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Social Ventures Share Pitches at Forum

At yesterday’s Social Finance Forum: Investing in good deals conference, a handful of social ventures presented their pitches to the approximately 270 people in attendance at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing event.

MaRS partnered with Good Deals UK, a leading impact investment conference that successfully connects social entrepreneurs with investors.

A dozen social ventures took part in a morning Good Deals pitch clinic, where they received advice from expert “pitch doctors” on identifying the right type of investment, selecting the right investor, fine-tuning their pitch and preparing for investment.

The five social ventures chosen to present to the entire conference are diverse, yet all had in common the passion to create thriving businesses with a social purpose, enhancing people’s lives and/or the environment.

Tim West, the founder of Good Deals UK, hosted the session. After each presentation, members of the audience held up a piece of paper to vote showing either the side with a rocket indicating a vote of success for the venture, or the side with a flying pig, suggesting pigs might fly before the idea does.

  Participants vote yay or nay for venture ideas using photo cards.

There weren’t too many flying pigs, as the audience voted very favourably for the ventures. Here’s a snapshot of each.

Unstash: Curbing Overconsumption 

Appropriately called Unstash, founder Lon Wong presented his social venture with the question: What if we didn’t all need to purchase, store and own every item, yet still had access to the things we needed?

With the belief that a new “sharing economy” is beginning to erupt, Unstash has a platform that enables trusted communities to list, discover, share and track consumer goods. For example, if you are going on one camping trip, why buy a tent when someone in your community has one you can borrow?

The concept is different from Craigslist or swapping, said Lon, as values-based groups like churches, neighbourhood associations and clubs can use the technology to facilitate sharing.

The platform is designed to be simple and intuitive making it social and fun with widgets showing people’s cost savings through sharing.

Unstash’s revenue streams includes premium accounts and mobile applications, with white-labelling of the technology to offer it up to existing communities.

The goal is to help people save money, curb overconsumption and deepen community to make tangible social change.

The bootstrapped organization is looking to launch midway 2012, and is currently looking for partners in Toronto.

EWB Business Development Services: Enabling Success in Africa

When Engineers Without Borders (EWB) co-director of African programs Sarah Grant took the stage, she started out declaring “I love my job.” The passion was clear as she spoke about a new venture called Business Development Services that’s being incubated by EWB Canada.

Sarah told the story of how a couple months ago she visited Avian Ventures, a chicken company in Zambia that sells day-old chicks. This is not an easy business, and when Sarah visited the African nation they were providing the day-old chicks 90 per cent of the time. Five months ago, it was 50 per cent of the time.

The successful change was due to the work of Business Development Services. EWB wants to make its Business Development Services a for-profit venture, and combine the heart and willingness of EWB with the financial support of impact investors.

An EWB member becomes embedded in the African enterprise for months or years, working alongside people to develop their capacity through providing support, training and guidance to enterprises.

With growing recognition of the need for more than financial support for small- and medium-sized businesses to really grow, Sarah said last year was about proving it worked, and 2012 is about scaling up.

Eco Laundry Room: Making Laundry an Experience

What comes to mind when you think of going to a laundromat to do laundry? Probably not images of relaxing with a cup of Fair Trade organic coffee, enjoying free WiFi on your laptop while your children play with toys and your laundry is done in energy efficient front-load washers.

But that’s what’s happening at the Eco Laundry Room on Danforth Ave. in Toronto.

Paul Bichler, CEO and founder, shared how the company is looking to expand through corporate stores (think Loblaws) and franchisees.

With $7,000 gross revenue per month, the cost to customers is actually 15-20 per cent cheaper than regular laundromats.

Paul calls it “more of an experience,” where people forget they are doing laundry. And, people can be in and out with their clean clothes in less than an hour.

Talk2One: Ensuring Everyone Has a Way to Connect

The ability to stay connected is something many people take for granted. But for the unemployed, working poor and senior citizens, the cost of having a telephone can be out of reach. How can people find a job, housing, or stay in touch with family and friends without a phone number?

David Robertson, CEO of Talk2One, said according to Ontario Works 12 per cent of people who are unemployed have no phone number.

Talk2One provides a basic virtual phone service to anyone needing social assistance, where members have a virtual voice mailbox that can be accessed from any phone 24/7. Members also receive 60 minutes of long distance time to call anywhere in North America.

The service increases efficiency of support agencies, allowing them to reach large user groups or interact directly with individual clients.

With 3,089 current members, the for-profit company is based in St. Catharines, Ont., and seeking investment to grow nationally.

New Found Network: A ‘Revolution’ in Digital Literacy

“We want social change, we want meaningful social interaction, we want digital literacy for all," CEO and co-founder of New Found Network (NFN) Reginald Ray said.

Calling it a “revolution,” Reginald shared about the digital platforms NFN is creating that enables social purpose, education and arts organizations, as well as corporate sector clients, to confidently enter the digital space.

With its interactive platform that uses web and mobile applications, NFN provides organizations with the tools and coaching to engage their members and deliver compelling content through digital campaigns.

Reginald used the example of their work in the education sector. With a partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Education, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board has launched NFN’s in-school Facebook application. While once taboo, Reginald said using Facebook is being recalibrated into something new and friendly.

With plans to expand into four additional school boards, and many more potential revenue opportunities in the next five years, the Toronto-based company is looking to take it to the next level.

NFN also has a Creative Factory, a student enterprise for newcomer and out-of-school youth to gain experience and skills working on client projects.

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Jennifer Neutel's picture

Jennifer Neutel is a Story Advocate and Generative Journalist at Axiom News. She completed her Bachelor of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa in 2006, and joined Axiom News in 2007. She has taken on a variety of roles at Axiom including new social media intiatives and has a passion for creating strengths-based questions that can lead to positive change.

Contact Jennifer:, or 705-741-4421 ext. 26.

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