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Social enterprise: where community and business connect

Maryanne Brabander - Rik Jespersen

Maryanne Brabander, of Care for a Lift. Rik Jespersen photo

There is a classic set of circumstances that help anyone create a business: 1) you see a need in your community, a gap in goods or services; 2) you have an idea how to fill that gap; and 3) you could use some extra income.

That’s just the situation Sechelt’s Maryanne Brabander happily found herself in a few years ago.

“When I moved to the Coast [from the Lower Mainland] in 2014, I realized there were no wheelchair taxis here, and there was a huge demographic of seniors,” said Brabander, a recreation therapist. “And I already had this wheelchair van that I had used to help get my mother around.”

The next move seemed obvious, but just how to go about it properly required some good advice.

Brabander turned to Community Futures Sunshine Coast for help. Less than a year later, Brabander’s business, Care for a Lift, was up and running, providing transportation—and more—to the Coast’s seniors, and to people of all ages and abilities who need “a lift.”

“I’m not just a taxi driver,” she stresses. “I’m a care companion with an accessible vehicle. I don’t just pick my clients up and drop them off. I’m with them through much of what they do, when we get wherever they’re going.”

Brabander’s business idea fell right into Community Futures’ sweet spot.

“I think we’re at the stage where our team at Community Futures is quite comfortable speaking with people about their social passion, business idea, and the problems they want to solve, and then seeing if we can work with them to build out a viable business,” said Janice Iverson, the organization’s Executive Director.

“Maryanne Brabander’s passion was reducing barriers to seniors’ isolation and mobility,” Iverson added. “She desired to study and see if there was a model to achieve social good and solve a problem in our community and for her to make a living, and out of that came Care for a Lift.”

Janice Iverson Community Futures - Rik Jespersen

Janice Iverson, of Community Futures Sunshine Coast. Rik Jespersen photo

Community Futures does provide business advice and help facilitate loans to businesses of all kinds. Anyone on the Coast can make an appointment with the organization, located on Wharf Avenue in Sechelt, to receive a free one-hour business advisory session.

“We constantly have people coming in with a business idea and want to know how to get started, or whose business is facing a cash-flow crunch, or who want to expand or to sell their business. That’s what our day looks like: problem-solving and opportunity-creating for small business on the Coast. It’s super fun.”

And while its core business is providing loans and investments to a variety of businesses in the community, the social benefits of any business idea weigh heavily in Community Futures’ decision-making.

“More and more often, people come to us putting their social purpose first, then their business idea,” Iverson said. “Twenty years ago, I saw people coming in with their business idea and saying, ‘When I make money, I will give back to charity.’ But these days, it’s reversing.”

Community Futures provides a range of services to would-be entrepreneurs. One of its more high-profile programs is LEAP, the Local Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program.

In partnership with Simon Fraser University, Community Futures picks half a dozen or more people with business start-up ideas every fall, and puts them through a kind of entrepreneur boot camp. The latest cohort started at the end of September.

“We will work with them for nine weeks to build out a business model,” said Iverson. “They’re learning theory and moving their ideas along at the same time. It’s very intense. We spend a couple of hours with them each week and then all the work happens in between, to do research, to adjust, feed off each other, challenge each other, all to make their business idea better.”

The program culminates with a public celebration where the grads pitch their ideas to a panel of business experts in a sort of mock “Dragons’ Den.” (This year’s LEAP party will be at Gibsons Public Market on Nov. 30)

Maryanne Brabander developed Care for Lift as one of the participants in the 2015 LEAP business-nurturing program. She said it really helped.

“You’re in with a group of six or seven other entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of support and brainstorming going on between us all, plus there’s all the advice from the Community Futures experts. It was a really great experience.”   Rik Jespersen

 

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