Social entrepreneurship has a multitude of definitions and surrounding opinions. In my experience, there is one thing that everyone can agree on: social entrepreneurship is becoming more and more prominent in the Waterloo startup community.
In my two co-op terms as the Conrad Centre's Communications and Marketing Assistant, I have been fortunate enough to meet a number of social entrepreneurs that are taking the Waterloo ecosystem by storm.
Doing well and doing good
More and more young innovators at the University of Waterloo are focusing on solving social and environmental problems, and finding ways to make money doing it. I'm constantly impressed by the depth and variety of problems that Waterloo entrepreneurs are trying to solve.
Spencer Kelly and Aleks Poldma (pictured right) are recent Engineering graduates who co-founded Hydrated World, an apparel company that puts a significant portion of its profits towards clean water initiatives in Africa. They have made great progress since their Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) term and recently brought BET 300 student Tawny Tram onto their team for marketing support in preparation for a crowdfunding campaign.
Jonathan Rivard founded CANGO Group during the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program and won the 2013 Conrad Entrepreneur of the Year award despite competition from technology startups. Jonathan is looking forward to expanding his company's services for philanthropic funders to five to ten more regions in Canada in CANGO's second year.
Tara Scanlan came to MBET to go from world traveller to change-maker. Tara was joined by classmate Zoe Share to develop ULLO, an ethical fashion company, for their commercialization practicum and BET 604: New Venture Creation projects.
Trending: student entrepreneurs tackle food issues
One of the Conrad Centre's most successful undergraduate entrepreneurs is Emily Peat, a Civil Engineering student who founded and built local organic food delivery company EcoPlace Organics across two Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) terms. Emily has won several pitch competitions and has been a mentor for many E Co-op students. Her company was acquired by Eat Green Organics in spring 2014, allowing her to expand her service into the Kitchener-Waterloo market.
Food-related ventures have been particularly popular among student entrepreneurs, even those in Engineering like Emily. For example, recent Architecture graduates Victoria Suen and Carrie Cheng launched Rocket (pun intended) on an E Co-op term in winter 2014, to grow and supply local food in Cambridge.
Even more recently, Mechanical Engineering student Bjorn Dawson started Grobo on an E Co-op term in spring 2014. At the Velocity Fund Finals in July, Bjorn's pitch won $25,000 for Grobo's app-controlled, in-home automated gardening system that will allow people of any skill level to grow their own food at home. (Full disclosure: I'm on the Grobo team.)
Looking to explore entrepreneurship at UWaterloo?
A brand new, online introductory course is being offered to help Waterloo students explore entrepreneurship and what it means to be entrepreneurial. BET 100: Essentials of Entrepreneurial Behaviour is full for fall 2014, but keep an eye out for it to become available for winter 2015!
Also rolling out this fall is the Entrepreneurship Option in Engineering; Engineering students will be able to build venture creation or corporate entrepreneurship into their degree.
If you already have an idea, I highly recommend BET 300: Foundations of Venture Creation. Besides the course content that will help guide you through the development of your business, the networking opportunity presents huge value. Want to meet other ambitious and driven people? Take this course. (Grobo's team met in this course!)
Students can also specifically learn about social entrepreneurship in INDEV 308: Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship.
What I am the most excited about is the St. Paul's GreenHouse program and their new social innovation fund. In the fall, I will live alongside other budding social innovators working on projects related to creating positive social and environmental change. Certain projects will be eligible for $5,000 based on their progress during their term living in the GreenHouse community. Winter and spring 2015 applications are available now.
If you're graduating too soon to explore these options, you can also consider the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program. MBET students take one year to build their business while earning a graduate level business degree. Information sessions begin in September.
Hannah Furlong is a fourth year Environment and Business student at the University of Waterloo and the Conrad Centre's Communications and Marketing Assistant.
Hannah is passionate about the "doing well and doing good" philosophy and has explored several ventures. Most recently, she became a co-founder of Grobo, leading marketing and research.