An enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Gibsons Public Market on Nov. 30 to vote for the best business idea from social entrepreneurs graduating from the LEAP (the Local Entrepreneurs Accelerator Program) offered by Community Futures and Simon Fraser University.
Seven contestants gave five-minute pitches and then answered questions from a panel of experts consisting of last year’s winner Laurie Lesk (Sunshine Coast Pride Guide), Theresa Logan (Sechelt Chamber of Commerce), and Colin Stansfield (executive director of the Gibsons Public Market).
The winner of the $500 top audience award was Pamela Robertson, with Community Housing Solutions.
Robertson, who runs her own safety equipment company, made news on the Coast last summer when she started a GoFundMe campaign to build a tiny home park for people struggling to find affordable housing. However, her project hit many hurdles, such as the cost and availability of suitable land.
Robertson said she had been working with Community Futures and was “struggling” when the LEAP program called for students. “It could not have had better timing,” said Robertson. “It was an amazing group. I’ve made invaluable connections.”
During the eight-week program, Robertson pared down her large goal and asked herself “what can I do right now?” Her new business concept, which she’ll launch this spring, is to work with owners of rural properties that are zoned to permit a second dwelling, and help them through the process of assessing their property, sourcing a suitable dwelling, and setting it up. “I would remove the headache of the entire process,” said Robertson.
She may also branch into manufacturing high quality tiny homes, and still dreams of starting a small home community.
The LEAP instructors also award a special $250 Instructors’ Choice prize to Pat Hunt from the Community Resource Centre, who is creating “The Knowledge Exchange”—a re-envisioned volunteer centre for the Sunshine Coast.
The other social entrepreneurs were:
• Mara Parnell, who sells signature blends of tea through her Davis Bay Tea Company (davisbaytea.ca).
• Jill Hemmings of the Sechelt Farm Collective, who will offer convenient online ordering of produce from local growers.
• Troy Edwards and Sharon Alme of “Lets-Get-Growing!”, who are growing food in tower gardens that require 90 per cent less water and 90 per cent land than conventional crops.
• Jenn McRae and Altaira Northe, who will offer “workcations” through the FUSE Community Work Hub to bring visitors to the Coast in the off season.
• Mike Meggiato and Randi Johnsen, who are developing ultramarathon trail races through Wolverine Athletics.
This is the fourth year for LEAP, an eight-week intensive course which has launched 24 new businesses on the Sunshine Coast.