2016: The Year of Social Startups in Niagara

Posted Feb 8th, 2016 in resource

2016: The Year of Social Startups in Niagara

Nearly 140 participants attended the Niagara Social Enterprise Forum.  The participants were varied and came from government, non-profits, businesses, educators, students, and other community members were in attendance.  50 (1/3) of the participants were students, including representatives from Niagara College, Brock University, Mohawk College, and the DSBN academy.

In the morning participants heard Sean Campbell explain the basics of Social Enterprise, and then broke into groups to talk about what social enterprises and supports for social entrepreneurs already exist in Niagara, and what further supports are needed.  In the afternoon participants had the opportunity to lead discussions on topics of their own choosing.  These discussion topics included:  How to increase support for Niagara’s current social enterprises, how to help social enterprises grow, and how to bridge the gap between Niagara’s non-profits and small businesses.  Some discussions were around specific social enterprise ideas, such as local food distribution and creating a tool lending library.  DSBN and Brock University students led conversations about how to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset in both the secondary and post-secondary education. 

The Niagara Social Enterprise Forum was funded in part by the Unleash Your Inner Entrepreneur program, a grant supported by RBC Foundation, Futurpreneur 
Canada, the Foundation for an Entrepreneurial Canada, and secured through EnactusNC and ncTakeOff.

Some key discoveries from the day:

Social Enterprise already has a presence in Niagara. We recognized that although the language of social entrepreneurship is relatively new for most of us in Niagara, social enterprises have been around for more than 30 years and include some well-known examples such as Niagara Presents, The Grimsby Benevolent Fund, Niagara Sustainability Initiative, Cowork Niagara, and Mahtay Café.   

Niagara has a higher than average number of people interested in social enterprise.  Keynote speaker, Sean Campbell expressed excitement about the turnout, and commented that in his experience when a community initiates a discussion around social enterprise there are usually no more than 20 to 50 people engaged.  In contrast, Niagara had nearly 150 people turn out. 

Social enterprise is attractive to youth.  Many younger people don’t see a divide between earning money and creating positive social or environmental change.  Social enterprise empowers youth, and could be a key component to a strategy to attract and retain young talent in Niagara.

Some local Social Enterprises are nationally recognized. In his talk Sean Campbell held up Niagara’s own Niagara Sustainability Initiative as an example of a local social enterprise that is leading the way nationally by finding a way to earn revenue by helping businesses to monitor and reduce their environmental impact. 

We have the components of a strong Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystem; we just need to connect them.  Niagara already has all of the pieces of the puzzle, but we just haven’t put them together yet.  Brock University BioLinc and Goodman School of Business, NC Takeoff and Niagara College Research and Innovation, Niagara Youth Entrepreneurship Network, St. Catharines Enterprise Centre, Niagara Falls Small Business Enterprise Centre, Leadership Niagara, and Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, Business Education Council, Niagara Work Planning Board, Niagara Community Foundation, Niagara Region and United Ways, are just some of the supports available and many are already community partners for Social Startups 2016.  Sean Campbell commented that we are asking the same questions as other regions who are already engaged in Social Entrepreneurship. Niagara could become a leading region in Social Entrepreneurship, if we so choose. 

Next steps:

The conversations that took place were recorded.  After the event a report outlining key points will be compiled and made available to the public.

Community partners will be invited to a conversation about next steps.

A website and calendar of events will be forthcoming.





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