Céline Juppeau of Kotmo: Staying true to company values in a crisis

In November 2019, we asked Kotmo founder Céline Juppeau about what defines a “local product” (read the article).

She spoke to us with conviction and enthusiasm about Kotmo’s values and her choice to develop, produce and market unique and sustainable promotional items, made in Quebec, with the emphasis on educating business owners on the positive impact that their actions can have on society, the economy and the environment.

We caught up with Juppeau a year later, in a social and economic context profoundly transformed by COVID-19.

In March 2020, Kotmo was in full growth mode – but overnight, the events sector had to stop all activity, and the company’s partner factories were forced to close.

On top of the loss of a significant number of customers, Kotmo, which at the time had no finished inventory, found itself without any items to sell. It was a blow for the entire team, and a considerable weight on the shoulders of Juppeau and her partner, Cindy Couture, who were responsible for the future of the company and their six employees.

Still, they didn’t miss a beat. Quickly, the team decided to use the coming months to review the company’s strategy and create a sustainable action plan aligned with the company’s values.

Question your vision and values

“The start of the crisis was a special period that enabled us to reflect on our model, but also to consolidate our corporate vision and to rely on it to make the right decisions,” Juppeau says.

“Through Kotmo, we believe that we provide a solution to the challenges of sustainable development by placing people and design at the heart of an innovative transformation for companies, building an economy responsible for its community and our planet.

“We know the company is here to stay. Looking at things in this light invites us to take another look at the difficulties and challenges that we encounter.”

Crisis or not, promotional items remain a powerful way to communicate – to “convey a message, a vision, or even to offer thanks,” Juppeau says.

“When the factories were able to reopen in May, our activity resumed naturally, because people need to create this kind of link.”

Adapt and renew

Kotmo has adapted in various ways to the crisis – and to the evolution of customer demand.

“In May, our customers asked us for masks. We worked with a manufacturer in Beauce that offered great value for money in order to meet this new need,” Juppeau said. “In the end, that allowed us to not only serve our usual customers but also develop a new clientele who were at first attracted by the masks, but now ask us for gifts for their clients or their employees.”

Starting in the month of April, the Kotmo team envisioned itself in the middle of a long-term crisis, anticipating the probability of a second wave in autumn and another shutdown of the manufacturing sector.

“From there, we decided to create a new range of products during the summer that we would keep in stock. That would allow us to support the local economy by reconnecting with our manufacturers, but also by creating new partnerships – particularly by working with illustrators from Quebec for the first time.”

And so, a new series of eight limited-run promotional objects – coasters, slippers, socks, chocolate, cookie cutters, posters, cards and candlesticks – was born.

“Through this line, the story of the extraordinary year we are living is told – our story. We wanted it to reflect Kotmo’s values ​​of equity, inclusion, and collaboration.”

The inventory is being stored by a Kotmo partner organization, a social reintegration company in Quebec. The objects are sold in the form of a set, and are accessible via Kotmo’s new, purpose-built online sales platform.

Review your financial strategy

Before the crisis, Kotmo’s cash flow was strong – an undeniable asset when it came to overcome the period of business inactivity, but still not enough to fund the overhaul of their product line.

Juppeau relied on the advice of her mentor from the banking sector to make financial decisions, particularly when it came to the launch of their new product range and website redesign. Government financial aid was crucial in making investments and maintaining jobs.

Quebec’s PATME training, which offered support to companies and individuals experiencing business reduction due to COVID, enabled the team to advance in understanding the company’s finances and to put in place a sustainable financial strategy.

“Until now, we had no knowledge of how our prices were set. Thanks to the training, we created a price catalog for resellers, allowing us to more easily bring in new distributors,” Juppeau says.

“We would not have initiated such changes so quickly if the crisis had not occurred. It gave us the opportunity to structure ourselves to continue to grow. ”

No matter what the coming weeks and months have in store, Kotmo’s future is looking bright.

We made a mistake. We fixed it. Now we learn from it and move forward.

Just last week, we had a virtual meeting in which our Futurpreneur team members from across Canada discussed our new Diversity & Inclusion commitments.

As we talked about the next steps on our journey, I shared a thought with our team: “We will do our best, and along our journey to be a more diverse & inclusive organization, we will make mistakes. We need to learn from these mistakes so we can do better.”

It isn’t that I want to make mistakes, I have just learned over time that if you are working toward real, meaningful positive change, missteps will happen on the path to improvement, and I didn’t want our team to be discouraged when we took our first wrong turn. How we learn from these moments, adapting and pivoting our approach, plays a vital role in our learning and growth.

Well, yesterday we discovered our first mistake on our Diversity & Inclusion journey.

As our core values also include accountability & transparency, we are sharing our misstep and our course correction, in hopes that sharing our experience will benefit our entrepreneurs, mentors and partners on their respective journeys.

In early June, one of our team members received an email from an entrepreneur that contained screenshots of social media comments from one of Futurpreneur’s 3,000 volunteer mentors. The comments, made on a public Instagram discussion thread, were the mentor’s views – which Futurpreneur does not share – about police action and the Black community.

Although the entrepreneur was not a Futurpreneur client, our senior leadership team took this seriously and acted quickly to understand the situation. Based on our review of the full Instagram thread and the mentor’s broader social media presence, his mentor record at Futurpreneur and several conversations with him, we understood that:

  • The mentor believed in equal opportunity regardless of race (which he shared on the Instagram thread). He said he was open to becoming more informed about the impact of systemic racism and oppression, which he disregarded as a factor based on his current understanding.
  • The mentor’s Instagram comments appeared to be an isolated incident. It occurred outside Futurpreneur channels/programs on a platform on which he didn’t identify his Futurpreneur affiliation. There was no evidence of other mentions of race-related topics.
  • The mentor had dedicated significant time to helping Futurpreneur’s young entrepreneurs (including at least one person of colour) over a four-year period, with positive reviews from all four entrepreneurs he had supported.

After evaluating the situation and weighing four years of the mentor’s positive Futurpreneur experience and professed openness to learn, relative to what appeared to be a single instance of misinformed rather than malicious comments, we made the difficult, measured decision to continue working with him.

This wasn’t an easy decision or one we took lightly – it was one we made based on our understanding of the situation and our commitment to learn and grow, which also means encouraging members of our community to learn and grow. In communicating our decision to the mentor, we asked him to be mindful of his comments going forward and informed him that we would review our decision to keep working with him if necessary.

Yesterday, we discovered from a third party that the mentor had posted a long, detailed blog on a public channel on July 6 – several weeks after our last interaction with him – basically reiterating his perspective that systemic racism is not a factor in the policing of Black communities. Instead of listening and learning, as we had hoped, he intensified and amplified his argument.

Within an hour, our senior leadership team unanimously decided to end our relationship with the mentor, effective immediately. Within two hours, we communicated to the mentor that while we appreciated his past support of entrepreneurs, his post was inconsistent with our values and we would not continue our relationship with him.

Diversity & Inclusion are very important to Futurpreneur, including equity and anti-racism. We strive to be a learning organization, focused on continual improvement.

It turns out that we made a mistake in continuing to work with this mentor. Although I’m disappointed and frustrated, it is important that we learned about his subsequent post, so we could take the appropriate action to end our relationship with him.

As our Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Kevin Garcia shared his thoughts with me about this situation: “The success of a journey is not determined by new obstacles we encounter but rather by how we learn and persevere through them as an organization. Obstacles do not define our character but rather develop and strengthen it for the journey ahead. We cannot ignore this obstacle, or the large positive strides we have taken as an organization to implement our diversity and inclusion commitment.

“Our Diversity & Inclusion commitments were created by many who have firsthand experience in racial bias and other systematic disadvantages. Together, we (our BIPOC, LGBTQ+, white and other diverse staff) will continue to learn and bring about positive change as we support diverse, young aspiring entrepreneurs & new business owners.”

Yes, we will.

Tips & Tools: 4 Ways to Make Your Start-Up More Eco-Friendly

There are a million reasons why implementing eco-friendly practices can benefit your start-up.

However, when it comes down to it, three reasons come out on top – it’s good for the planet, it’s good for your brand and it’s good for business.

According to a BDC report, half of Canadians are more inclined to buy environmentally-friendly products. Furthermore, 75% of consumers would pay more for products and services from a socially responsible company and 90% of consumers would stop buying from a company using irresponsible practices.

Your stakeholders will be nothing short of impressed by your efforts to reduce your ecological footprint. Plus, not only will you see the benefits, you will also be leading by example in your industry and it will help encourage others to do the same.

If you’re looking to go green, here are four effective ways you can make your start-up more eco-friendly:

1. Don’t let your waste go to waste

Every business inevitably produces waste but there are a few easy things you can do to reduce the amount.

Before anything, ensure your storefront or office space has a bin for recyclables, non-recyclables and compost. You could even go even further and add a compost bin. For example, at the Futurpreneur Canada national office in Toronto, local (and Futurpreneur-supported!) business Wastenot Farms regularly collects the office’s compost box to feed their worms.

Not only does working with Wastenot Farms help Futurpreneur manage office food waste in a sustainable way, we’re also contributing to our local economy by supporting a Toronto small business (win-win)!

Some other way to reduce office waste are limiting your paper use and switching to recyclable printer ink cartridges. Additionally, many office suppliers have more sustainable purchasing and recycling options, so be on the lookout! For example, Staples offers recycling services for everything from electronics to writing instruments and business like the GreenPrinter uses recycled paper for their products.

2. Create a “green” company culture

Promoting sustainable practices to employees may seem like a given, but it is also a way to boost employee engagement.

For example, you could encourage your employees to carpool, walk or bike to work instead of driving and use reusable containers for lunch. However, you could go even further by allowing employees to work from home. This is especially helpful for employees that have long commutes, as it saves them the gas-guzzling trip to the office (and can even boost morale!).

Lastly, to get your team’s creative juices flowing, you could create a “green” suggestion box for employees to pitch their own eco-friendly project ideas.

3. Work with “green” partners

Running a sustainable business is great, but it’s a little hypocritical to then work with other companies that aren’t so committed to ethical practices. For example, a retail store may have its own green practices but if it sources its merchandise from “fast-fashion” clothing brands, this completely contradicts its commitment to sustainability.

Consumers these days are more mindful about the companies they support, so do your research before partnering up! An easy way to find socially-conscious businesses to work with is through the B Corp network. B Corporations are for-profit companies that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency so you know that when you partner with one of these companies, they are just as committed to sustainable practices as you are.

TIP: Want to learn more about B-Corps and what it takes to become one? Check out this blog post from Futurpreneur partner, Ramp Communications!

4. Invest in better technology

Even if it means raising the prices of your products or your services, investing in energy-efficient tech and biodegradable supplies are worth it in the long run.

For example, if you run a coffee shop, most customers won’t mind paying a little more for a compostable cup if it means their purchase is helping to reduce waste. Another example is investing in eco-friendly lighting for your storefront. Traditional lighting consumes a lot of energy and needs to be replaced frequently, whereas LED light fixtures can last for years and help you save on energy costs.

There’s always room for improvement in every business model and it starts with thinking beyond today. As an entrepreneur, you have the power to make smarter choices for future generations.

Written by: Sara Pivato, Social Media & Content Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada

Tips & Tools: The Importance of Staying True to Yourself as an Entrepreneur

Staying true to yourself is not as simple as it sounds, especially when running your own business. You may often feel the urge to conform to a stereotypical notion of what it means to be an entrepreneur. But the truth is, being an entrepreneur has many definitions and the journey is different for every individual.

Knowing who you are, both as an individual and as a business owner, will help you set yourself apart from others on the same journey as well as inspire others to believe in your vision. Lastly, it will help build your business since your passions and interests will shape the solutions and products your company offers.

If you’re struggling to figure out what makes you or your business special, here are some things to consider.

Businesses and business ideas are rarely unique, but your vision is. Take a coffee shop, for example. There are tens of thousands across Canada and new ones pop up every week. It is in no way an innovative idea on its own, but somehow many continue to flourish—despite corporate giants dominating the mainstream market. Why? Because they bring something unique to their clients. Whether it’s a rustic feel born from the owner’s love of country architecture or classic novels embedded in a glass staircase inspired by a founder’s passion for literature, people will notice these details and continue to come back because of them.

Don’t underestimate the power of your business’ story. When people are looking to purchase a product online, it is pretty common for them to look at the business’ ‘About Us’ page. This is the section that explains the business’ origin, its mission and vision – essentially the part of the business, besides the actual product/service, that people care about the most. Don’t let this section be an afterthought – your business’ story could be the difference between a customer buying from you or one of your competitors. This also applies to entrepreneurs who are hiring staff. Potential employees want to see the personality of the company to see if its vision and culture align with their own values.

Part of being yourself is carrying your passions in whatever you do. As a new entrepreneur, your primary concern is likely generating enough sales to keep your company in the black. However, customers want to see that there is a heart and soul behind the shiny exterior. While you might feel contributing your voice to certain social causes isn’t that important, letting your inner passions shine through might actually give your business an edge over others in your market. For example, the B Corp movement is a great example of how commerce can be used as a force for good.

Whatever it is you do in life or as an entrepreneur, make sure it’s authentic to you. People will stand behind it, you’ll find support from your community and you’ll feel better about it as it continues to grow.

Written by: Sara Pivato, Social Media and Content Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada

Spotlight on Sycamore Energy: Manitoba’s Largest Solar Energy Developer

As the world becomes increasingly aware of the existence and effects of climate change, businesses and entrepreneurs have become more conscious of their ecological footprint and the ways it can be reduced. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, this issue is one of the greatest challenges of our time.

Futurpreneur Canada-supported Sycamore Energy is one of the Canadian companies leading the fight against climate change. Founded by Alex Stuart and his business partner Justin Phillips, the Manitoba-based company has been in the works for the last 10 years and has now become the province’s largest solar energy developer. Not only do they sell and install solar panels on a retail level, but also on a commercial and agricultural basis.

While Sycamore Energy has grown considerably over the last few years, their success did not happen overnight. The pair of entrepreneurs pitched their wind turbine product on Dragons’ Den and while it did not result in a handshake or deal, the pair had a revelation on their journey home that made it all worth it.

“We had a three-day drive home with our prototype wind turbine. The first day of driving was really miserable. The second day was filled with desperation as we realized we’d hit the end of the road for our present company, and the third day was when we decided not to fail. It was this third day when we changed direction away from developing our own product, to marketing and installing already established technologies,” said Alex.

After this pivot, Sycamore took off. While the early days were difficult, they found a way to work with very little start-up capital. Today, the company employs over 10 Manitobans and are currently hiring more.

“Seeing the team grow and knowing we have a shared purpose is really inspiring to Justin and I. We are pumped that sales are doing well, and we have the right technical experts to ensure the installations go smoothly and profitably,” he said.

In recent news, Sycamore Energy, under the brand of Solar Manitoba, has recently installed Manitoba’s largest Solar PV system in the province. With over 520 solar panels, a dairy farm in Otterburne, Manitoba will now be able to eliminate its hydro bill by using the power of the sun.

Our successful entrepreneurs were asked what advice they would offer to entrepreneurs contemplating starting their own business and this is what they had to say: “Do something you know. Pursue cash-flow first, and then you have the resources to chase your big ideas. Also, find someone who can warn you of the start-up pitfalls before you fall in (like we did). Lastly, with an open mind, you can learn so much from others in the same phase of growth, and from those who have gone before you.”

As for their experience with Futurpreneur, they say that they “would not have gotten to this point without funding from Futurpreneur Canada.” They also recommend people take advantage of the available networking and mentoring opportunities.

If you are interested in pursuing entrepreneurship, learn more here.

Written by: Sara Pivato, Social Media and Content Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada

Spotlight on Kuwala: Giving Entrepreneurs in Africa a Chance to Shine Internationally

Freeda and Veronica

Born in Malawi, Africa, and raised in Canada, entrepreneur Veronica Nnensa never lost her passion for the continent. After studying public affairs and policy management with a focus on African development, in 2014, it was no surprise that her passion for her home country led her to launching her business Kuwala, with co-founder, Freeda Mulenga.

Kuwala is an online boutique curating stylish clothing and accessories from socially responsible fashion brands inspired by Africa. They partner with fashion designers and women’s co-operatives to promote their beautiful handmade pieces globally. As two women from Africa, specifically Malawi, the pair had always had a strong connection to the continent.  “We wanted clothes and accessories that reflect our heritage, fusing African prints with western styles that we could incorporate into our everyday attire,” Veronica explained. “We also knew that we could make a big difference in people’s lives by supporting and partnering with emerging fashion businesses.”

Veronica explained that they felt that the designers and co-operatives they work with could make the most difference to the lives of everyday people. After countless trips to Africa visiting friends and family, they realized they were surrounded by ambitious and talented young people doing amazing things. “We wanted to create a platform for them to be able to sell their beautiful garments internationally.”

Afrochic2

Through developing relationships with partners and their operations while visiting Africa on different occasions, combined with the accessibility of making connections online, the pair explained how it was easier than expected to find people to work with. They even have regular brands reaching out to them directly via email and social media expressing interest in selling products on their website.

But making sure that each person they choose to work with meets the standards and vision for their business is important. Veronica explained that when people connect with Kuwala, they make sure they assess their existing business practices. “We find that when our partners already share similar values and missions prior to working with us, business runs smoother,” she shared. Veronica and Freeda also explained that when it’s possible they hire a trusted design quality specialist in the country of production who is responsible for ensuring the quality and production standards.

The pair of ambitious entrepreneurs behind Kuwala said that as much as being an entrepreneur is about running and growing a business, it’s also about the whole experience to grow as a person. “Whether we’re gaining new skills, like strategic business planning and basic web development, or networking with other entrepreneurs, we try to be very mindful as to how we individually benefit from such experiences.” They both emphasized the importance for entrepreneurs to take time to reflect on their business journey and be grateful for their accomplishments.

To read more about Veronica and Freeda’s story, click here.

Written By: Lauren Marinigh, Social Media & Content Creation Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada

Five Traits That Make a Social Entrepreneur Successful

Written By: Sandra Odendahl, Senior Director of Social Innovation at RBC

What if the passion and enthusiasm of entrepreneurs could be harnessed to address societal issues, such as climate change, homelessness and unemployment? A rising wave of “social entrepreneurs” is starting to do just that by designing their for-profit businesses around making positive contributions to the communities that they serve.

We often think that social businesses have to sacrifice profit and growth for the greater good. But our research found that many social entrepreneurs are building high growth businesses that deliver social and environmental returns.

Since launching the RBC Social Finance Initiative in 2012, we’ve researched, collaborated with and invested in many social entrepreneurs. In that time, we’ve discovered five key traits that successful social entrepreneurs often have in common.

  1. They don’t ignore the fundamentals. Social businesses have proven that they can be successful financially while chasing social and environmental goals. By following best-practices in marketing, human resources, operations and finance, social entrepreneurs position themselves to achieve their objectives.
  2. They use passion to fuel success. Passion is the common denominator among successful entrepreneurs. And, for this group, passion is often more intense because they are pursing deep-rooted personal goals. Their passion drives their position in the market and often improves their chances of success.
  3. They get creative to conquer obstacles. With everything from strategy to financing, social entrepreneurs have to be creative. They must innovate to overcome financial hurdles and apply creative marketing to target customers with their social products and services.
  4. They leverage their double or triple bottom line. Social entrepreneurs are always thinking in terms of social, environmental and financial results. They promote their social or environmental goals to recruit and retain the best people to work for them, attract customers and generate attention in the marketplace.
  5. They build a team of trusted advisers. Successful social entrepreneurs see external advisers as important to their business. They look to their bank or financial institution to be value-added advisers, and expect them to go beyond financial products and services to guide and support their journey.

Social businesses will continue to grow and flourish in Canada as we look for new ways to solve the most pressing social and environmental challenges. RBC’s Social Finance Initiative is designed to ignite the growth of social finance in Canada through supporting and nurturing businesses that deliberately seek to make positive contributions to their community. To learn more about RBC’s Social Finance Initiative, click here.

RBC proudly supports the 2016 Action Entrepreneurship Canadian Summit hosted by Futurpreneur Canada that’s happening in Toronto this May. Their support is helping send a delegation of social entrepreneurs from across the country for two-days of networking and professional development opportunities. You can join RBC and Futurpreneur Canada at the Action Entrepreneurship Canadian Summit by registering here. 

Celebrating Earth Day with Futurpreneur Canada’s Eco-Friendly Entrepreneurs

It’s Earth Day and what better way to celebrate this beautiful planet we live on then to celebrate some of the Canadian businesses that are doing their part to be especially kind to our planet. So we caught up with some of our Futurpreneur Canada businesses that have made it part of their business objectives to be environmentally friendly and socially responsible. Check out what they’re doing to give back and their tips on how you and your business can be friendlier to our planet and our people.

Megan Johns of The Green Kiss

About:
The Green Kiss is an online beauty boutique offering a curated selection of safe and effective natural beauty products. Before stocking any item, every ingredient of every product is researched to ensure that the product is truly natural and safe. From there the products are tested by the team of green beauty experts and makeup artists at The Green Kiss to ensure its quality.

The Impact:
With extremely strict buying guidelines, The Green Kiss ensures that each product they purchase fits their ethics, so they are only supporting businesses they feel are helping make a positive change in the beauty industry. Some of the things they look for in products is that the product is truly natural, not tested on animals and/or are biodegradable. What goes into the products isn’t the only important thing; The Green Kiss also only supports companies who practice ethical manufacturing and/or fair trade business practices.

By offering the best natural products, The Green Kiss is eliminating the amount of harmful chemicals being washed down our drains, and the amount of non-degradable products having negative effects on the ecosystem by choosing to work with suppliers who package their products with the environment in mind. In the physical location of The Green Kiss in Victoria, BC, they make sure to use natural and biodegradable cleaning products and biodegradable and/or compostable packaging for all shipments.

Tips from Megan:

  • Work place composting. We are pretty used to this idea out here on Vancouver Island with curb side residential compost pick up programs. However, I know that this is not the norm yet across Canada.
  • Choosing to support businesses to work with that use eco-friendly business practices.
  • A green audit. From everything from electricity use, to cleaning supplies, to waste management. Even if your business has already implemented environmentally friendly practices, there is always room for improvement. We are actually going to be doing a green audit this year at The Green Kiss to figure out how we can reduce our waste even more.
 

Meg McElroy of Bambuddha

About:
Bambuddha is a lifestyle brand that not only sells stylish, bamboo sunglasses, but incorporates the teachings of the Buddha to inspire people to be mindful, live life with intention, and to make a difference in the world. Their goal is to style their friends with some cool, bamboo shades, but more importantly, to give back to our planet and our people.

The Impact:
Bambuddha is making a positive impact on the environment by promoting sustainability with one of the most renewable resources on the planet, bamboo. Asides from just using sustainable materials, $10 for every pair of sunglasses purchased goes back to our planet to support organizations like Wildtracks Wildlife Rehab Centre in Belize, which Meg has personally spent time at rehabilitating manatees and monkeys. Bambuddha is also in the process of involving a group of indigenous women in Nicaragua to provide customers with hand-weaved sunglass cases.

Tips from Meg:
Start looking for alternative ways to do what you are already doing. Whether that is using different (more sustainable) resources, or altering production to have minimal negative impacts on the environment. A small change is still a change. If businesses could begin to become more socially responsible, like giving back to our planet and our people, the world would be a better place! Even if it is a small contribution, it is something. If we all do our part to help a greater whole, we ourselves inevitably become whole again.

Gwen Richards & Chris Nicol of Fable Naturals

About:
Fable Naturals is a line of skincare products that are not only good for you, but good for the environment and the communities where the ingredients come from. They source fair trade ingredients like argan oil from a women’s cooperative in Morocco to ensure that producers are paid a fair wage for their work. Fable Naturals also donates a portion of each product they sell to education programs for young women in developing countries.

Impact:
Fable Naturals always sources organic, fair trade ingredients for their products and local ingredients whenever they are available. They also use biodegradable and compostable packaging when possible such as their vegan lip balm which is packaged in recycled paper tubes that can be composted in a green bin or compost when you’re done with it. Fable Naturals also offers products like lotions and scrubs in bulk packaging to local stores so that bottles and jars can be refilled. They are also starting to offer refills with some products in their online store to reduce packaging.

To minimize waste, Fable Naturals uses packing materials from a neighbouring business, asks for paperless bills from suppliers, and keeps compost and recycling bins within easy reach in their manufacturing spaces. Which ultimately means that they product very little garbage.

Tips from Gwen & Chris:

  • You can replace your chemical cleaning supplies with greener alternatives that work just as well, or even better. Look for biodegradable, plant derived ingredients and products scented with natural essential oils (they smell better too!)
  • Shut off the lights. It’s so easy, but we often forget when we’re sharing a space with other people. You can even install motion sensors in hallways and lesser used areas.
  • Walk, bike or transit to work. If it’s a challenge, start with one day a week and go from there. And hey, if you biked to work, you probably deserve that ice cream on the way home, right?

Barry Hartman of 505-Junk

About:
505-Junk is a locally owned and operated junk removal and recycling company specializing in commercial, construction, and residential pickups through Greater Vancouver. Pickups are simple. They send a truck team that does all the loading and lifting for our clients, which means they just point to what you want gone.

Impact:
505-Junk up-cycles products as oppose to recycling them. They have partnered with local charities and non-for-profits throughout Greater Vancouver to drop off reusable goods at no cost. Not only does this keep items out of the landfill, but it is giving them a new life in a home that may not have been able to afford the full price of new goods.

Tips from Barry:
Think back to when you were a child growing up. Let’s say between 6 and 12. Your parents constantly nagged you about any of the following:

  • Don’t leave the water running
  • Turn off the lights
  • Recycle your plastics; recycle your cardboard, recycle your paper
  • Don’t litter
  • Eat your dinner; don’t be wasteful
  • You don’t need it so I’m not buying it for you

These may seem obvious, but it’s not always. In less you as a leader create a culture of being environmentally friendly, those that look up to you will probably not take the lead. Once you have this in place, take that one step further. Don’t just turn the lights out, turn off all of your electronics at the end of the day. Go the extra mile to create recycling opportunities in your office. Do you really need to purchase a new product and throw our your old one? Probably not. But if you really do, make sure you recycle it or phone someone that will do that for you.

Happy Earth Day!

Creating Conversations around Mental Health through Stylish Clothing

Being socially conscious but also creative is a philosophy that Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed of Wear Your Label hold firmly. This was something that was always top of mind while developing Wear Your Label, a clothing line that was developed with the goal to create conversations around mental health and ultimately end the stigma surrounding it. Kyle and Kayley were inspired by their own personal experiences living with mental illness and were frustrated with the stigma that was attached to it, and that’s where the idea behind Wear Your Label was born.

Kyle, one of the entrepreneurs behind Wear Your Label, lives with Generalized Anxiety and ADHD. He has always been aware of fashion and believes that a person’s wardrobe often speaks to the world in ways a wearer can’t. “On days I feel down, I wear things that make me feel good! The influence the fashion industry has over consumers is horrific. Clothing can make people feel vulnerable, confident, fat, strong, etc.” Kyle points out. “A feeling only lasts so long, what if we could use clothing as a constant reminder, something that has elasticity and makes you heal not just feel.”

Wear Your Label is a very socially conscious brand. They go beyond saying their collections are sweatshop free. Their manufacturing has people affected by mental illness in every step of their process, from design, ideation, fabrication, manufacturing, printing, and distribution. “We do this to help our customers know that someone affected by mental health is making it for you,” says Kyle. “We are building a community around Wear Your Label.” On top of their manufacturing process, there are a lot of little things that go into their brand. They offer gender-neutral clothing and give 10% of each purchase to mental health research and organizations. Each package also includes a hand written note from Kyle or Kayley, who are living proof that a brand can create a significant impact by being socially conscious, and still make a profit.

“Young entrepreneurs are no longer asking how they can make a lot of money, but how they can make the world a better place,” Kyle shares. “I think consumers are demanding more from businesses. You can’t just make clothing, it has to do more.” The dynamic duo proves their point through the praise and daily messages they receive from people around the globe who connect to their brand. Kyle shared with us stories from parents who were having a challenging time connecting with their kids, who used Wear Your Label clothing as an icebreaker to open up the conversation, to messages they are getting through social media from customers who are saying their package was the best anti-depressant they ever had.

The hype around Wear Your Label is clearly growing. In 2015 alone, they have been featured in major media hubs like People Magazine, MTV and Buzzfeed. With all the recent media coverage, the two are finding it hard to keep their product on the shelves. “We have been working really hard over the last year, refining our brand and speaking to hundreds of different audiences around Canada,” Kyle says. “We are building and building our following and reach, and there’s a lot of work behind the scenes that helped us land the larger press opportunities.”

Despite the success and explosion of the Wear Your Label brand across media outlets, just like most entrepreneurs, Kyle and Kayley have had several challenges and obstacles to overcome along the way. Wear Your Label is operating in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Kyle explains that being a social enterprise that is not following a traditional business model like with tech or software, model is tough. Even though the University of New Brunswick’s Technology Management and Entrepreneurship Centre and their Futurpreneur Canada mentor have given them amazing opportunities, they still find it very challenging living in a province that doesn’t have a thriving fashion industry.

Wear Your Label’s Futurpreneur Canada mentor, Phil Leblanc, has had a big part in the brand since the start. “Our mentor taught us how to screen-print and graphic design with Adobe. He was able to give us the necessary skills to run a fashion company, and has been with us since the beginning. He even helped create our brands logo.”

Kyle hopes that by fall or winter 2015, Wear Your Label will be available in retailers, and not just online. He wants to expand the brand internationally and sees it working as more than just a clothing line. He wants Wear Your Label to be a catalyst for change within fashion. “If we can have the ability to impact how the fashion world views body image, self-esteem and other mental health challenges, we would be extremely proud,” Kyle excitedly shared.

The Futurpreneur Canada team can’t wait to see how this fashion label takes the world by storm and changes the stigma around mental health. With catchy phrases on the front of their clothing like, “sad but rad,” “it’s okay not to be okay,” and “stressed but well dressed,” Kyle and Kayley are starting conversations around mental health one stylish piece of clothing at a time.

To read more on Kyle and Kayley’s story, click here.

Written By: Lauren Marinigh, Social Media & Content Creation Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada

Small Businesses Can Do Well by Doing Good

INTERVIEW WITH DEBORAH SWARTZ, ACCENTURE
Written By:  Kristin Knapp, Content Copywriter, Futurpreneur Canada

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a big topic in business today. The Harvard Business Review took a hard look at CSR in its January 2015 issue, saying that a business’s main goal should be aligning its social and environmental activities with its core business purpose and values. Businesses of all sizes can enjoy the benefits of CSR, from building relationships with customers to keeping employees engaged.

Many young entrepreneurs want to understand how they can build ethical, community-minded businesses while remaining competitive in the marketplace. We sat down with Deborah Swartz, Corporate Citizenship Lead for Accenture in Canada to talk about some key ways that entrepreneurs can integrate CSR into their business models.

Many people probably don’t know what a “CSR Lead” does. Can you describe the work you do and your role in the organization?

As the Corporate Citizenship Lead for Accenture in Canada, I manage the entire corporate social responsibility program for the Canadian practice. That means overseeing all of the volunteer work and cash grants that we do to support causes and charitable organizations across the country. Under the program I also manage our pro-bono consulting projects – that’s when we offer our core consulting work to a charity for free to help it run more efficiently and sustainably. I also work closely with the team responsible for our global environmental sustainability strategy to ensure we’re implementing all of those programs and standards across our practice here in Canada.

What kind of corporate social responsibility does Accenture do? Is it primarily about supporting causes through donations?

Accenture has a global initiative called Skills to Succeed that’s focused on helping people around the world get the skills they need to be employable and contribute to their local economy. As a consulting firm, Accenture’s core business is built on human capital – people with business and technology skills sharing that knowledge to help our clients grow. So it’s a natural fit for us to harness the skills of our people and give back to the community in that way.

When we first launched Skills to Succeed, we knew that employability and entrepreneurship were pressing issues both in Canada and abroad. We’ve been struck by how relevant and urgent these issues have become in nearly every country around the world. We recently announced our latest goal for the Skills to Succeed program – to equip three million people globally with the skills to get a job or build a business by 2020. Since 2011 we have already equipped more than 800,000 people with workplace and entrepreneurial skills.

A lot of businesses are developing corporate social responsibility platforms and programs these days. Why do you think this has become such an important part of companies’ strategies?

I think businesses are realizing that you really can do well by doing good. Nowadays, your customers and clients are not just judging you by the quality of your product; they care about the character of your brand. They want to buy from brands that understand why giving back to the community is an important part of being a profitable business. And they want to feel good about the brands they support.

Socially responsible businesses are likely to be more attractive to investors, employees, customers, suppliers and governments. Everyone wants to work with and for organizations that are doing good in the community. And it helps to build deep relationships with customers and stakeholders by exposing the heart and soul of your organization. We’ve moved beyond the basic transactional customer/supplier relationships of the past, and corporate social responsibility is a big part of that.

Large companies have a lot of money to put behind CSR programs. What are some of the different ways that small start-ups and young businesses can incorporate CSR into their business models without large budgets?

Philanthropy starts not with cash, but with ideas. Businesses that are true corporate citizens are the ones that have figured out what specific value they have to bring to their communities and are doing it. If you can’t support your chosen cause with dollars, it can mean rallying your employees around that cause and inviting them to volunteer and share their skills with the community in a meaningful way. The first step is developing a strategy around giving. What issue will the company address and in what form? How long will it realistically take to get accomplished? How does the goal fit with the company’s core values? Start with a strategy, figure out what’s realistic and build something from there. No action is too small.

What tips would you give to a young entrepreneur who wants to develop a CSR program on a shoestring budget?

First, tap into social responsibility networks to get guidance and support. Some prominent networks in Canada include Volunteer Canada, the Social Venture Network.

Second, be sure to leverage informal networks. Learn what your options are based on others’ experiences and start to gather insights into what is realistic and possible for your business.

Third, set out to create a plan for your CSR program with a roadmap to develop it over the next three or four years. Determine what percentage of your profits you will dedicate to CSR, or how employee volunteering and in-kind support might be offered. Research the benefits and treat it as an extension of your business, not as a hobby or something ‘nice’ to do. Build it right into your business plan.

Fourth, find an ambassador in your organization to drive your CSR plan forward. In early days you may not be able to hire someone to fulfill that role, so consider making it an add-on to the day job of someone with a passion for community work. Or recruit volunteers to form an employee giving committee that makes collective decisions on a volunteer basis.

Finally, don’t forget to share your story. If your employees and your business have made an impact in the community, get the word out through social media, local media and in your marketing materials. These stories are also an amazing draw for recruitment – the best people want to work for businesses that do good things.

What are a few of your favourite tools and resources that might be useful to young entrepreneurs looking to build socially responsible businesses?

Stakeholder engagement is critical. Use social media and surveys to ask your customers what causes are important to them. This will help you to further connect with your customers and build strong relationships.

The Government of Canada has a great resource on its Canada Business Network. Here you can find a great toolkit to learn how to integrate corporate social responsibility principles and best practices into your business. There is also a link to learn about anti-corruption and other ethical concerns when doing business abroad, as well as information on environmental programs and resources to improve your business.

The Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) is a non-profit member organization with a mission to accelerate and scale social and environmental sustainability in Canada. It has a great website with news, links and events that can help you to understand and become a part of the CRS landscape in Canada.

And finally, The Conference Board of Canada is a great resource for events, including ones about driving CSR in the workplace.

Do you have any other advice on how to build an ethical, socially responsible start-up?

Use business as a tool to accomplish a community goal. Be innovative – think outside the traditional model of corporate donations and figure out what your business has to offer the community. And measure, measure, measure! If you set a goal, your customers and stakeholders will want to know how you’re doing. Make sure you have a system in place to measure and report that information.

Visit our website for more information on starting a non-profit or social purpose business through Futurpreneur Canada. Read this success story about Kendal Netmaker, one of our social entrepreneurs.

High Five – Twenty One Toys

Gonzalo Riva, COO & Lead Strategist, Twenty One Toys, Toronto, ON

Twenty One Toys, founded by Ilana Ben-Ari in Montreal, Quebec, designs and makes a new category of toys, re-imagined as serious learning tools for all ages. Our creations challenge players to hone and practice complex skills like empathy, creativity, failure, communication, and collaboration. Our first product, the Empathy Toy, is a tactile 3D puzzle already in the hands of hundreds of K-12 educators, parents, and facilitators in over 30 countries.

Here is the best advice we’ve gotten so far about starting and building a socially-minded business:

  • Ask for a slap in the face, not a pat on the head.
  • Ask for the sale, if only for the data.
  • You can talk about social mission all day. But then I hope your revenue model is to line up book deals and speaking gigs.

Translation:
Most people are nice and when you’re in your early stages of your business, they want to be pleasant, encouraging and open to possibilities. It isn’t hard for someone to agree with a social mission like enhancing empathy, innovation, creativity, or communication. But for us, the key always seems to be to concentrate on the “business” part in a social-purpose business. When we lose sight of the need to make our business and sales models work, we fall in love with our rhetoric and over-build things that might be unnecessary. When we stay focused on how to succeed commercially (alongside our mission), that’s when we know we’re making things people care about – and responding to our customers actual needs and wants.

So the best way to keep that focus and cut through the feel-good stuff is to ask people:

1. What is wrong with this? How can we make it better?
2. What stops you from buying it right now? Why isn’t it valuable enough to be worth your money?

People don’t normally articulate what their “problem” is in classic start-up lingo. But if you ask them these questions often enough, you’ll get a better understanding of their problem, and figure out whether you’re close to providing a good solution to it.

Click here to learn more about Twenty One Toys.

Measuring the Impact of Social/Environmental Initiatives

Written By: Ellis Orlan, CPA (IL), CGMA, SF Partnership LLP, Toronto, ON, Futurpreneur Mentor, eorlan@sfgroup.ca @SFPartnership

Over the last decade, reporting on environmental and sustainability performance has grown worldwide, with many large and some medium-sized organizations producing an annual sustainability report. Such reporting addresses the positive and negative aspects of a company’s environmental and social performance with the goal of increasing transparency and building goodwill with stakeholders, such as shareholders/investors, employees, community members and customers.

The process of issuing a sustainability report also helps bring more clarity and focus to the organization’s efforts in managing its environmental and social performance. A sustainability report can be a good way to improve your performance.

In practice, small and medium enterprises are less likely to issue sustainability reports. However, reporting on sustainability performance can help them gain credibility. Customers, investors and bankers are increasingly looking to environmental measurement and reporting as a tool to assess the credit worthiness and risk profile of businesses.

Employees are also interested in working for companies aligned with their values.  Being able to read about concrete efforts and the positive impacts the company has generated in the environment or the community can make the best and the brightest talent more attracted to the organization.   The goal is to provide a means to communicate information to stakeholders to gain trust and credibility. This may be as simple as posting information on the company website, or providing an update to suppliers, customers and staff, all the way to more robust and complex annual sustainability reporting.