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York Region seeking homegrown social entrepreneurs

Every city and region has its challenges and often the best authorities—both on the nature of the problems and the value of potential solutions—lies within the local community, the residents who encounter these issues first-hand. That's the principle underlying communityBUILD, an ongoing collaboration between VentureLAB, a York Region innovation accelerator; York University; and United Way York Region. It is "is a partnership from three very different organizations," says VentureLAB project lead Heather Crosbie, "and the partnership itself breeds quite a unique approach to what we're tying to do, which is tackle York Region social issues through the lens of social entrepreneurship."

That ongoing project has an upcoming major event: communityBUILD Mash-UP, a two day intensive workshop to help better understand some specific challenges within York Region, and to spur local social entrepreneurs to develop innovative approaches to tackling those issues. By the end of the Mash-Up, some participants will be selected for a prize pack that includes mentoring, office space, and other in-kind support.

With the help of the United Way, two specific social problems were identified: food insecurity and youth unemployment. The goal of the Mash-Up is to spend "two intense days to work on solutions to two of these 'grand challenges,'" explains Crosbie. 

One of the features that makes this event unique, she says, is "you can apply to be a collaborator, to join an existing team, as well as pitch as a team or an existing early-stage project." Applications for partipating in either capacity are being accepted online until March 8. A panel of local experts will winnow down the list of applicants; those selected will participate in the two-day workshop, which runs March 27-28.

After that, says Crosbie, there are "three hurdles to get over" before the winners are selected: whether the proposal is relevant to one of the "grand challenges"; whether the team proposing an initiative "has experience in either living the reality or working on the problem"; and whether everyone else participating in the Mash-Up sees merit in the proposal.

The workshop will begin with everyone pitching their ideas and it'll be up to the Mash-Up participants to select which of those ideas seem most promising. Those will be the ones that teams will work on over the course of the two days—developing business plans, rollout schedules, and the like. A panel of four or five entrepreneurs will determine the "viability, scalability, and sustainability" of the fleshed-out proposals, and select the ultimate winner.

It's one of many new initiatives the organizing partners hope to develop over time. "The long-term objective," says Crosbie, "is to build out an ecosystem of social entrepreneurs tackling social issues in York Region specifically."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Heather Crosbie, VentureLAB project lead
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