Fireside Chat with GreenHouse

There was no fireplace at the February 13 fireside chat cohosted by GreenHouse and the Entrepreneurship Society on the idea of creating social impact, but the room was warm with honest, robust discussion and practical insights from the panellist of GreenHouse alumni who are all now pursuing social ventures.

Recognizing that the idea of social purpose businesses might be new for some in the room, panel moderator and GreenHouse Program Coordinator Lexi Salt began by asking the panellist what social impact meant to them.

panel of GreenHouse alumni sitting in tall chairs, talking to an audience

From left to right: Lexi Salt, Zied Etleb, Tina Chan, Richard Yim, and Rachel Thompson

“Social impact means improving quality of life for people,”

said Zied Etleb, cofounder of Curiato, whose mandate is a comprehensive solution for the prevention of bedsores.

Richard Yim, founder of Demine Robotics , described what that looks like in his own venture:

“I want to live in a world where kids don’t have to worry when walking to school, where they have the freedom to play anywhere they like, where their family can use land that can sustain them. Social impact means giving that opportunity to everyone.”

Each panelist’s social venture came out of a personal passion: for Marlena Books founder Rachel Thompson, her grandmother who has lived with dementia for more than a dozen years inspired Rachel to develop tools to deal with dementia; for PASS Kit founder Tina Chan, challenges during her adjustment to university led her to ask whether there could be a toolkit for people with mental health issues.

The founders disputed the common misconceptions that social purpose ventures and technology are mutually exclusive, or that social impact businesses don’t achieve revenue, with Richard observing, “People discount the engineering and tech skills we bring. They also think social impact revenue would be from charities but none of us are relying on charitable dollars. Instead we have sustainable business development plans.”

The founders celebrated their successes but also acknowledged the challenges of their work. Rachel said,

“What makes me proudest is also my biggest challenge—to move at the speed we want to, we have to grow our team, and it can be challenging to find the right fit with the right values.” She adds, “It’s not just about me anymore. What I do affects my team.”

The founders reflected on the importance of self care and community for building sustainable businesses. “I used to live on gummy bears and popcorn,” admitted Richard, “but now it’s sunflower seeds and brussel sprouts. I need to be healthy to do what I do.” He adds, “Having friends keeps me normal.”

Most of the founders are now working out of Velocity, and they reflected on the incubator ecosystem in Waterloo region and the supportive community they have found. “Entrepreneurship can be isolating,” said Tina. “You feel like the struggle is unique to you until you get to know others going through the same experience.” Reflecting on her GreenHouse experience, Rachel said, “GreenHouse is a great place to start and great for the ideation stage.”

The founders concluded the evening with advice for anyone wondering how to start on a social purpose venture. Zied said, “Find your passion—something you would do for free—and build a business around that.” To this, Rachel added, “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution. Any problem can have endless solutions and you need to find the right one. Also, take risks and do your research.” Tina said, “Talk to more people. Don’t shy away from learning even if it’s daunting.” Richard noted that the idea of time being a constraint is simply not true, saying that the new motto for their company is: whatever it takes.

Watch the full panel discussion on our Facebook page.

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