New program fosters socially minded start-ups from concept to pitch 

Social Venture Challenge is a three-month mentorship program offered by Whistler Centre for Sustainability

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRANDON BARRETT - SOCIAL VENTURES The applicants selected to participate in this summer's Social Venture Challenge attended an information session at the Nita Lake Lodge last week.
  • Photo by Brandon Barrett
  • SOCIAL VENTURES The applicants selected to participate in this summer's Social Venture Challenge attended an information session at the Nita Lake Lodge last week.

There's a common perception that capitalism and altruism rarely mix, but a new business development program launched by the Whistler Centre for Sustainability (WCS) aims to prove that wrong.

The Social Venture Challenge was created to support businesses, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations with an eye towards building community impact as they bring their business concepts to fruition.

"We wanted to launch this program to support mainly new entrepreneurs, people who have great ideas on how to... do good for their community or address a social or environmental problem with a business initiative," explained Cheeying Ho, the executive director of the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.

Applicants have been selected from across the corridor to participate in a three-month program of coaching and mentorship before they pitch their concept to a panel of judges for a chance at winning the $3,000 cash prize, as well as financial strategy advice courtesy of Squamish Savings.

Randi Kruse is one of those successful applicants, whose concept, Whistler Ski Heaven, is meant to give "a second life" to skis that have come to the end of their lifespan by turning them into one-of-a-kind furniture pieces.

"The idea is to turn them into a new product that has social and environmental value," she said.

Kruse, who said she is constantly coming up with new ideas for start-ups, participated in a similar program in the past that showed her how valuable it is for emerging entrepreneurs to have the kind of support network offered by the Social Ventures initiative.

"I was lucky enough to be a part of an angels den to explore another business idea I had a couple years ago. Going through that process I realized that that business wouldn't have been as successful as I hoped it would be, so I really value the structure that this program will provide to great ideas," Kruse said. "A great idea is only useful if you can implement it and make it work for the long term."

As part of the program, participants will be linked up with a local mentor in their specific area of business who will guide them through the developmental stages, helping them to flesh out what Ho called a "business model canvas."

Along with offering the participants some practical advice, Ho hopes the process will serve to further strengthen business ties in the region.

"We think that there's greater opportunity to create a more self-sufficient economy in the region between Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and even all the way to Lillooet," she said.

Claire Ruddy, who, as the executive director of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), knows a thing or two about sustainable business practices, spoke about the growing sense of social and community responsibility taking root in corporate boardrooms across the globe.

"I think at all scales, global, regional and local, there's a growing recognition that businesses can do good and give back," she said. "What's really nice about having this heightened awareness around social entrepreneurship is that it gets people to just tweak their ideas and think about how they can integrate that social mandate into their business from the get-go."

AWARE will also take part in the challenge this summer through a new initiative called ecoActive Whistler that aims to provide conference groups visiting the resort with opportunities to connect with nature through environmental restoration and improvement projects.

"A group might spend the morning planting trees and then an afternoon paddle boarding," Ruddy said. "We see this as a really collaborative project."

In all, there are nine applicants from Whistler, Squamish, Pemberton and Lillooet taking part in the Social Ventures Challenge. They will pitch their final business concept at an event scheduled for sometime in late September.

For more information and the full list of participants, visit



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