GreenHouse hosts Think Tankathon

images of students and community members working together

Students and community members sharing ideas at the Think Tankathon.

What do you get when you put a group of students together with some socially minded venture capital partners and some non-profits and social enterprises facing a challenge? A whole lot of energy, networking, and solutions.

On November 6, 2017, GreenHouse hosted Social Venture Partners (SVP) Waterloo Region for their third annual Think Tankathon, a reverse pitching event at which the organizations pitching presented specific challenges they were facing in order to leverage the collective creativity and experience of the room as audience members engaged in the challenges in round table discussions after the pitch.

The organizations pitching included SHORE (formerly Planned Parenthood), the Canadian Mental Health Association (Waterloo Wellington), Strong Start Down Under, and GreenHouse alumna Cassie Myers’ startup, SheLeads.

Social Venture Partners Executive Director, Rose Greensides, says, “The mission of Social Venture Partners is to strengthen the non-profit sector by engaging donors. But we also wanted to find ways to get the social enterprise sector more involved with the charitable sector, as both sectors struggle with the same challenges. We use a startup mentality when we work with charities, so working with GreenHouse seemed like a great match.”

GreenHouse Director Tania Del Matto agrees. “It was valuable for our students to have the opportunity to join in dialogue with more established organizations, particularly in the non-profit space. It helped students in the early stages of exploring problems see that you’re never done in terms of improving and thinking about how ideas can have impact. It was great to build a connection to folks who can give them further inspiration and to build relationships with existing organizations.”

And this relationship-building worked both ways. Fred Wagner, Executive Director, Canadian Mental Health Association (Waterloo Wellington), says, “It was inspiring to be in that space, to feel that energy and vision, and to be part of a group session with SVP partners and GreenHouse students.”

Cassie Myers says, “It’s easy to get stuck in a bubble in incubators and the university community, but this was a chance to get involved in the wider community with people outside our age group.” For Cassie, whose program targets young girls, the event was a chance to connect specifically with a group she had struggled to find: parents.

Rose Greensides says, “Students brought different ideas, thoughts, and energy, which gave charities a more diverse perspective.” And not only did the charities appreciate the design thinking and business model ideas of the students, but the students appreciated new perspectives too. Cassie Myers says, “With students in the same classes and workshops, often insights are reiterated. It was interesting to meet people who offered a different perspective.”

The event was immediately useful to participants. Cassie Myers says,

“The timing of this event was perfect – the challenge we presented was about getting data from our pilot projects. The day after the event, we were able to strategically collect data our roundtable suggested as we finished up our pilot projects.”

Fred Wagner says, “It was a wonderful experience that paid off in terms of ideas generated, but also in terms of contacts and connections made.” One of those connections means that this winter, GreenHouse and the Canadian Mental Health Association (Waterloo Wellington) will partner on a problem jam where groups of GreenHouse students will engage with problems the association doesn’t have capacity to address.

While Social Venture Partners also plans to continue to work with GreenHouse (with a similar pitch event planned in the spring of 2018), Tania Del Matto says of the November Think Tankathon,

“It’s another building block to creating a more networked community to start to formulate more partnerships that are out there with other organizations doing good work.”

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