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Helping businesses help people

Social Venture Challenge kicks off at SLCC event



For Renee McNeil of The Pie Company, the goal was always to help people.

"The Social Venture Challenge (SVC) gave me a platform to make the right connections and to build something that is on a level that is going to make a huge impact in the community," McNeil said.

Last year, McNeil won the Whistler Centre for Sustainability's (WCS) second-annual SVC with her Cutting Barriers proposal, which helps people identify career goals, gain hands-on experience and connect with employers. Since then, she's turned the pitch into a full-on employment and training association, of which she is the executive director.

What does it mean to be able to give back through your business?

"It means everything," McNeil said.

Most recently, Cutting Barriers teamed up with the Squamish Helping Hands Society and the Squamish Food Bank on the "Under One Roof" project — a community hub in Squamish that aims to provide shelter, food and job training opportunities to the region's homeless, marginalized and low-income residents.

The project's major funders are BC Housing and the District of Squamish, with additional support from Whistler Blackcomb and Squamish Savings/Vancity.

"I'm extremely excited about the project and feel that the SVC definitely contributed in helping me on the path to creating change in the community," McNeil said.

The SVC is set to launch its third installment with the kickoff event "Creating Community Impact" on April 12 at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.

Speakers include McNeil, 2015 SVC contestant Nicolette Richer, founder of The Green Moustache, and Jill Earthy, chief growth officer of FrontFundr.

Tickets are $12 and available on

"Every year we tweak (the SVC) a bit just based on comments and what people really want more of or want more focus on," said Cheeying Ho, executive director of the WCS.

"It's more or less the same format. We have four learning sessions based on the business model canvas, we match people one on one with a mentor and we give them homework, they have a practice pitch and then we'll do a pitch event in the community."

The SVC is mostly geared towards new entrepreneurs, or businesses that are just getting started, Ho said.

"We're looking for a real entrepreneurial spirit — someone who really wants to figure this out, but also those that have a community benefit," she said.

"So it's what we call a social enterprise or social venture: something where the purpose of the business is really to address a community issue — whether it's an environmental issue or a social issue — but they're trying to address the issue through a business strategy."

The call for applicants to this year's SVC is open now until April 18. Info at

"Even if you just have an idea, go for it," McNeil said. "The SVC will take that idea and help you shape it into something that does impact the community."