A place for the outliers
Memorial University has launched Newfoundland and Labrador’s first incubator for businesses that focus on social impact.
The Centre for Social Enterprise (CSE) Social Ventures Incubator will be housed at the Faculty of Business Administration and provide space and funding for students who are developing enterprises with a strong focus on social, environmental or cultural value in addition to growth and profit.
“We believe we have a significant role to play in nurturing the emerging ecosystem for social enterprise in the province,” said Nicole Helwig, manager, CSE.
“Unlike traditional entrepreneurship incubators, our aim is to support ventures whose objective is positive social impact. They must have a strong social mission at the core of what they do, and they must make a commitment to demonstrate their social impact.”
Telling history through video games
Three social ventures have been accepted into the first cohort of the incubator: Stormy Shore Studios, Cloudberry Forest School and Co-housing NL.
Evan Burry (BA’14, B.Ed.’15, MBA’20) is the founder of Stormy Shore Studios, which is developing mass market video games as a means to preserve and share historical and cultural stories of Newfoundland and Labrador.
His first two games, Regiment and Relocation, are focused on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the First World War and the province’s resettlement program from the 1950-1970s.
Eventually, Mr. Burry plans to expand the company’s focus globally to help other regions tell culturally and historically significant stories.
“I don’t think businesses need to be entirely profit driven,” he said.
“I think the triple bottom line [of] social, environmental and economic impact is extremely important. My goal is to develop a foundation in social consciousness – inform our research, inform my experts – so that my company can move forward in the future and continue building on that firm foundation.”
“I want to learn and make sure we can make a difference, and not just have it be some superficial thing.” — Evan Burry
Mr. Burry says companies sometimes make gestures towards social responsibility and environmental policy – a process known as greenwashing – and wants to ensure his company integrates active social consciousness from the start.
“I hope to make my company more socially conscious and not just have an idea of it – have an actual, tangible plan in place that’s either shown to work for other companies or it’s something that we can work on and explore ourselves. I want to learn and make sure we can make a difference, and not just have it be some superficial thing.”
‘Space for ideas’
Students spend a minimum of six months in the incubator and receive funding ranging from $2,500-$7,500. Up to six months of support is also available following graduation. The incubator is open to all students at Memorial.
“We wanted to create a space for ideas that wouldn’t find a home elsewhere at Memorial,” said Ms. Helwig. “I hope that the students will help make the world a better place.”
For Nora Trask (B.Mus./B.Mus.Ed.’04, MBA-SEE’20), co-founder of Cloudberry and part of the inaugural class of Memorial’s MBA in social enterprise and entrepreneurship, the incubator will allow her to be surrounded by others who are seeking non-traditional solutions to business challenges.
“The Centre for Social Enterprise has attracted experts and practitioners who are ready to think outside the box, and that’s where I want to be, strategizing new ways to do business,” she said.
The forest school opened in 2014. Ms. Trask says throughout her years as an entrepreneur, she has worked in many spaces with different mentors. Very few that understood and related to her goals, she says.
“While growth and efficiencies are important to me, they cannot come at the expense of my community, and that has caused me to be an outlier at times. I speak the language of business, I want to solve problems like charity, but I do it all under the steam of the profits that I generate.”
Ms. Trask says the result of her values and goals in business “is a complicated dance” and only those who work in social enterprise will be able to nurture her growth in this complex environment.