MANSONS LANDING, B.C. – One hundred and forty entrepreneurs building businesses as diverse as holistic health-care centers and wooden iPhone cases journeyed to Hollyhock off the rugged coast of British Columbia recently to attend the 17th annual Social Venture Institute (SVI).
The conference unites values-based business leaders for four days of learning, skill-building and sharing experiences, aiming to instill a renewed sense of dedication and purpose for their work.
“I believe we’re in need of a very massive grassroots uprising of people who choose to take back the tools of business and finance towards social goods,” event organizer and Social Venture Network (SVN) member Joel Solomon told participants during SVI’s opening night.
“There is no rule book that I know of about how to do that. It’s not well taught in business schools or other places, so this is our modest contribution — to make a place where these things can be considered and where we might improve our own practices, skills and help each other.”
From Sept. 12-16, diverse opportunities arose for learning and collaboration to happen, from the interactive case studies where a business shares a challenge or opportunity, to inspiring True Confessions where successful leaders share the highs and lows of growing a mission-based business.
Shared meals and social activities sparked impromptu conversations and connections that have been known to lead to lasting friendships, and even business partnerships.
Such was the case for Michael Ziff, an eight-year SVI veteran and co-founder of sustainable children’s clothing and products store Hip Baby. It was during a hot tub soak that Ziff met fellow SVI participant Philippe Lucas, who suggested they open a second Hip Baby in Victoria, B.C. The store opened in April, 2010.
This year’s conference engaged 80 new participants, with women comprising nearly 60 percent of the attendees.
“I felt like (business) was a creative response, and you were building the vision of what you wanted to create in the world rather than fighting against the vision you didn’t like,” says Carrie Ferrence, a first-time participant and co-founder of Stockbox Grocers. The Seattle-based small-format grocery store provides fresh produce and grocery staples to communities without access to healthy food.
A number of financial and business consultants were also on-hand to mentor entrepreneurs including Orchard Advisors, Junxion Strategy and institute B. Andy Broderick, vice-president of community investment with long-time SVI sponsor Vancity, was one of the more than 20 mentors available for one-on-one sessions.
“I’ve been totally impressed by the quality of the people here, and how much opportunity there is for Vancity to deepen its involvement in this sector and build its business around this kind of work,” says Broderick.
Having mentors and a trusted group of advisors to turn to is serving 29-year-old Ilana Labow well.
She began attending SVI three years ago, when her organization Fresh Roots, which designs innovative neighborhood farms, was still in its infancy. This year, during an open session inviting entrepreneurs to share what they’re working on, Labow announced that Fresh Roots has forged an exclusive partnership with the Vancouver School Board to develop quarter-acre farms on their land to teach children math and science, and host community events. It’s the first of what could be many opportunities to build gardens on institutions across the province.
“I’m in awe in of how smartly and well-woven SVI is . . . . They weave together business with friendship with growth of different kinds of relationships that really empowers people to stand strong on their feet and understand what are the resources they need to grow themselves and their social ventures,” says Labow.
“And I think we are so lucky to have it based out of Hollyhock, because Hollyhock has really set itself up to divinely host transformational experiences, and it has surely changed my life.”
Photo Credit: Sara Dent