Nearly 140 participants attended the Niagara Social Enterprise Forum on January 30, 2016.  The participants were varied and came from government, non-profits, businesses, educators, students, and other community members were in attendance.  50 (1/3) of the participants were students, including representatives from Niagara College, Brock University, Mohawk College, and the DSBN academy.

In the morning participants heard Sean Campbell from Scaled Purpose explain the basics of Social Enterprise, and then broke into groups to talk about what social enterprises and supports for social entrepreneurs already exist in Niagara, and what further supports are needed.  In the afternoon participants had the opportunity to lead discussions on topics of their own choosing.  These discussion topics included:  How to increase support for Niagara’s current social enterprises, how to help social enterprises grow, and how to bridge the gap between Niagara’s non-profits and small businesses.  Some discussions were around specific social enterprise ideas, such as local food distribution and creating a tool lending library.  DSBN and Brock University students led conversations about how to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset in both the secondary and post-secondary education.

Some key discoveries from the day:

Social Enterprise already has a presence in Niagara. We recognized that although the language of social entrepreneurship is relatively new for most of us in Niagara, social enterprises have been around for more than 30 years and include some well-known examples such as Niagara Presents, The Grimsby Benevolent Fund, Niagara Sustainability Initiative, Cowork Niagara, and Mahtay Café.

Niagara has a higher than average number of people interested in social enterprise.  Keynote speaker, Sean Campbell expressed excitement about the turnout, and commented that in his experience when a community initiates a discussion around social enterprise there are usually no more than 20 to 50 people engaged.  In contrast, Niagara had nearly 150 people turn out.

Social enterprise is attractive to youth.  Many younger people don’t see a divide between earning money and creating positive social or environmental change.  Social enterprise empowers youth, and could be a key component to a strategy to attract and retain young talent in Niagara.

Some local Social Enterprises are nationally recognized. In his talk Sean Campbell held up Niagara’s own Niagara Sustainability Initiative as an example of a local social enterprise that is leading the way nationally by finding a way to earn revenue by helping businesses to monitor and reduce their environmental impact.

We have the components of a strong Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystem; we just need to connect them.  Niagara already has all of the pieces of the puzzle, but we just haven’t put them together yet.  Brock University BioLinc and Goodman School of Business, NC Takeoff and Niagara College Research and Innovation, Niagara Youth Entrepreneurship Network, St. Catharines Enterprise Centre, Niagara Falls Small Business Enterprise Centre, Leadership Niagara, and Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, Business Education Council, Niagara Work Planning Board, Niagara Community Foundation, Niagara Region and United Ways, are just some of the supports available and many are already community partners for Social Startups 2016.  Sean Campbell commented that we are asking the same questions as other regions who are already engaged in Social Entrepreneurship. Niagara could become a leading region in Social Entrepreneurship, if we so choose.

Participants are already moving forward.  At the event Gillian Kemp led a conversation for those interested in accessing the Goodman School of Business for social enterprise supports, and Brenda Herchmer led a conversation for those who wish to access the Campus for Communities of the Future for scaling up their social enterprise.

Morning Small Group Sessions

What further learning, expertise, and supports are needed to assist local Social Entrepreneurs?

  • Development of a common shared language
  • A common platform for communications
  • Need more “Social Enterprise 101” for those new to the concepts.
  • Increase awareness of social enterprise in Niagara
  • Addressing the return’s issue will enable the growth of infrastructure
  • Generate greater openness and support for innovation
  • Increase start up capital/resources
  • Help non profits learning to think entrepreneurially
  • Increase Networking opportunities
  • Support development of Government policy to support social enterprise / innovation
  • Build Mentorship for Social Entrepreneurs
  • Reduce stigma associated with non-profits that earn revenues from
  • Increase understanding about when to use or not use competition and when eliminating duplication of services is useful or not useful
  • Foster Collaboration across the region
  • Increase education, start up funding, feasibility study and business plan.
  • More education about government requirement
  • Develop a way to reliably identify current community needs.
  • Strengthen entrepreneurial culture in the community
  • Develop linkages between the small businesses and social enterprises
  • Introduce entrepreneurship/social entrepreneurship in high school
  • Encourage Changes needed in funding models
  • Increased awareness and support for hiring people with disabilities
  • Better/more sustainable management of non for profit organizations
  • Recognize not every person or organization is suited for social entrepreneurship
  • Support development of a Growth Mindset
  • Clarification around Laws and Regulations
  • Coordinate research on Social Enterprise
  • Engage Students