The Freed Food Society, a local non-profit that upcycles food waste from grocery stores, has been named the inaugural winner of the Whistler Centre for Sustainability's Social Ventures Challenge.
The contest wrapped on Sept. 30 at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, where eight socially minded entrepreneurs pitched their business concept to a panel of judges in a Dragons' Den-style format.
Pol Lapeira, a local cook and graphic designer who launched the Freed Food Society in March with chef Patrick Henry, took home the $3,000 prize for his sustainable venture, which saves edible goods from supermarkets that are initially slated for the trash and turns them into canned products, like preserves and soups.
"The experience was amazing," Lapeira said. "This came at the best time possible because now the farmers' markets are finishing and we are in a position where we really need a commercial kitchen, so that's where the money's going to go to... and help us bring this project to the next level."
The panel of judges, also comprised of Gibbons Life founder Joey Gibbons and Sea to Sky Gondola GM Kirby Brown, were so inspired they decided to jointly contribute $1,000 to each of the other seven participants. Pitches were evaluated on three criteria: a sound business model, "wow factor," and whether the concept offered a solution to an existing social or environmental problem.
"It was so inspiring," said Whistler Centre for Sustainability executive director Cheeying Ho.
"The eight (social ventures) were so different and had such fantastic ideas. They just all seem very viable from a business sense."
Applicants to the Social Ventures Challenge were selected from across the corridor and beyond to participate in a three-month coaching and mentorship course meant to bring their business concept to the pitch stage. Each entrepreneur participated in workshops and was paired with a local mentor in their specific business area to guide them through the developmental stages.
"It was really helpful to develop and grow my business knowledge," said Lapeira, who was paired with mentor and Purebread owner Mark Lamming.
"(Lamming) was always so positive and helpful with everything and pointed me in the right direction to evolve the project."
With the program's first year in the books, there are a few changes the centre for sustainability hopes to make to next year's challenge. One is extending the course so that the bulk of the workshops don't take place in the busy summer months. Ho is also looking for ways to continue supporting each venture once the program is wrapped up, and has invited each participant to an upcoming workshop that will "deepen their business planning," she said.
For more information, visit www.whistlercentre.ca.
A fundraiser for the Freed Food Society will be held at the GLC on Thursday, Oct. 8 at 8:30 p.m. featuring live music from The Hairfarmers. Tickets are $15, available at The Oracle, Olives and at the door.Meet the Social Ventures Challenge participants
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