Startup program taking root in Pemberton 

Root Ventures will offer business mentorship to emerging food and art enterprises

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - CRABAPPLE DRIVE The Stewardship Pemberton Society is pushing for its crabapple jelly — harvested from trees that increase the risk of human-bear conflict — to be sold in grocery stores.
  • Photo submitted
  • CRABAPPLE DRIVE The Stewardship Pemberton Society is pushing for its crabapple jelly — harvested from trees that increase the risk of human-bear conflict — to be sold in grocery stores.

Building off the success of its Social Venture Challenge, the Whistler Centre for Sustainability is launching a mentorship program for emerging entrepreneurs in the Pemberton Valley.

Called Root Ventures, the initiative is aimed at new food and/or art startups looking to take their business to the next level. It kicked off Tuesday, Nov. 29 with an information session featuring Persephone Brewing's Dion Whyte that was attended by over 40 prospective participants.

"This came about from talking with people who live in Pemberton... and thinking about how we could add extra value with our Social Venture Challenge model," explained Cheeying Ho, executive director of the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.

Launched in 2015, the Social Venture\ Challenge has fostered socially minded startups in the Sea to Sky through the early stages of their company's development, connecting entrepreneurs with a mentor in their respective sector. But it's not just any food truck or art collective that will reap the benefits of the program; participating startups must build a business model with the goal of addressing "social and/or environmental challenges" that strengthen the economic development of Pemberton.

The Stewardship Pemberton Society is looking to take part in Root Ventures in order to expand its Pemberton Crabapple Project into grocery stores. Launched a few years ago, the initiative involves the harvesting of about 20 crabapple trees lining Pemberton's streets as a way to reduce wildlife attractants and mitigate conflicts with bears. Last year, the group picked two tonnes of crabapples to make 2,000 jars of jelly that were sold at local farmers' markets and fairs.

"In the last year we have really seen the scope of what this project can produce," said society director Dawn Johnson. "We have an opportunity to turn this into a project that not only funds itself but funds other food sustainability initiatives we're working on."

Ho is hoping Root Ventures will build on the momentum of the community's evolving food industry.

"In Pemberton, there's such a hub of food thinking and food enterprises popping up so we thought it would be a great thing to do to support that sector," she said.

With a new crop of young people looking to the fertile soils of Spud Valley to start their farms, Chamber of Commerce president Garth Phare has seen a shift among the local farming community towards a more DIY ethos.

"As a kid growing up, there were large potato farms, and today, we have a lot of smaller farms where people are raising chickens and pigs and growing hops," he said. "There's quite a lot of growth in terms of small-scale farming and local production. The good part of it is it's local production and local distribution."

The mentorship course begins in January with four learning sessions that will wrap up at the end of February, before culminating in a "mini-market" the following month. The showcase is in lieu of the pitch competition that usually caps the Social Venture Challenge, and Ho sees it as a way for participants to dip their toes into the world of business.

"We want to try out something new, and thought that a food and art showcase celebration would be really fun, and a great way for entrepreneurs to start testing out their products/services," she said.

The deadline for applications to the program is Jan. 8. For more information, visit whistlercentre.ca or facebook.com/groups/rootventures.

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