing to carve out her “why?” through storytelling, Eileen is set to start a second round of interviews for the project soon. Before she does, we sat down last week to chat about Queer of Colour, the nuances of intersectionality, and the power of telling your story in your own words. Here are hers. 

N: What is Queer of Colour? What made you start this project? 

E: Queer of Colour is a storytelling platform for queer people of colour, primarily in the Toronto and GTA area, to really take control of the narrative of their own stories and to share their stories on their own terms.

It grew out of the recognition that the stories that we tell about ourselves and that are told about us are really powerful. Stories can shape our role in society and shape how we live. So, rather than having systems around capitalism and white supremacy and colonization tell our stories, it’s an exercise in reclaiming the power of storytelling and reclaiming our own stories so that we take control of what we want our lives to look like.

Photo of Dai Alvarez in the park
Dai Alvarez: "I want to be a beacon for other asexual people." (Excerpt from the profile, "Living Authentically at the Intersection." Photo by Eileen Liu).

N: Why these stories? 

E: The idea of intersectionality is really important when it comes to social hierarchy and where people fit in, in society. The reason I focused on queer people of colour is that 1) that’s my own identity and 2) it’s this intersection of being a person of colour in a white dominated culture and the struggles and challenges that come with that, as well as being a queer person within a family or community of colour where being queer might not be as widely accepted or as talked about as it might be in mainstream culture. 

So, I’ve talked to people who find that they don’t fit in no matter where they go. They’re in their families or their communities or whatever culture they’re from and they’re afraid to be themselves. They’re afraid to be out because of stigma, because of how their family and their friends and their community members might react. And then they go into a queer space and they find they don’t really fit in there either because they are a person of colour and they get treated differently than their white counterparts. Focusing on this intersection of people who have to navigate those two types of marginalization – and there are a lot of other marginalizations – but focusing on these two particular marginalizations and sharing the stories and having people talk about their experiences, both positive and negative, is important. 

To be able to put words to some of the thoughts and feelings they may have is definitely a cathartic, therapeutic experience. It can exist outside of us so we can step back and process and understand what those stories mean to us and how we are shaped by those experiences.

Agnes Teodoro: "I feel like I’m becoming more of the person I want to be, the person I should have been way in the past." (Excerpt from the profile, "Life is Messy, But I'm Still Here." Photo by Eileen Liu.)

N: What resonated with you most during this process? 

E: What has really stayed with me in these interviews is the similarities between all of the stories and my own experiences around mental health. Depression and anxiety. Ideas around suicide. That’s a huge thing that almost every single person has experience with. 

Another theme is the lack of mentorship for queer people of colour. One of the questions I ask is: do you have a mentor? Do you have a role model? Do you have someone you can go to, to ask questions? And most of the time, the answer is “no.” When they have questions about their sexuality, they just Google things or they have friends who are going through similar stuff and they just figure it out. And while I wouldn’t say it’s a shame, it’s a missed opportunity. When we think about cultural inheritance and how we inherit things like language, belief systems, religion, values and history from the people who raised us, we can see how cultural heritage gets passed down. But for people in the LGBTQ community, if they don’t have older elders from the LGBTQ community, none of that gets passed down. So, they don’t know the history of LGBTQ rights in this country. They don’t know the significant events that have brought us to where we are today. They don’t know definitions of various identities and how those identities can be lived out in real life. They all have to figure that out themselves. It’s like every person has to start from scratch rather than build on what’s already been done. I do think that’s a missed opportunity. That’s what has really stuck with me the most: seeing that theme across so many different stories. 

Jeff Ho sitting on a bench in a park
Jeff Ho: "I’m a lot softer these days and a lot more tactful, but back then I would just rage. That rage was a form of activism against injustice." (Excerpt from the profile, "Activism, Anger, and Forging a Life in the Arts." Photo by Eileen Liu).

N: You mentioned that participants often talk about both positive and negative experiences. That’s what resonated with me when reading their stories; it feels like they are sharing their whole selves. 

E: In my own experience, as an immigrant and as someone with an East Asian background, there is so much pressure from family, from society, and from myself, to be perfect. To embody what I am supposed to be or should be. The truth is, nobody is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. And that’s one thing I appreciate about the storytellers in this project. They are open to sharing their mistakes and the crappy things that have happened to them. The things they did that maybe they regret or the things they did when they were younger when they didn’t know any better. But also, how they moved through it, how they learned, how they are older and wiser now. One mistake didn’t completely derail their life. We have multiple chances and we can pick ourselves back up and rebuild our lives. People have agency to say, “I don’t like what my life looks like now and I want it to be different.” They can make decisions and try to make it different. They are not just subject to whatever the world is putting on them. 

That’s also something I carry through in my fiction writing as well. This idea that queer people deserve to find love. Most of my characters are East Asian queer people and again it’s those intersecting marginzalitions. They deserve to be messy people just like anyone else. They don’t have to be the token Asian or the gay character that gets killed off first in the story. Those are very common things we see in the media. I want to bring these people into the centre so that they are the main characters. They are the heroes. For Queer of Colour, the queer person of colour is the main character in their story. They’re not the sidekick or the comic relief. They get to go on the journey and they have agency about where they end up. 

N: Storytelling is powerful. 

E: Language in general is really powerful. In the last however many years, with more exploration into trans identities and the asexual umbrella of identities, [we are exploring identities using language that] people who are a generation or two older than me didn’t have. That’s not to say those identities didn’t exist. It’s that they didn’t have words to describe them. Now that we are developing this language around it, it’s really empowering and really opening up questions like: what does sexuality mean? What is sexual identity? What is gender identity? It’s really challenging the idea of gender binaries and sexual binaries. 

I read an article recently that said Gen Z is a lot more queer than previous generations. It’s kind of a misnomer because I don’t think they are a lot more queer, they are just a lot more aware and open about it. They have the language now and they’ve grown up in a society where it’s normalized to claim those identities and to use that language. I think what we are starting to see is there are a lot more queer people around than we used to think.

Denim Blu sitting at a picnic table in a park
Denim Blù: "Sex is taboo back in China, especially for young kids. I didn’t know what sex was, or that men can fall in love with men." (Excerpt from the profile, "Breaking Stereotypes as a Gay Chinese Musician." Photo by Eileen Liu).

N: What do you hope people take away from this project? 

E: I think the most important thing is that the people who participate in the project and the people who are the audience for the project feel seen and heard. 

It’s really important to have the stories shared publicly for other folks who are in similar situations to know that they’re not alone, that there are others who have been in the same situation or who are going through the same things. Maybe they can find solidarity in that and feel hope that there is an end to whatever challenge or struggle they are going through. 

[These stories also] help us understand people we might not normally come in contact with. It’s pretty common for folks to surround themselves with people who are like them. Most of my friend group has shared the same experiences as me and that’s probably the case for most people. When we have these stories of people who are different from us or that we think are different from us, we hear their stories and we think, “hey, they’re actually not that different’ or maybe there are aspects that are different but that helps me understand them more. And that’s the first step towards things like reconciliation and community-building. If we really want to create bonds in society that help to increase equality, inclusion and diversity, it’s really important for people to at least understand where people are coming from and to think, “maybe I don’t experience that myself but that experience is still valid.”

N: What’s next? 

E: I need to do more interviews. The first set of people I talked to were from my network or certain Facebook groups. They all have similar demographics. Mostly in their 20’s, a lot of them are artists and Asian and that’s because of the groups I reached out to. I’m going to be starting the second phase soon. One of the things I want to be conscious of is talking to people from more diverse backgrounds. I want to talk to a lot of older people. I want to talk to people who work in other industries and obviously, different ethnic backgrounds. That’s something I want to explore.

In addition to founding the Queer of Colour project, Eileen is a full-time author and podcast host. She primarily writes queer romance fiction, among other stories. Her latest novel, Hard Sell, came out on Tuesday under her pen name, Hudson Lin. She also co-hosts the podcast, World of Stories, about how stories shape our lives. The second season, focusing on how we live, work, and process a pandemic, is out now on all major streaming platforms. 

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Building Toronto’s Food Infrastructure: A Spotlight on Agent of Change Emma Tamlin

Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. They’re filled with passion, drive, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to create a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world for all. 

We’re profiling five participants from Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals — an 8-week, impact-driven course that taught 100 youth how to use the tools and tactics of social entrepreneurship to work towards the achievement of the SDGs. Emma’s work touches on a number of Sustainable Development Goals, namely SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, & Infrastructure, SDG 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities, SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, and SDG 13: Climate Action

Emma Tamlin’s passion for Emma Tamlin standing in front of Avling Brewery’s Rooftop Gardenfood systems began in childhood. Growing up on a farm, where ingredients for meals could be found 100 metres away from the house, she recognized the importance of healthy, accessible food.

As she grew older, Emma became a fierce advocate for food justice, taking on leadership roles with the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council as the Co-Chair for two years and at Green Roofs for Healthy Cities where she leads green infrastructure policy and rooftop urban agriculture initiatives. 

Most recently, she took part in CSI’s Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program. It’s designed for young changemakers who want to make an impact, supporting them as they identify their purpose, map out an idea, and build the foundation so they can grow their venture.

When the program started, Emma knew she wanted to create something that combined her passion for sustainable cities and food justice. As a result, Emma started Raised Roots, an urban agriculture operations and consulting company, with two co-founders: Rav Singh, an urban farmer and educator with a passion for food policy and food justice and Amanda Klarer, a sustainable food systems specialist. 

“Our mission is to support property owners in integrating food production into projects but also work to change policy to make it easier for everyone in the city to have access to fresh, nutritious and culturally appropriate food.” 

When we look at the impacts of our existing food systems and the impacts they have on the world, Emma explained, there are three driving factors pointing us in the direction of urban agriculture:

  1. In Canada, the average age of farmers is nearing 60 years old, and there aren’t enough young people joining the profession to replace them. Statistics Canada found that there are more farmers over the age of 70 than under the age of 35, meaning we have under 10 years to figure out who will be producing food when these farmers retire.
  2. The global food system is responsible for up to one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, mostly derived from the harvest and transportation process. 
  3. If you look more locally, the Toronto Resilience Strategy shows that we only have three days of fresh food in case of an emergency. When you consider the panic buying that occurred at the beginning of the pandemic, we want to have local food infrastructure in place.

Urban agriculture can strengthen our food supply chain, reduce food miles, make fresh food more accessible and increase our local resilience in the event of an emergency. But food and the power of food systems to facilitate solutions to urban challenges is not being fully realized in Toronto. 

In October 2019, Toronto City Council adopted a food lens framework which sought to mandate city departments to approach their projects and programs with food in mind. Unfortunately, due to COVID19 the food lens framework has yet to be fully implemented. 

Part of Emma’s work through Raised Roots has been advocating for the role of food in various city departments and in development projects. One of her favourite examples of a food systems approach is trees, specifically fruit trees: 

“Fruit trees manage stormwater, purify air, reduce the urban heat island, provide shade. They do all the things regular trees do but they also produce food! And this food can create jobs. A great example of this is in Toronto. There is an organization called Not Far From The Tree (NFFTT). They pick the fruit from the trees around the city on both public and private property and then share the bounty with community partners. In 2020, NFFTT picked over 10,000 lbs of fruits and nuts!”

Emma notes how compared to regular trees, fruit trees provide more services to our city but they are not incentivized in policy. 

“It has been incredibly frustrating talking to people who work at the city who tell me that ‘food security isn’t in their department mandate.’ There is a lack of incentive for policy makers to go out of their way and create new policies without public pressure but as cities work to become more resilient given what we saw happening during COVID-19, trees are an easy place to start. Of course, they are not a silver bullet but most cities have tree programs in place already.”

During the Agents of Change program, Emma learned about challenging biases and testing ideas. At the end of the day, understanding different perspectives, contexts, and viewpoints will help her overcome objections and strengthen her work.

“When you are surrounded by people who also believe the same things [as you], I think it’s really easy to assume that you are right. Sometimes I need to remind myself that not everyone sees things the same way. The program offered me an opportunity to reflect on my own values, biases and reinforced what I already knew which is that it is important to listen to everyone including those with different perspectives to ensure my work actually solves problems”

Looking to the future, Emma is excited to continue building Raised Roots and advocating for edible green infrastructure in municipal policy and land-use planning. “It does not have to be elaborate, it just needs to be supported. There is massive potential for food production in our urban environments that we urgently need to support to increase Toronto’s resilience and equity.”

Our Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program is designed to equip the next generation of changemakers with the skills, resources, and coaching they need to make an impact. Check out other stories from program participants here!

Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals is made possible with the support of the Government of Canada

“Waste to Wardrobe” Venture Closes Pre-seed Round at 1.5M

ALT TEXALT TEX founders Myra and Avneet in research lab is creating sustainable textiles out of fermented food waste. Best friends and co-founders Myra Arshad and Avneet Ghotra developed a polyester alternative with an eye to disrupt the near $104 billion (USD) polyester industry by creating a circular, biodegradable, and carbon neutral product that addresses two major consumption problems: plastic and food waste. They recently closed their pre-seed round of funding at $1.5 M, proving there is a major appetite for solving fashion’s microplastic problem and upending the fast fashion market. 

When we asked our 2021 Earth Tech venture what this support means to them, co-founder Myra Arshad said: “Having support from organizations that offer a platform, mentorship and funds is the reason ALT TEX has been able to get this far – it’s incredible how this ecosystem comes together to support entrepreneurs.”

More from ALT TEX:

“ALT TEX, a Toronto-based biomaterials style startup, has closed a $1.5 million CAD pre-seed round to scale the production of its waste-to-wardrobe biotechnology. […] The pre-seed round brings ALT TEX’s total funding to $1.7M, following $200,000 previously raised through non-dilutive sources.

Short for ‘alternative textiles’, ALT TEX is creating circular, biodegradable and carbon neutral textiles engineered from one of the world’s largest landfill contributors – food waste. The company’s novel bio-polymer technology re-engineers sugars extracted from the food waste into high performance, polyester-like fibres and fabrics for sustainable fashion brands. The closed-loop alternative is aimed to replace polyester, which makes up over 60% of textile manufacturing. Their closed loop technology allows them to do this at a competitive price to other sustainable options, and without sacrifice to performance.

ALT TEX was founded in 2019 by Myra Arshad, a third-generation textile entrepreneur alongside her best friend, Avneet Ghotra, who has a background in environmental science and biochemistry. ‘This industry has always been close to me given my family’s background in this space, but the level of customer, investor and general stakeholder interest we have received really validates that the environmental and ethical problems are also becoming personal to the general population,’ said Arshad. According to the Ellen MacArthur foundation, the fashion industry could use more than 26% of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 – ALT TEX claims that a single t-shirt created with its material can divert up to 9 kg of carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

‘The industry is growing rapidly and with over 60% of consumers indicating a willingness to pay more for the clothes we wear, our highly scalable technology has the ability to completely replace one of the most polluting textiles we use daily.’ With the polyester manufacturing sector valued at $104 billion, ALT TEX expects to expand globally in the coming years to tackle the large market gap.

The NEXT 36 and Creative Destruction Lab backed startup has been well supported through the Canadian tech ecosystem which also includes Centre for Social Innovation, Schulich Startups and University of Toronto Entrepreneurship. They’re now attracting attention from the global fashion ecosystem with several pilot agreements locked in for their 2022 launch. With this funding, they are now looking to quickly grow their team with several new research positions and expand their R&D operations to begin serving these fashion brands by next year.”

Continue Reading:

Read more about our Earth Tech Ventures’ recent wins!

The Centre for Social Innovation is helping to prove that the Next Economy – one that is regenerative, inclusive and prosperous for all – is possible. 

Our Climate Ventures initiative fast-tracks the success of early-stage entrepreneurs who are developing and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. We also work with governments, large companies and partners to solve challenges and scale solutions. Learn more at

13 Earth Tech Ventures Winning Big for the Planet

It’s Canadian Innovation Week. This year’s theme includes a call to celebrate social innovators who move “from challenge to champion.” With that, we’re profiling the big wins of some of our 2020 and 2021 Earth Tech ventures as they champion cleantech solutions that tackle pressing environmental challenges. 

Earth Tech is CSI Climate Ventures’ accelerator for those working on climate or water technology solutions across Canada. Over six months, our 2020 cohort earned and raised $4M, supported 76 jobs, and established 116 partnerships while participating in Earth Tech. Our 2021 cohort is on track for as much success. Three of our Earth Tech ventures have  received funding from the SDTC Seed Fund with our nomination. All of these ventures are working harder than ever to ensure a flourishing future for people and the planet – and from the looks of their ‘wins’, it’s paying off. 

Our 2021 program has been supported by the RBC Foundation, the Peter Gilgan Foundation, Bullfrog Power and VCIB

Headshot of Myra ArshadALT TEX

ALT TEX is creating sustainable textiles engineered from food waste. Using their proprietary fermentation technology, this venture ferments food waste into polyester-like bioplastic fabric that is biodegradable and carbon-neutral. 

Big wins: ALT TEX recently closed their pre-seed round of funding at $1.5 million. They also secured the top prize and audience choice at the UofT RBC Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (awarding them $29,000), top prize at the UofT Adam’s Sustainability Pitch Competition, and the TiE50 prize

Big impact: According to founder Myra Arshad, Grants and awards are how we built ALT TEX’s foundation. Continuing to receive these awards not only provides us the resources we need to continue, but also validates all of our progress and growth.”

Big love: “Having support from organizations that offer a platform, mentorship and funds is the reason ALT TEX has been able to get this far – it’s incredible how this ecosystem comes together to support entrepreneurs.”

Photo of Bryce Jones holding droneFlash Forest 

Flash Forest uses swarms of autonomous drones to plant trees faster, cheaper, safer and with more ease than ever. They’re on a mission to plant 1 billion trees by 2028 by bringing their tech to six continents and pulling billions of tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere. 

Big wins: Here with the numbers, Flash Forest secured $100K from the SDTC seed fund, $100K from their Kickstarter, a pre-seed investment totalling $1.6M, and another $1.8M from Emissions Reduction Alberta! They recently landed four contracts with Canada’s largest forestry and pilot companies, and are set to plant 19 species of trees with 12 pilots across Canada in Spring 2021. How many people does it take to make all this happen? Flash Forest is a team of 18 brilliant minds in engineering, biology, and business development (with a Nobel prize winner on their board to boot!). 

Big impact:These wins will propel us closer to our goal, through investing in R&D, scaling pilot operations across Canada and internationally, building our team, and ultimately planting more trees,” founder and CEO, Bryce Jones emphasized. 

Big love: “I feel energized, privileged, and proud – like seeing your baby grow up.”

Photo of Alisha and Sean McFetridgeRainStick Shower

A water tech company, RainStick’s first product, the RainStick Shower, is a high-flow shower system that saves 80% energy and 80% water through point of use recirculation and filtration, making water clear and clean enough to drink! 

Big wins: Coming on the heels of a successful seed raise, RainStick just received $70,000 from the SDTC Seed Fund and has been named Top 5 in Canada for the Spring’s National Impact Investors Challenge. 

Big impact: CEO and Co-Founder, Alisha McFetridge explains, “These wins allowed us to set up for our official ‘go to market’ in early 2022. It feels fantastic to have others as excited about RainStick as we are. We can’t wait for what the future holds.” 

Photo of Kat Kavanaugh Water Rangers 

Water Rangers empowers people without science training to sample the lakes and rivers near them, upload their data into an app, and learn to become stewards of their waterways. 

Big Wins: Water Rangers recently launched a five-year project with the University of Regina to fill data gaps and conduct scientific research for the province. Volunteers are monitoring 70 lakes alongside scientists. They also co-launched the Lake Erie Guardians with Canadian Freshwater Alliance to monitor and protect the Lake Erie watershed.

Big Impact: Executive Director Kat Kavaunaugh remarked,This growth, plus supporting many other communities to collect water quality data, has our store revenues growing by 425% from last year and allowed us to double the size of our team to support our community. 

Combined with a 320% increase in web traffic from last year, a fully bilingual website, and our work in promoting community-based water monitoring to be included in the new Canada Water Agency, we see no end to where 2021 will take us!”

Photo of Jane JiSpringbay Studio

Springbay Studio drives behavior change of children through empowering, playful and action-based environmental education programs. They provide a data-driven platform for communities and schools to gamify, measure and inspire GHG emissions reduction.

Big win: Springbay Studio successfully piloted a first-of-its-kind online kids competition about climate action. Their League for Green Leaders program promises to engage children in play to learn, play together, and play for our future. During the pilot season, they empowered over 300 children to reduce 15 tonnes of GHG emissions.

Big impact:  Co-Founder and Game Designer, Jane Ji, is planning for scale in the next year: Our goal for the next 12 months is to empower 18,000 children to reduce 14,000 tons of GHG emissions. The pilot proves the feasibility of our new program and provides invaluable learning on how to launch the first season successfully.”    

Big love: We were thrilled by how children were engaged with our League for Green Leaders program. Our original goal was to empower contestants to save 3 tonnes of CO2, but we ended up with over 15 tonnes. Every metric measured here represents a more eco-friendly choice our league participants took in their life. We are excited about the behaviour change empowered by our solution.”   

headshot of Bo SimangoAquafort

Aquafort’s technology works to make aquaculture more sustainable and healthier for fish. They help producers proactively manage and automate disease diagnosis, boost production ecosystem health, and automate monitoring for fish behavior.

Big win: Aquafort developed their MVP software product with two predictive algorithms and a visual dashboard. 

Big impact:  We have a product that we can demo to potential early adopters and ready to deploy in a live, operational setting,” CEO and Founder, Bo Simango, told us. 

Big love:It’s an important milestone which we can use to gain market traction and gather more interest from investors as well. We can also use this evidence to apply for tech development funding.” 

Photo of Conner Tidd and Kevin JakielaJust Vertical

Just Vertical is an indoor vertical hydroponic company that creates furniture that feeds you. Specifically, this venture is a premier vertical growing and vertical farming systems provider for residential and small scale commercial urban farmers. 

Big wins: Just Vertical secured $100,000 from the SDTC Seed Fund, and both funding and a spot in PAX Momentum’s US-based accelerator. 

Big impact: Co-Founder and President Kevin Jakiela explained, This support will help us with our formal US Launch in May, acquiring new customers and expanding growth and sales strategies.”

Big love: “Just Vertical is very proud of this accomplishment as we take the next step in our growth journey as a start-up.”

Photo of Jonas Goldman talking to two peopleScarcity Analytics

Scarcity Analytics uses environmental models to help agriculture-dependent businesses avoid price spikes in their supply chains and improve their climate resilience by pre-emptively building up inventory when an environmental shock is on the horizon.

Big wins: Scarcity Analytics was accepted to the Volta Logistics AI Accelerator with access to $14,000 in pre-seed funding.  

Big impact: According to CEO and Co-Founder, Jonas Goldman, “We’ll use this pre-seed funding to build out our backend machine learning infrastructure – moving beyond our MVP that models almond crops – to allow us to start tracking the impact of environmental disturbances for more crops, and so provide environmental disturbance monitoring solutions for a range of new food and beverage companies.”

Big love: This is a big win for us and we’re excited to see just how many more crops we can provide modelling too.”

Headshot of Shirook AliEcosystem Informatics Inc.

Ecosystem informatics Inc. provides hyper local environmental and meteorological data and analytics with our state of the art AI-powered, mobile monitoring platform. It is an extremely cost effective tool for smart cities and industries to manage the environmental footprint and achieve their suitability objectives.

Big wins: Ecosystem Informatics Inc. received the 2020 Business Excellence Award from Mississauga Board of Trade, and was a featured impact company at Collision 2021.

Big impact: CEO AND Co-Founder, Shirook Ali, told us this recognition “provided exposure and gave additional credibility, boosting our energy as a team as well.” 

Innovia GEO

Innovia GEO Corp. provides clean and efficient geothermal heating and cooling solutions to stakeholders involved in the design, construction, and operation of buildings and homes. Going beyond the status quo, they seek innovative and cost-effective solutions to support the sustainable development of our world.

Big wins: Innovia GEO Corp. successfully commissioned their first full-scale pilot project for their GEOThermal Piles in February.  The technology dramatically cuts the cost of implementing a geothermal heating and cooling system by integrating geothermal functionality directly into a structure’s steel foundation piles. In their summer, they will continue testing so their product will be ready for commercial installations this fall. 

Big impact: President and Co-Founder, Andrew Lee, said, “It’s an amazing feeling getting our pilot project installed after two years of hard work. Our team can’t wait to finish up our testing this summer so buildings can start using clean, efficient and cost effective heating and cooling with our GEOThermal Piles.”


Sentry is a robust real-time biological monitoring platform allowing wastewater treatment operators to understand imbalance and optimize their processes.

Big wins: SENTRY recently closed a funding round with two globally significant investors: SKion Water, a leading investor in the water space, and Factor[e], a leading impact investor. 

Big impact: Client Ambassador and Water Professional, Jon Grant, explains, “To date, we’ve deployed 80 systems globally, and we’re shooting for 400 by the end of 2023. This Series A investment and partnership will play an integral role in helping us do that. SENTRY will also continue to actively explore new projects and partnerships as we continue scaling with the help of Factor[e] and SKion Water.”

Big love: This was amazing for the team. We have been laying the groundwork through a number of early stage programs like Earth Tech who supported us in building skills. To see it pay off is a win for SENTRY and our broader support team.” 

CERT team photo CERT

CERT converts CO2 into renewable chemicals using only electricity and water.

Big win: CERT was selected for the first cohort of the Carbon to Value Initiative

Big impact:We’ll have the opportunity to work with an industry-led Carbon Leadership Council to grow our company and develop partnerships towards deploying our technology for industrial decarbonization.”

Big love: We are very excited to join C2VI and build on our success from 2020 through our participation in the Carbon XPRIZE and the Earth Tech accelerator. To be chosen as one of the top 10 most promising carbontech companies in the C2VI program validates the potential of CERT’s technology.”

SEI Logistics 

SEI Logistics is a manufacturer of solar power equipment and a work lighting system. Based in the interior of British Columbia, they specialize in solar farm construction and off grid solar solutions.

Big wins: SEI recently delivered its prototype solar work light to a local mining operation. In 2021, they also secured their supply contract with Finning Canada, the exclusive dealer of CAT equipment in Western Canada.

Big impact:  CFO Eric S Little emphasized, “This partnership with Finning will enable us to reach a larger audience and provide case studies to the mining industry. It’s also allowed us to hire two employees.”

The Centre for Social Innovation is helping to prove that the Next Economy – one that is regenerative, inclusive and prosperous for all – is possible. 

Our Climate Ventures initiative fast-tracks the success of early-stage entrepreneurs who are developing and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. We also work with governments, large companies and partners to solve challenges and scale solutions. Learn more at

How WOSEN is Designing Inclusive Entrepreneurship

This month marks one year since CSI launched its first WOSEN program. As we celebrate Canadian Innovation Week (and move “from isolation to inclusion”), there’s no better time to take a look back at what a year of designing inclusive entrepreneurship means. 

The Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN) works to unleash the entrepreneurial energy and capacity of women and gender non-binary entrepreneurs who have solutions that put people and the planet first. Together, WOSEN is redesigning how business supports are provided so these entrepreneurs can build skills that match their potential and help them succeed. 

Thank goodness because it’s clear the system needs a redesign. As we find ourselves in the midst of a “she-cession,” women are the majority owners of only 15.6% of Small Medium Enterprises in Canada. And the hits don’t stop there: only 2.3% of (US) venture capital funding went to women-led startups last year. As for gender non-binary entrepreneurs, the difficulty of finding relevant statistics is probably proof enough that support is vital and the current system needs to change. WOSEN intends to do just that. 

Designing for Inclusion Looks Like….

WOSEN programs launched across Ontario in the summer of 2020 to support women-identified and gender non-binary entrepreneurs from underserved and underrepresented communities. This includes Indigenous women, women in rural or remote regions, racialized women, newcomer women, LGBTQ2+, women with disabilities, and those who identify as gender non-binary. 

So far, CSI’s programs have supported 85 founders in taking the next steps for their social venture, including supporting over $2.5 million in grant submissions. Altogether, the WOSEN partners have supported 236 founders from across Ontario. 

Support at Every Stage 

From ideation to acceleration to investment, CSI launched three recurring programs designed to support individuals at every stage of their venture.

Three women posing for photo (one of them WOSEN program manager, Mitalie)WOSEN Start is a nine-week online ideation program designed to help fifteen early-stage women and gender non-binary entrepreneurs move from idea to action. Our WOSEN Senior Program Manager, Mitalie Makhani, and Social Entrepreneurship Lead Facilitator, Peggy Sue Deaven, co-facilitate the program through hands-on coaching, weekly workshops and peer-led support sessions, often supporting individuals who may never have considered themselves entrepreneurs before. One graduate of our Fall cohort had this to say about the program: 

 “The CSI Start program is more than a course on how to start a business. It is a holistic, values-based approach to social entrepreneurship that centres the participants’ interests and needs. Through it, I have been able to refine my business idea and learn how to communicate it effectively to others. But most importantly, the program has helped me develop a personal guiding principle that will extend beyond this particular business idea to influence all major decisions in my life.” 

Last summer, in response to COVID-19, Mitalie, alongside WOSEN partners, developed and led WOSEN Resilience, a program designed to help underrepresented and underserved entrepreneurs weather the pandemic. This, in addition to our Investment Readiness Supports program, provided WOSEN participant, Kelly Emery, with the support she needed to prepare for upcoming funding and grant opportunities. Last week, Kelly’s tech startup, Troop, closed its pre-seed round of funding at $300K. We are so proud! 

Looking ahead, WOSEN Grow is a three-month program starting September 2021. The program is designed to support women and gender non-binary entrepreneurs at the validation stage of their social enterprise through one-on-one coaching, learning sessions and more. If you’re interested, sign up to be notified as soon as applications open. 


Building Trust 

Photo of Jo Reynolds, Social Innovation Specialist “We want women and gender non-binary folks from all different backgrounds to bring their business ideas to reality to create good jobs and make meaningful change in their communities,” Jo emphasizes. “That is why the WOSEN collaborative is disrupting how entrepreneurial programs are designed and offered.”   

One way WOSEN redesigns entrepreneurship programming is through their outreach. Mitalie prioritizes relational ways of working, reaching out to communities outside of conventional sector channels and building trust through conversation. As WOSEN participant, Kelly Emery explains, At the beginning, even the smallest ounce of support can be the catalyst for success. For me, it was the phone call with Mitalie, when she told me about the WOSEN program. There I met a mentor, which led to an introduction to someone who would become an advisor, and from there, the first investment cheque.”

Mitalie does this, in part, by following the WOSEN collective’s eight design principles. All outreach, programming and facilitation is designed to be inclusive and accessible, anti-oppressive, decolonized, human-centred, responsive, systems-informed, and to take an ecosystem approach.

Reflecting on these design principles, Jo says “On a personal level, I can feel a shift happening when deep inclusion is intentional. At times it feels like a huge relief to recognize and reflect on ways we can change; and at other times, seeing my own blinds spots can be jarring. Over this year, our collective has done a lot of inner work that we see as fundamental to how we are all needed to break down barriers and make way for people to meet their potential.”

That inner work will soon result in large-scale change: WOSEN recently received three years of Innoweave funding to support bringing WOSEN’s Inclusive Program Design into the economic development ecosystem. 

Taking a Network Approach 

WOSEN is a joint initiative between CSI, Pillar Nonprofit Network, SVX, and the NORDIK Institute, with Lean 4 Flourishing supporting content design. The initiative was made possible through the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy. And while the term “women” shows up in its name, the collective sought to expand the initiative to include gender non-binary entrepreneurs. 

What is the value of a network? Jo explains, “Taking a network approach means we can access the resources and know-how of our partners. We bring  talented business coaches, impact investors, and many skilled professionals from across our partner relationships to meet entrepreneurs where they are at.” 

What’s Next? 

By the end of 2021, CSI’s WOSEN will have worked with over 200 founders through the Start, Grow, and Investment Readiness Supports programs. 

Jo elaborates, “We will have run Women in Innovation series in communities across Ontario specific to women in rural, and urban settings. We will have offered digital support services, grant and presentation writing services, investment readiness, and individualized coaching. As well, we will have launched our Inclusive Design Knowledge Products, and new entrepreneurial tools that we hope will help to change how entrepreneurial supports are offered.” 

We can’t wait to see it happen.

How 2020 Transformed Social Entrepreneurship 101

People are waking up to social entrepreneurship. Our collective crises continue to reveal the failings and fault lines of ‘business as usual.’ In this liminal space, individuals are forging new paths, prioritizing people and planet, as well as their bottom line. 

At CSI, we saw this influx firsthand. When the world shut down and our lives went online, individuals from different corners of the globe signed up in droves for Social Entrepreneurship 101 (SE 101), CSI’s eight-week course on social entrepreneurship. Why? As one SE 101 participant, Michael Szego, emphasizes “social entrepreneurs are going to be essential to help author a new social contract and reset the economy. […] SE 101 is a great place to start.” 

So, what happened? We checked in with our Social Enterpreneurship 101 Program Lead and Facilitator, Peggy Sue Deaven, to find out how 2020 transformed the program and what’s next for social entrepreneurship at CSI. 

What is Social Entrepreneurship 101? 

SE 101 is an eight-week, part-time online program that covers the foundations of social entrepreneurship, from making sure you’ve identified the right problem, to developing a solution, to turning your idea into a sustainable business model. As the world looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no better time for the entrepreneurially-minded to step up to address pressing social and environmental challenges, and to develop the skills needed to succeed. That’s where Social Entrepreneurship 101 comes in. 

You don’t have to consider yourself an experienced entrepreneur or really, an entrepreneur at all, to sign up. In fact, that’s kind of the point. The program is for anyone who sees a problem or need in the world, wants to take action, and is asking themselves: 

  • How do I do that? 
  • How do I turn my idea into a social enterprise? 
  • Or even, what is social entrepreneurship?

The program was developed in partnership with Lean4Flourishing (a group of experienced social entrepreneurs, coaches, facilitators, and educators) and based on the learnings of over a decade of training social enterprises.

As we saw in 2020, it’s also an amazing way to build community. SE 101 alumnus, Mateo Tobar, put it best: “This course allowed me to understand how to transform ideas into feasible projects. I would recommend this course to any person that is looking to build connections […] and share their ideas with others. This course was one of my highlights of the year 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic! This was an opportunity for me to get outside of Ecuador and learn with an international cohort from my house.”

What happened in 2020? 

Peggy Sue reflects back on the year: “So much about 2020 revolved around loss, and rightly so. However, last year, I also experienced the joy of discovery and creation as 125 strangers came together onto a digital platform to actively collaborate, vulnerably converse, and share ideas of how to make the world a better place with social entrepreneurship pursuits.” 

The initial move online left many of us with a lot of questions. Namely, how will we foster a sense of community from a distance? What will programming look like? Will people show up? While working online isn’t always easy, our SE 101 cohorts proved we didn’t need to worry. As Peggy Sue explains, people not only showed up, they dug deep: 

“The needs for community were so strong that it compelled participants to dig deeper, share more boldly, and imagine in a more innovative way. In 2020, the SE 101 course more than doubled in it’s offering size and reached an international audience that even extended beyond North America. As important and necessary as social change is, it does not happen in a vacuum, nor does it thrive in the dark. I witnessed BIG, bold dialogues about race, homelessness, prejudice, financial and social wealth, and mental health. The participants of SE 101 are some of the most fearless and courageous change-makers I had the privilege to facilitate.”

As we’ve seen, crises can become a catalyst for change. Many people who never considered themselves social entrepreneurs before, signed up for the program. Their reasons? When the pandemic forced many people out of work, they took a hard look at their life and realized they desired something more. Or, unable to look away, long-standing systemic inequities motivated individuals to reconsider their role in society. Social Entrepreneurship 101 is the perfect place to hone and direct that reinvigorated sense of purpose. 

Sensing an urgent interest in social entrepreneurship across Canada, CSI’s Social Innovation Specialist, Jo Reynolds, reached out to the Kingston Economic Development Corporation to see if they would be interested in offering the program. The call expanded. The SE 101 program has now been developed and run by the Small Business Economic Development Centres of Markham, Richmond Hill, and Vaughan. We can’t wait to see where SE 101 lives next! 

What are people saying about SE 101? 

Siddan Chandra from Toronto says: 

Social Entrepreneurship 101 has laid the groundwork for ongoing self development in an optimistic and promising realm. It has helped me begin to build the muscle of financial thinking and offered a vocabulary that honours both my values and my needs. 

Ashley Goff from Edmonton reflects: 

SE 101 strikes a thoughtful balance between the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of social entrepreneurship. The deep knowledge of the facilitator and the thoughtful support and engagement with the other participants was invaluable. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in social entrepreneurship.

Tim O’Hara from Kingston says: 

Amazing course that allows all users to feel supported and comfortable sharing and encourages individual and group learning of self and business. You are thoroughly guided along a well lit path and emerge a stronger and more confident entrepreneur on the other side. Complete with resources and learning tools and a network of like-minded business people that become friends. 

What’s Next? The Future of SE 101 

With that, the program is growing! Building on last year’s momentum, Social Entrepreneurship 101 is running six times in 2021, more than doubling the size of 2020’s offering. Continuing online, CSI’s program is expanding its reach across the globe, while also being replicated by social enterprise partners in other regions across Ontario. That means more people are identifying needs AND stepping up to spearhead solutions. SE 101 is one way we are building the Next Economy together. 

Want to learn the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship?

Registration for the June-July 2021 cohort is now open and will close May 30th.

Five fully-funded scholarships are available (thanks to Alterna Savings!). Apply by May 23rd to be considered for a scholarship. Head here for more program information.

Are you interested in offering SE 101 in your community?                                                                               

Reach out to Peggy Sue at