Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator brings student concepts to reality

Aug 03, 2012

Chantelle Buffie and Sonam Swarup, founders of Fusion Kitchen, the first winner of the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator

Over the last semester, students at the Beedie School of Business have been bringing to life projects to address tomorrow’s social, environmental and economic challenges with help from the new Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator (SEA) program.

The brainchild of Beedie lecturer Shawn Smith, the program ran for six weeks at the SFU Surrey campus, with $10,000 in support from Vancity, and allowed students to enter as teams or individuals in order to generate a feasible business model to further their social venture concepts.

The students worked with assigned mentors in a lab-like atmosphere and had guest speakers share their experience in launching start-up companies. Teams were initially given $400 each in start-up capital, with the top three teams at the end of the program awarded $2500, $1500 and $500 respectively.

“The SFU Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator was intended to mimic the realities of starting a social purpose company,” explains Smith. “The program emerged as we recognized that while many students come up with interesting social venture ideas in current more introductory classes, very few were moving forward to launch. We wanted them to have the support and structure needed to take those first steps as entrepreneurs – once you self-identify as an entrepreneur there is no going back!”

The winning project, Fusion Kitchen, employs recent immigrant women to teach ethnic cooking classes on cuisines from their culture, in order to develop their skill-set and gain Canadian work experience. Through the work of students Chantelle Buffie and Sonam Swarup, Fusion Kitchen was able  to launch its second test class with 10 paying attendees. During the program, it also tested a catering service which was later temporarily shelved in order to concentrate on the core class business model.

The second place project, EcoEats, delivers fresh, healthy, organic food directly to offices. Its founders, Laura Mitchell, Nicholas Lum and Helen Chae used the SEA program to test a variety of menu concepts, secure a kitchen location and perform their first test delivery. They were also put in touch with potential partners and suppliers and sourced future orders as the business grows.

Third place went to BAGS (Better Alternatives for Girls’ Survival), a concept that provides human trafficking survivors in Kolkata, India with dignified employment by bringing hand-made, fair trade textile products to Western consumers. Throughout the course of the SEA program, BAGS, run by Lindsay Belvedere and Anam Hameed obtained test orders for their bookbags and pencil cases, and for their yoga bags made from recycled saris.

“The students more than rose to the occasion, accomplishing much more than many of them believed possible in just six weeks,” says Smith. “At the end of the class all the teams pooled their money together to make a $330 donation to Education Generation. They also produced a video as a surprise for me in the last class detailing what they got out of the program, which just about brought me to tears.”

Other projects participating in the first SEA program included Lifebooster, a concept which combines modern technology, an app, a support platform and social features to provide an effective health benefits package to employees; GreenDirt, a business which provides commercial composting solutions to reduce the environmental footprint of businesses; MedTree, a business which increases transparency and access to alternative healthcare practitioners in Canada; and Prism Bags, a recycling business which produces one-of-a-kind bags from different types of waste.

“The teams very quickly picked up on concepts that allowed them to test most of the important assumptions about their business, before investing significant amounts of money and time into their ideas,” says Smith. “Most ventures went through several iterations and testing cycles over the course of the term, and many saw quite dramatic changes as they learned from customers. All had dramatically improved models by the end of the class, and most had real customers or users.”

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