Cheeying Ho admits the budding entrepreneurs who took part in the Whistler Centre for Sustainability's inaugural business mentorship program, the Social Ventures Challenge (SVC), surprised her.
"What was interesting last year was that we thought the applicants would be more business focused... but we found that all the applicants had a very strong social and/or environmental vision," said Ho, the centre's executive director.
That vision closely aligns with the ultimate goal of the challenge: to foster and grow new businesses or non-profits in Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish and Lillooet that offer a benefit to their communities. The three-month program provides coaching and mentorship to entrepreneurs hoping to bring their business idea from the conceptual to the pitch stage, and culminates in a Dragons' Den-style pitch session on June 29, with the winner taking home $5,000 and financial strategy advice courtesy of Squamish Savings.
Last year, eight applicants took part in the program, and, whether they took home the cash prize or not, each participant took something away that helped bring their business concept to the next level.
"(The SVC) allowed me to trim through all the fat," said 2015 participant Zac McHugh, who's Men's Resource Centre and Activity Centre in Squamish was conceived as a place for men to access much-needed resources to support their emotional, physical and mental growth. "They teach you how to refine your idea and make it work. They gave me some direction. I don't know I'd be where I am without (the program), but I was grateful because it gave me a little bit more direction and a little bit more momentum."
Successful applicants are given a business mentor to guide them though the developmental stages, and meet with guest speakers who offer advice on everything from marketing to honing a pitch. The program is also envisioned as a way to strengthen business ties across the Sea to Sky.
The Centre for Sustainability will kick off this year's course with an event on March 18 at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre called "Doing Good Through Business." Featuring guest speakers and socially-minded entrepreneurs such as Dion Whyte from Persephone Brewery, Bobby Lax from the Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild and Laura Barreca from junk removal service CleanStart, which employs marginalized individuals in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the event will offer "inspiration and (the knowledge) that you can run a successful business and still give back to the community," Ho said.
The event is open to all, not just those considering applying to the SVC. Tickets are $50 and include a full day of activities and meals prepared by the SLCC. They're available at www.eventbrite.ca.
Applications to the 2016 Social Ventures Challenge are open until March 31. More details can be found at www.whistlercentre.ca/social-venture-challenge-2016.