Conrad Grebel University College
140 Westmount Road North
Waterloo, ON, Canada N2L 3G6
Earlier this month, Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) hosted supporters from all across North America in Tucson, Arizona for their annual convention. MEDA’s work across the globe in sustainable development and international investment attracts a wide range of stakeholders interested in business solutions to poverty.
MEDA’s social enterprise pitch competition attracted more interest than ever at this year’s convention, as several hundred people gathered to hear five teams pitch their ideas for a new product or service that could make a positive social and environmental impact. Part of an initiative called MEDAx, the competition is one way that MEDA is empowering the next generation of changemakers.
Conrad Grebel University College students have attended the MEDA convention for many years, and the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement has supported their participation in the pitch competition since its inception three years ago. This has provided an opportunity for them to not only learn about MEDA, but to step into an entrepreneurial space that connects their passion for changemaking with the world of social innovation.
For Grebel students, this is often their first foray into entrepreneurship, and serves as an introduction to Waterloo’s thriving social innovation ecosystem. For other competitors, it is one of many venues in which they have sought to build support for their venture. Nonetheless, access to the Centre for Peace Advancement and our networks at the University of Waterloo and beyond has greatly impacted students’ ability to succeed.
The two teams from the University of Waterloo that travelled to Tucson, Climatory and Emergency Response Africa (ERA), showcased how MEDA’s pitch competition can be both a launching point and a catalyst for growth anywhere along the entrepreneurship journey.
Climatory’s journey through the innovation ecosystem is just beginning. Founded by an interdisciplinary team of Grebel students, Climatory is seeking to address the practical concerns of subsistence farmers in Guatemala whose crop yields have been greatly affected by climate change. Their solution includes creating a temperature-regulated greenhouse, made largely of sustainable materials which are locally sourced by women in the region, to allow for a longer and more fruitful harvest despite inconsistent temperatures and rainfall.
This was Climatory’s first pitch competition and, while they did not win in Tucson, they demonstrated great promise. “The opportunity to pitch at MEDAx,” said team member Charity Nonkes, “allowed the Climatory team to push ourselves and think deeply about how social enterprises operate and address problems in our world.” Charity, along with fellow team members Olivia Cullen, Joshua Garcia-Barrios, and Abby Lobert, will be able to tap into amazing opportunities for growth around them, including St. Paul’s GreenHouse, the Conrad School for Entrepreneurship and Business, Entrepreneurship at Environment, as well as the Centre for Peace Advancement. They could also follow in the footsteps of last year’s MEDA team from Grebel, SheCycle, to test their idea in further competitions such as the World’s Challenge Challenge.
Founded by Folake Owodunni and Maame Afriyie Poku, Emergency Response Africa engaged the MEDA pitch competition from a different moment in their entrepreneurship journey. Building on the wealth of support they have already received from the Waterloo innovation ecosystem, they were able to take home the $10,000 top prize! ERA aims to combine emergency response training with intelligent dispatch and communications technology and alternative medical transportation to address the lack of emergency medical services in Nigeria.
Folake and Maame initially explored their idea as students in the Conrad School’s Masters in Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program. From there, ERA pitched on campus at the Hult Prize, World’s Challenge Challenge, and the Velocity Fund $5K. They also secured support from Communitech’s Strategic Growth Team, and were able to travel internationally to meet with other health-tech entrepreneurs. Just a few days after their big win at the MEDA convention, ERA took home another $10,000 top prize in a Tech for Good pitch competition at a conference near Toronto.
ERA is an inspiring example of the possibilities available for UWaterloo students invested in making a difference. Each pitch competition and connection has allowed ERA to gain confidence in their idea and skills as a team, and has opened up new networks and opportunities. Funding received over the last several months has helped ERA prepare to launch a multi-phase pilot project in Nigeria by the end of 2019.
Climatory and ERA’s stories together demonstrate what is possible when UWaterloo students access the right resources at the right time. We are fortunate to have teams like these represent our university!