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Vancouver's inner city gets creative with economic development

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Vancouver is a hotbed for startups, what we see though is that often these startups will have difficulty accessing capital to grow here and they will be acquired by a major company or they will relocate. Ryan Holmes from Hoot Suite wrote a great Op-Ed about it recently in the Sun. While Ryan focuses on tech and creative sector the same challenges ring true for many other types of businesses here, social enterprises and independent retailers for example. Without a comprehensive community economic development strategy or an overarching body like the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) to provide resources it has fallen on non-profits and social enterprises to muddle our way through this jungle. Often times this has meant we compete for the same pool of funds, the same RFPs, the same contracts, or the same clients. This is exactly why BOB wanted to take a networked and collaborative approach to leveraging its CED resources and approached EMBERS to develop this initial concept.

Guy Thorburn of EMBERS said to me when I asked him about the new program:

"There is a lot of overlap and unnecessary competition amongst community groups tasked with supporting economic development in the DTES. The V Prize is an example of two of those groups combining resources to best effect for local start-up businesses.  By combining BOB's advisor network and cash with EMBERS 1-on-1 Grow a Business program, businesses get access to both community grown capital and hands-on dedicated support"

The hope is that this kind of support will not only aid small businesses and social enterprises in creating stronger models, more feasible models, but also support them to become social impact employers (or increase their employment impact) and integrate with the community, largely low income, that they are a part of. 

Through the GAB program EMBERS connects businesses to a dedicated mentor who can take them under their wing for several months and work with that business to create a growth plan. Olla Flowers was one of those businesses in the past year that EMBERS saw great promise in. When interviewing different lenders and non-profits the team at BOB realized that it had a great opportunity to leverage what EMBERS was offering by bringing the loan fund and its extended network of professional contacts to the process with Olla.

Often times accelerators have a core management team that comprises "who you will be working with" it's the same team which often receives equity in the companies they help foster and grow. In some cases that can be golden, in some cases it can end badly. With BOB, neither of these applied. BOB's board worked with Olla and EMBERS to identify specific mentors/advisors in its extended network to bring support to Point of Sale System technology (Patrick Shmeid- Swipe For the Kids), E-Commerce (Matt Friesen, Wantering) and other areas. While Susan Fugman of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation along with Guy Thorburn at EMBERS led the overall growth plan and guided Olla Flowers owner Megan Branson through the process. BOB's goal is to extend that impact, and the organization is looking to expand its network of advisors. 

It's an interesting trend to see how community economic development non-profits and other service providers are adjusting with the retreat of government funding into urban CED. In some cases this comes in the form of leveraging market investment and new businesses coming to the area. A good example of this is Mission Possible filling service gaps for community safety and property maintenance needs another is the Portland Hotel Society has also launched several very strong social enterprise concepts in the past few years including the Window, EastVan Roasters, Blue Shell Laundry (which they acquired a few years after it began) and Radio Station Cafe. In some cases, like the V Prize concept, the innovation comes not from starting something new but in leveraging complimentary resources and collaborating with another agency or social enterprise to scale up delivery of services and support. Not to say this is the first time collaboration has happened in the interest of economic development in Vancouver's DTES, but it's an encouraging model that shows some promise. 

BOB will be announcing a new intake round for businesses, including social enterprises, interested in V Prize in the New Year. Follow the organization at @bobV6A to find out when. 








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