Fearlessly tackling a February snowstorm in Vancouver, I headed to the campus of UBC, the University of British Columbia, to participate in my first Startup Weekend. I’ve met many people that have tested their ideas and had early prototypes built at a Startup Weekend event. Pique Fund has invested in a venture that was started at Startup Weekend and I have invested in a venture where the CEO met her co-founder. Startup Weekend UBC was the first one I’ve actually attended personally as a judge.

Winter wonderland in #Vancouver. This was the beautiful view near Pacific Spirit Park, as I drove out to the UBC campus to judge Startup Weekend presentations last night. It started to snow an hour before I was supposed to head out to the event. I debated whether to go, but then (as I usually do), I decided to do what I could to keep the commitment. It meant leaving a bit earlier and it turned out the roads were okay and there was hardly any traffic (I guess everyone else stayed in!) The real marathon was judging 16 presentations – 8 minutes each including Q&A – back-to-back. Quite challenging to process so much information, but hey, the harder task was for the teams to validate and build on an idea over a 54-hour weekend and then present. They did incredibly well! Kudos to everyone that took the risk and moved an idea a couple of steps forward this weekend. . . . #startups #intentionalliving #stayinspired #impinv #socent #socialentrepreneur #socialenterprise #entrepreneurlife #startuplife #smallbusiness #dreamersanddoers #makeadifference #dogood #impact #business #community #investing #buildwealth #essentialresources #sustenance #connection #leadershipdiversity #diversity #takingcareofthevillage #swubc

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Picture this: 16 teams, each having 5 minutes to present their idea, business model, prototype, and validation obtained over the weekend, plus 3 minutes of Q&A with three judges. It was a marathon. The venture ideas were wide ranging from content marketing for language schools (and helping people improve their written English communication) to turnkey marijuana services and grow-at-home license brokering for medical marijuana users to a consumer product for the mass market to help tackle methane and carbon emissions.

I was pleased to see at least five of the venture ideas had clear impact intentions.

  1. Re-Leaf proposed to sell a plant pot complete with a soil and microbiome mixture to the mass market to process methane and carbon emissions.
  2. Irripot pitched an underground irrigation system for Namibian farmers, using large porous pots that uses 93% less water compared to traditional surface irrigation systems.
  3. Indigenous Documentary brought awareness to the human rights infringements on aboriginal communities resulting from the residential school system in BC (this participant didn’t get as far as pitching a venture, building a prototype, and seeking validation, but it was a valiant effort to consider this issue).
  4. Fil considered using influencer marketing to help small and local businesses reach their target customers.
  5. MunchKit offered a convenient service to busy families, to deliver fun, nutritious lunches made with local and seasonal ingredients. They proposed a pay-it-forward program within their business model whereby customers could buy-one-donate-one lunch for families who need the support and the company would match the donation.
  6. Smart Recycling employed visual recognition technology to make sorting recyclable products easier and diverting waste from landfill.

All the teams clearly wanted to help a community of people access an essential resource, including:

  • helping amateur online gamers access competitions to express themselves,
  • helping renters access rental accommodation in a more trustworthy way,
  • helping people in the care profession access information about their elderly patients, to help make better decisions,
  • helping job seekers prepare for interviews or network with employers to access employment opportunities,
  • helping local businesses – including restaurants and language schools – better market themselves, find customers, and grow their revenues, and
  • helping film-makers create and produce art and creative works more efficiently.

The one venture which I thought clearly was not an impact venture was the idea to help people find empty and available parking spots in busy areas more conveniently. The team hypothesized that their technology would help save people time and help make better use of wasted spaces. In KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey 2017, the firm surveyed leaders of car manufacturers and predicted that “by 2025, more than half of all car owners today will no longer want to own a car.” Cities are more livable and the environment less polluted if we can discourage people from driving and instead promote other modes of transportation such as car-sharing, biking, walking, and public transit. So if anything, I’d prefer to see it continue to be inconvenient to find a parking space.

If you’re contemplating pitching an idea at a Startup Weekend event or if you’re evaluating a venture for impact, I invite you to think about what startups we still need.

At the end of the evening the prizes were awarded to:

  1. MunchKit, who won Top Prize, tied for the Impact Award, and were named Crowd Favorite.
  2. Re-Leaf was awarded the Second Prize and tied for the Impact Award.
  3. Smart Recycling received Third Prize.

Impact can be present in different parts of a business model, such as through the valuation proposition directly to customers, or through the supply chain or employment practices. It was an honour to present the Impact Award and Top Prize, and share the message that impact is about taking care of the village.

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If you’re in Toronto in March, meet Bonnie Foley-Wong on March 20, 2017. Register here for the Toronto book launch of Integrated Investing and find out more about impact and impact investing as taking care of the village.

More resources and tools for evaluating impact and doing effective due diligence, check out Integrated Investing: Impact Investing with Head, Heart, Body, and Soul, available at all major online book retailers.

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