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5 Reasons You Should Come to Our Earth Tech Pitch Night

You won’t want to miss Earth Tech Pitch Night on June 30. Earth Tech is our accelerator for early-stage cleantech startups working on climate and water solutions. At the end of June, our 2021 cohort will share about their work and likely inspire you with their tech innovations. Every one of them was selected by us for their potential impact. On top of that, three of them will get selected by the audience – that’s you! – for Audience Choice Awards and cash prizes. We can’t wait! 

Here’s what to expect from an Earth Tech Pitch Night (and why we think you should tune in): 

1. A Party for the Planet 

What better way to ring in the summer than with another Zoom event?! 

Just kidding. What better way to kick off a season of better weather than with a night supporting people working hard for the planet? We all need an excuse for a little celebration. It’s been a tough year, to say the least, and with the climate crisis becoming more terrifying by the day, we could all benefit from hearing about solutions and how we can support them. Also, we’ll end the event with some networking by shifting to our virtual space, which is great for connecting and feels almost like real life.

2. Solutions, Solutions, Solutions 

We’re bringing you promising solutions from 17 ventures across Canada – from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland, from cutting-edge sensors to sustainable textiles, from apps to hardware. Come discover and cheer on these entrepreneurs as they share how their technologies are helping to build the low-carbon economy and a better future for all. 

3. The stakes are high and you get to decide! 

That’s right: public opinion rules the night. In the first round, each venture will give an elevator pitch. Then, the audience will vote on which five ventures move to the final round. Then, you vote again! The audience will select which three ventures win the Audience Choice and cash prizes totalling $10,000. Don’t miss your chance to have a say – last year was so close; it was gripping! 

4. Money, money, money (monayyyyy)

Early-stage cleantech startups can struggle to raise the funding they need to prove their technologies and get them to market. And while $10,000 may not be make or break, the audience validation helps and every dollar counts! Thanks to prize money contributors Fixx, and our partners at the RBC Foundation, Bullfrog Power and the Peter Gilgan Foundation for making this all possible. 

5. Now’s the Time to Grow Canadian Cleantech 

We’re at a critical moment in the development of Canada’s cleantech industry. As we look to build back better, now’s the time to seize this opportunity to pivot to a green economy and support homegrown talent and innovation. Early-stage ventures are showing us what’s possible. 

Register here and come show your support on June 30! 

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 climateventures.org.

Reflecting on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s Announcement

The following is a reflection from multiple staff members as we processed the news from Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and looked for concrete actions that we and our community can take. Please note that the following contains material some may find triggering in regards to residential schools in Canada. 

Indigenous History Month began just a few days after the bodies of 215 children were found in an unmarked grave on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. On Monday, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, called for this horrific finding to be a “catalyst” for further work uncovering these graves at the sites of residential schools throughout the country.

On behalf of her band, Chief Rosanna Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is encouraging everyone to take part in a National Day of Prayer today (June 6). With a similar intention, Idle No More Toronto and Porcupine Warriors have organized the Bring Our Children Home March and ceremonial event happening today at Queen’s Park in Toronto at 2 p.m E.T. Today is a day to reflect on this unthinkable loss and honour the 215 children who have been found, as well as the countless more who are still missing. 

The first step towards reconciliation must be truth, and so listening to the words of survivors* of the Kamloops residential school, and the system as a whole, is paramount. (*Warning: This story contains disturbing details about the Kamloops residential school. The National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.)

Those of us who are settlers must recognize that as much as this discovery at Kamloops is tragic, it is not surprising: “We know there are a lot of sites like Kamloops that are going to come to light in the future,” said Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

We must also recognize that calls for justice are not new. Indigenous peoples have been speaking out since the schools’ inception. In 1907, the first Chief Medical Officer of the Interior, Dr. P.H. Bryce, wrote a report demanding a major overhaul of the system of residential schools, only to be ignored by the Canadian government, and later pushed out from public service. In 1922, he wrote a book, The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal to Justice to the Indians of Canada, detailing clear evidence of the government’s role in creating and maintaining the system of oppression, as well as their attempts to silence him. 

When tragedy surfaces, there can be a tendency to assume we need to create more solutions, that a problem persists out of an absence of ideas. Such assumptions can be a way of intellectualizing atrocity and problem-solving our way out of discomfort. Indigenous communities have been recommending solutions, providing answers, and lighting a path for reconciliation for a very long time. The problem persists, not out of a lack of policy analysis or studies or community processes; it persists due to government inaction and public indifference.

Yellowhead Institute’s 2020 status update on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission paints a grave picture of our unfolding legacy: “In 2019, we noted that at the rate of 2.25 calls completed each year, we could only hope to see substantial change over nearly four decades (we projected the completion of Calls to Action to be in 2057). Unfortunately, with the regression of this year’s reconciliation update, it could take much longer, at least another generation.” Of the 94 recommendations, six of them pertain to the identification of missing children and their marked and unmarked burial sites (#71-76). According to Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, these specific calls to action have not been fully implemented, though some progress has been made. 

It’s important to recognize that this work cannot be done solely by our institutions; it is also work that must be done by all Canadian settlers. An important starting point is to read, understand, and demand the adoption of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which begin with calls to action for child welfare. And for those who have the means, here is a link to donate to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society

The following is further reading settlers can do to learn about the atrocities of the residential school system and take action towards reconciliation:

Here are health supports for survivors, their families and community members: 

  • A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
  • The Indian Residential School Survivors Society offers a crisis line for grief, crisis, and trauma counselling at 1-800-721-0066.
  • First Nations Health Authority provides mental wellness and culturally-safe support

Today is a national day of grieving. Let it be followed by deep, persistent action. 

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

 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! 

Green Economy Law is Demystifying New Legal Frontiers in Canada

Green Economy LawGreen Economy Law logo Professional Corporation is a corporate and commercial law firm for ecopreneurs, social enterprises, and nonprofits working to build a sustainable and regenerative economy. More specifically, it’s a law firm that works with clients creating innovative solutions to environmental problems. It was also one of the first law firms to take the Law Firm Climate Pledge, a commitment organized by Law Students for Climate Accountability that encourages firms not to take on any new work supporting the fossil fuel industry. 

“People are contributing to the green economy in such diverse and creative ways. I find a lot of the work I do super rewarding,” says Marc Z. Goldgrub, the firm’s founding lawyer. 

The firm’s services include traditional corporate law work like assisting clients with incorporation, contracts, and intellectual property management, as well as more niche offerings, like helping enterprises align their policies to attain B Corp and ESG status. Clearly the firm, which is based out of CSI Spadina, is in the right place. In fact, some of the firm’s earliest clients were other CSI community members, and more continue to reach out. 

“The CSI network has been a great place to be plugged into,” Marc emphasized. “It’s been nice to feel the support of the community.” 

While our network has been welcoming, starting a firm in 2020 was not without obstacles. As Marc notes, “It’s difficult to start an independent law firm for the green economy in the middle of a pandemic. It’s a real, tall order.” 

Despite the difficulty, Marc made the most of the year by continuing to do what he could for the common good; when many people found themselves facing unemployment and evictions during the pandemic, the firm began offering legal services pro bono to low-income community members in landlord-tenant disputes.  

As the world begins to open back up, Marc is excited to expand his firm’s areas of focus. In addition to working with clients in the green economy, the firm now offers legal services in secondary practices areas, including health and psychedelic law. 

Marc explains: “When we got through the legalization of weed here in Canada, I started looking into psychedelics. I wasn’t aware it was so helpful to people [in terms of] the massive health benefits.” 

According to the firm’s website, Green Economy Law “does not engage in, or assist parties engaged in, illegal activities. But we are happy to provide corporate and commercial legal services and advice to parties operating legally in and around the psychedelic industry. The firm is also happy to support psychedelic legalization efforts by means of speaking engagements and educational presentations.”

Noticing a lot of confusion surrounding the legal status of psychedelics in Canada, the firm also launched PsychedelicLaw.ca, a website meant to serve as a comprehensive guide to Canadian psychedelic law. 

Carving out a legal niche in emerging industries, it’s no surprise Marc continues to dive into new legal frontiers. The firm recently launched a third website, Law on Mars, which covers space, Moon, and Mars law. On the site, you’ll find explainers breaking down international space treaties, the Moon agreement, and other intergalactic legal developments. 

While Marc doesn’t practice space law himself, he is interested in seeing where the work might lead, especially as Elon Musk and other futurists continue to pursue their mission to make humanity a multi-planetary species.

Marc hopes other Canadians share his enthusiasm for exploring where the law will take us next. If you’re interested in following Green Economy Law’s activities, including its coverage of ongoing climate and environmental law, news, and policy, you can sign up for the firm’s monthly newsletter

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.

“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:  https://betakit.com/alt-tex-closes-1-5-million-pre-seed-round-to-commercialize-sustainable-polyester-alternative/

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 climateventures.org.

Why Canada Needs Employee Ownership: A Next Economy Conversation with Peter Deitz

Movements across the globe are calling for systems change to build a world that is sustainable, equitable, and prosperous for all. But what will that world look like, specifically? It’s easy to get lost in the jargon or talk vaguely about broad topics. What tangible policies, models, and actions will create the world we want to see?

Next Economy Conversations, our monthly tête-à-tête with industry leaders, brings the people building systems-level solutions to the table to break down their approaches, provide key insights, and learn from their successes and failures. Building the Next Economy requires all of us. Welcome to the conversation.

For our latest Next Economy Conversation, serial entrepreneur and old friend of CSI’s, Peter Deitz, took us on a deep dive into Employee Share Ownership Plans (ESOPs). We’ve broken down his key insights below and you can watch the full conversation here:

Over the past two years, Peter Deitz has championed and helped oversee the formation of an Employee Share Ownership Plan for Grantbook, the organization he co-founded. Started out of CSI Annex in 2012, Grantbook has grown into a twenty-five person philanthropic advisory firm that helps foundations operationalize mission and vision by leveraging technology. 

Peter actually began looking into ESOPs as an effective and ethical continuity strategy for Grantbook so he could mindfully exit the company to pursue other interests full-time. His pursuits quickly grew into Unwrapit, 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. 

With that, let’s get into it. 

What is an ESOP? 

As Peter explains, due to current Canadian legislation, “there’s no simple answer to what an ESOP is.” Right now, unlike the US and the UK where clear frameworks exist, converting to an ESOP is a bespoke endeavour, making a hard-and-fast definition a little difficult to come by. 

According to ESOP Builders (the Canadian consultancy firm Peter worked with to customize Grantbook’s plan), ESOPs are “stock equity plans that allow employees to acquire ownership in a company, heightening employee buy-in and investment, while fostering accountability and an ownership mentality. They may include stock options, stock purchase, phantom-stock ownership or a combination of alternatives. Employee ownership can range from [less than] 1% to 100% of the company. As employees become owners, they share in the risks and rewards of the company.” 

At their core, ESOPs are one way to enable employee ownership. ESOPs differ from worker co-ops in ownership and governance structure. Today, we’ll be covering Grantbook’s version of an ESOP (a version Peter mentioned could also be called a “Shared Purchase Plan.”… It can get confusing. Stick with us!). 

Why should you care about employee ownership? 

Before we get further into the nitty gritty, let’s skip straight to what really matters: why should this matter to you? Well, wealth equity for starters. 

Employee ownership builds community wealth. As our CEO, Tonya, explored, “I see ESOPS as a fundamental strategy for the redistribution of wealth to those who have not otherwise had it historically. It’s a powerful tool for reconciliation and for inclusion in our economic systems.”

And there’s more. ESOPs also improve business performance and create economic resilience. As Peter emphasizes: 

“It generally has bipartisan support [in the US] and there is a strong financial case for this model. There is actually no limit to the positive systemic effects [ESOPs] can have. Whether with respect to economic opportunity and growth, racial discrimination and justice, building businesses that take into account what environmental and social effects they have, ESOPs and employee ownership can have a big impact across all of those realms.”

Why should an organization embrace employee ownership? 

Peter explains: 

“Why would I, the person who controls the founder’s shares, decide to do this? Because it was the right thing to do. Just at the most basic level. Employees create the [company’s] value, especially in a professional services firm. They have, in my view, every right to be in the ownership mix and to own a portion of the business. Ethically and morally, I was on board, and that’s why I started looking into it. 

Then I found out it’s the right answer to multiple questions, like how do you achieve greater retention in your organization? How do you create greater growth and margins? Employee owned companies generally perform better on traditional financial metrics of success.

How do I exit and preserve the culture? How do I exit and achieve some liquidity from this investment of these shares I own, but do it in a way that is going to create the most benefit for Grantbook and its employees? 

The same journey that brought me to [building] social purpose businesses is the journey that brought me to employee ownership as a continuity and exit strategy that makes sense.”

Breaking down Grantbook’s ESOP structure 

When it comes to Grantbook, an Employee Share Ownership Plan means “employees have the opportunity to buy an ownership stake in the business.” 

Peter breaks it down further: 

How do employees acquire ownership? 

“Specifically, employees own outright shares that they’ve either earned into or purchased. The difference [between earning and purchasing] is that a certain number of employees who […] saw Grantbook through an especially difficult periods earned a portion of the shares set aside for employee ownership. Everyone else, including those employees, have had the opportunity on an annual basis to buy additional shares at fair market value (as an independent third-party determines it to be). 

Anyone who works at Grantbook for more than a year is eligible to participate in the ESOP. Everyone can participate equally. There is no differentiation based on seniority (meaning no one can purchase larger portions than someone who is new to the business or earlier in their career). Everyone can buy equally each year. 

Each year employees receive dividends on the shares they own. That’s a unique quality to the form of ESOP we have. [My understanding of other ESOPs is they typically] don’t pay dividends [and there is no payout] for employee owners until they leave the company.”

What does governance look like? 

“Right now, Grantbook is at about 21% employee ownership and we have a pathway to at least 30% ownership over the coming years.These are voting common shares. They are not proxy shares and they are not non-voting shares. So if there’s ever a decision that goes to shareholders, anyone who is an employee owner can vote using their common shares. 

The ESOP group can nominate a director to the governing board of Grantbook. That was actually just triggered when the ESOP group surpassed twenty percent so we’re in the process right now of figuring out how [that process will work] and who will sit on the board as a full [ESOP-nominated] director. It could be an employee owner or the employee group could choose to have an independent director represent them at the board level. That is their decision. 

For decisions that go to shareholders, the number of common shares you hold will determine the votes. Not many decisions will go to shareholders. For decisions that go to the board, employees will be represented through the director [they appoint].”

When a staff member leaves, what happens? 

“When any staff member or employee leaves, their shares in the company can be bought out by any other shareholder. What that means in practice is any other ESOP employee owner has an opportunity to buy those shares at the current valuation. If no other shareholder will buy those shares, the corporation is obligated to buy them back. An employee that is no longer an employee is also no longer a shareholder. That’s how we’ve designed our ESOP.” 

How do employees feel about it? 

Sara Saddington, Grantbook’s Content Lead, jumped into the conversation to say, “I’ll be eligible to buy in the next round. The B Corp ESOP was a big part of why I joined the team. [There are] definitely some great cultural benefits to this structure.”

That’s right. Grantbook also has B Corp status (another topic we deep-dived into for a Next Economy Conversation with Kasha Huk of B Lab Canada). Peter mentioned how Grantbook’s B Corp ESOP structure empowers all shareholders – employees and directors alike – to take on multiple stakeholder perspectives, including the planet’s. This feature contributes to a values-aligned culture and governing model employees can thrive in: 

“Over time, our B Corp status and employee ownership feature will become the cultural centre of gravity for Grantbook. I think what they do for employees is create a psychologically safe workplace. They create a workplace that has deeply rooted values and they create economic opportunity.”

If ESOPs are so great, why isn’t everyone doing it? 

As this report from Social Capital Partners outlines, implementing an employee ownership program in Canada is a very difficult process. For Peter, the journey was slow and often tedious. We need policy to change that because as he explains, ESOPs have the capacity to radically disrupt the way we do business for the better: 

“There are trillions of dollars in wealth currently held in ownership of business that will be transferred over the coming years because baby boomers who hold a lot of that are retiring or enlightened owners of business who want to move onto something else don’t have an easy button to embrace what we are talking about. It was exceptionally hard work to get to where we are with Grantbook’s ESOP. If a group can make it easy to turn any kind of company into a partially or fully owned employee company then the impact on Canada’s economy and on the global economy would be unlike any other intervention that could be made in the capital markets. This is an immensely powerful tool.”

Want to hear more from Next Economy leaders? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter so you can be the first to RSVP when we host our next conversation.

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

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 climateventures.org.

Celebrating Canadian Innovation Week

Social Innovation Matters 

It’s right there in the name: we believe in the systems-changing power of innovation, particularly social innovation. It’s the keystone to all we do: social innovation breathes life into new ideas, awakens old ones, and is essential for unlocking the solutions for an equitable and sustainable world for us all. 

This Canadian Innovation Week, we’re celebrating the innovations and innovators doing the work to bring the most promising and transformative models, enterprises, and solutions to the world.  

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.