GreenHouse Social Impact Incubator

Spring 2018


A new prize was introduced during the Fall Social Impact Showcase – the People’s Choice for Social Impact Award – thanks to donors like management consulting firm Oliver Wyman and our own Principal, Rick Myers. The audience in December chose to award the $1,500 to block, a social venture that will help high school students figure out which career path they should follow. It uses ‘building blocks,’ including a virtual reality component.

block also received $2,000 from the Social Impact Fund, which awards promising GreenHouse students with funding for their ventures at the end of each term.

Sara VelasquezAt the winter Social Impact Showcase, the People’s Choice award was presented to Sara Velasquez. Sara is passionate about calling attention to a huge problem that most people don’t realize exists in their own backyards: human sex trafficking.

While studying in Spain in 2016, Sara met a victim of sex trafficking and decided she wanted to do something to fix what she discovered is a massively complex global problem. At the urging of a classmate, she joined GreenHouse and quickly learned how to narrow her focus in her search for solutions. She discovered that the Waterloo Region, owing to its location along the 401 corridor, is actually facing its own sex trafficking crisis, and while there are many great local organizations working to support victims, she was dismayed to discover there is no region-wide strategy.

She will use her funding to host a series of stakeholder dialogues to discuss the issue and look for opportunities to develop coordinated responses and eliminate unnecessary duplication.

The People’s Choice Award has been a big hit with Showcase attendees and the award recipients. If you or your company would be interested in sponsoring the award at an upcoming showcase, please get in touch by email at


Elizabeth and Katherine are pied by students

One of the fun bootcamp challenges GreenHouse students took part in this term was a microenterprise challenge: They were given $5 and three hours to see how they could create value for the World University Services of Canada (WUSC) Student Refugee Program at St. Paul’s, which funds one or two student refugees per year to live here.

Several teams got together and came up with some amusing ways to raise funds. There was a Pie-inthe-Face team, made up of Greg Szabo, Devina Lookman, and Jack Song. This team got the most laughs as they recruited St. Paul’s Principal Rick Myers and GreenHouse Director Tania Del Matto to “receive” the pies. They also raised the most.

Other teams included a Polaroid photo booth at Community Dinner, made up of Ben Kovacs, Cherie Wai, Nicholas Smith, and Christine To, and a Bake Sale team, made up of Sara Velasquez and Guy Brodsky. Together, the teams made $175 to go towards the Student Refugee Program, and became adept at setting up a micro-enterprise with little seed money and time.


In the five years since we launched GreenHouse in the Fall of 2013, approximately 130 students have spent at least one term in the program, launching approximately 60 social ventures. Not all students in the program start new ventures and the impact of GreenHouse goes well beyond those who enroll.

Hundreds of other socially minded youth and community members have taken part in various think-a-thons, problem labs, discovery labs, challenges, and workshops. One of the key goals of GreenHouse is to help individuals and organizations (in addition to our own students) approach social problems in a new way by applying entrepreneurial thinking.

The Sales and Government Engagement Training is a new opportunity funded by Ontario’s Social Enterprise Demonstration Fund ($99,450).

This program (administered by GreenHouse) will help social enterprises from Southern Ontario receive sales training and coaching to help them acquire and grow their customer base. Over the next two years, we will enhance this training to include government engagement and relationship brokering with senior government decisionmakers and political officials. GreenHouse accepts cohorts of 10 high-potential youth and/or Indigenous led social enterprises from across Ontario into the program. Participants will receive training in sales fundamentals and on thinking and working politically.

We are also partnering with KidsAbility on a new Workplace Innovation Training and Placements program funded with a $125,000 Career Ready Fund grant.

This program will be offered to students who want to build new innovations addressing problems within the workplace – specifically the social service and public service sectors. The training and support services offered by GreenHouse will prepare and support youth in their workplace innovation placements, where multi-disciplinary teams of students will be trained to surface problems and then identify, prototype, and test the most promising solutions.

Additionally, GreenHouse is collaborating as a delivery partner with the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development on a pilot project called Meaningful Contribution for Healthy Youth Development which secured nearly $400,000 from the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation. 

This project is similar in purpose to the Workplace Innovation program above, but will focus on youth who face barriers to post-secondary education. These youth will participate in the discovery labs and will work alongside the multi-disciplinary student-led teams to surface problems, and then identify, prototype, and test the most promising solutions within participating social and public sector service organizations.