Have you ever wondered who the social enterprise leaders are in South Western Ontario? What about the types of businesses they run, the teams and partners involved, and how they battled against rules, regulations, and against all odds to turn their idea into reality? Well, if you attended EPICentre’s Second Annual Fueling Social Enterprise Summit, you would have seen five amazing social leaders showcase their businesses, stories, and experiences answering all the questions above and much more.
The day started bright and early with Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest showcasing their companies latest research published on the current state of different supply chain management programs around food waste in Canada, and across the world. Lori brings energy, passion, and a big picture problem into actionable tasks her companies and others are looking to battle every day. Citing statistics such as nearly 60% of all food produced goes to waste, and that Canada is among some of the top contributors. Lori also touched upon FoodRescue.ca, a new app their company has launched into the marketplace pairing companies with leftover food from restaurants and food warehouses with food banks and social services. It was clear food waste is a problem much more than Second Harvest can handle alone, Lori wants to take this global food crisis head-on and envisions a world where “no one has to go hungry”.
Next up we had Andrew from Verge Capital, a company focused on impact investing and social finance. Andre’s personality and charisma energized the audience, and his discussion on social finance went well beyond the numbers but touched on the emotional side of the investment. Andre looked at the concept of VERGE Capital, which is a social finance program of Pillar Nonprofit Network supported by our community partners. Together, Andre and Pillar Nonprofit are building an ecosystem of social finance in Southwestern Ontario. Andre expressed how their investees have changed lives by providing training and employment opportunities, poverty alleviation programs, global access to educational materials and created the only social innovation shared space in London and shared hope for future potential in the Windsor Essex region. An awe-inspiring presentation, Andre was able to transform financial elements into a personal and introspective experience.
We continued the event with a presentation from a local Windsor-Essex student entrepreneur. Dane Fader from GreenerBins has been operating for just under a year and has had MASSIVE growth in the region. He shared how his business wouldn’t exist without the overwhelming support in the community. With the first month tripling expectations and increasing every month, Dane knew his mom’s jeep couldn’t handle the number of Windsorites that wanted to compost
with his program. From humble beginnings, Dane now has the largest composting company in Windsor and has his eyes set on a much larger goal.
Our final speaker Fiona Coughlin, the executive director at Habitat for Humanity Windsor-Essex location expressed the desire and passion of her organization to work towards partnering with families to build strong houses and a strong community. Fiona has continued experience in the development of The ReStore and provided our audience with a definitive impact regarding social innovation. Fiona went on to discuss how the Restore sells new and used materials donated by businesses and individuals and is operated as a social purpose enterprise to support Habitat for Humanity in building affordable homes. Fiona mentioned how donated materials included a wide array of items such appliances, kitchens, home furnishings, furniture, building supplies (plumbing, electrical, flooring), all for the purpose of building new homes. Fiona shared experience touched on the lasting impact of social innovation within our community, and how change can be implemented through hard work and years of dedication.
Lastly, the day concluded with a panel discussion with all of our speakers, where Adam Frye from WeTech (previous co-founder of textbooks for change) helped engage the audience to ask thought-provoking questions to our panellist members. The panel had such a diverse crowd with startups, locally established companies, and large corporations all striving to build social innovation in our communities. It was fascinating hearing how different speakers approached different problems. For example, when the panellists were asked about how they go about saying no to certain issues, Lori Nikkel had a clearly defined policy about the kind of projects her company is willing to take on, whereas Dane Fader is willing to take on different types of unique and challenging projects if it will help expand his startup that is in the early growth stage.
As the day came to close I was ecstatic to see the conversations, ideas, and business cards being passed around from members of the audience and our panellists. The main goal of this EPICentre event was to give a platform for social entrepreneurs to share their stories and build real connections with other social leaders, and those that are just getting started in the social enterprise movement. Social enterprises are built on passionate communities that want to not only see a change but to act on it. What we accomplished here today helped expand each and every audience members community a little wider. Here’s to the future success of our social enterprise landscape in the Windsor-Essex region and beyond.
Clarke Gallie, Andrew D’Agostini