Amelia Warren never planned to go into the family business. “In our family, it was always, Find a way to give back,” says the CEO of food maker and retailer Epicure. “I always thought that would be through charitable work.”
So Warren worked with local and national nonprofits focused on youth empowerment and artistic expression. Returning to her hometown of Victoria for the summer of 2007, she launched a foundation at the request of her mother, Epicure founder Sylvie Rochette. “I got super excited about how business could play a role in making the world a better place,” she recalls. Two years later, Rochette asked Warren to run the business because she needed to step away for a while.
Epicure specializes in meal kits, blended herbs and spices, and other products that help people quickly prepare healthy food. It sells through independent consultants, many of them busy mothers. “The ethos of our business is about helping people eat better, because we really believe that if you eat better, you can live better,” Warren says.
When she joined North Saanich–based Epicure, which Rochette founded in 1997, annual revenue was $25 million. With help from a recent U.S. expansion, sales have since crossed nine figures. Throughout North America, the 200-employee company now has some 25,000 consultants to whom it paid $40 million in 2021.
Epicure has built on that reach with its Buy A Meal. Share a Meal. program. “For every product you buy, we’re donating meals to Feeding America or Food Banks Canada,” Warren says. Last year, Epicure gave away almost a million meals. It also has a disaster relief program that makes in-kind donations to afflicted communities.
The Epicure Foundation supports research, education and capacity-building projects that address key food security issues in Canada. It’s made financial and in-kind donations to more than 50 grassroots efforts, from community gardens to nutrition programs. “We try to make those [initiatives] connected to the communities that our consultants are based in,” Warren says. The foundation, whose donations total more than $810,000, has helped some 195,000 families.
Through its Fundraiser Program, which donated about $113,000 last year, Epicure backs community groups, sports teams, education programs and other charitable causes in Canada and the U.S.
Being thrust into a leadership role has turned out to be the best way to give back, Warren says. “I love that we do good work, and the game of business is fun.”
When it comes to innovation, sometimes less is more. Just ask Lawrence Buchan. In 2014, with fellow biomedical engineers Marianne Black, Michael Cancilla, Florin Gheorghe and Elise Huisman, Buchan was part of a group of UBC students asked to create a safe, inexpensive drill for orthopedic surgeons in Uganda. The team fashioned a cover that creates a sterile envelope around an off-the-shelf hardware drill.
Then they realized they could help combat a global health-care crisis. “Five billion people don’t have access to safe surgery,” Buchan says. “Two of those five billion people don’t have access to any surgery at all.”
So the five launched Arbutus Medical, which focuses on what it calls frugal innovation—“coming up with simple products that can improve access to technology and, ultimately, access to safe surgical care for patients,” CEO Buchan explains.
Starting with its patented DrillCover technology, the Vancouver company has expanded its line of devices, shipping products capable of treating 53,000 human and 38,000 animal patients in 39 countries. Along the way, Arbutus Medical has collaborated with major international aid groups. It’s also worked in Haiti, Tanzania and Uganda to bring access to safe orthopedic surgeries, providing training and support as well as tools.
Arbutus Medical is busy in its own backyard, too, Buchan notes. “We’re working with a number of different trauma centres, in particular in North America, to help them improve their operational efficiency and manage costs.”
The 15-employee company aims to have several frugal innovation platforms–and to help enable five million surgeries by 2030. “We know that’s going to be very challenging to do on our own,” Buchan says. “So we’re committed to doing it in partnership with amazing health-care providers all around the world.”
West Coast Seeds
West Coast Seeds’ mission statement—to repair the world—comes from the Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam,” says president Aaron Saks. “We like to say we help, because we’re not professing to be able to repair the world on our own,” Saks explains. “More importantly, we like to do the right thing.”
The Delta-based company, which has about 70 employees, takes a three-pronged approach to giving back. One is seed donations by request: last year, it gave more than 50,000 packets of seeds to 288 groups. West Coast Seeds focused more on Indigenous communities in 2021, Saks says. “We tried to cover off a variety of different groups in a variety of different areas, mostly in Canada,” he adds. “We have done some really big donations overseas.”
West Coast Seeds also donates produce from the R&D farm where it trials seeds. Some goes to staff, the rest to local food banks—last year, seven organizations received more than 6,000 pounds of vegetables. “Nothing goes to waste,” Saks says.
Then there’s charitable giving. During 2021, the largest of the company’s three major efforts in that area was the Dr. Bonnie Henry Pollinator Blend, a collaboration with the Office of the Provincial Health Officer. “We thought we would sell maybe $5,000 worth,” recalls Saks of the initiative, which gave all proceeds to Food Banks Canada. The final tally topped $225,000.
Saks, who is considering launching a one-to-one program that makes a donation for every purchase, describes the business as more than a seed company. “We like to say every single person we sell to, we are making an activist,” he says. “The power of one little seed can make a big impact on the environment.”
After quickly moving online at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous community planning firm Alderhill noticed that more people on its social media channels were struggling with anxiety, mental health and wellness issues. Each week for a month, the team used its Zoom account to host several free sessions on self-care, connecting with 100-plus participants. Alderhill also hosted Zoom sessions for Indigenous women entrepreneurs feeling the impact of the pandemic.
The company—our Indigenous Prosperity winner and Diversity and Inclusion runner-up— began offering virtual training and seminars, too. Among them: Vicarious Trauma and Resiliency Training for frontline health workers during the pandemic, delivered to doctors, nurses, health-care staff and communities throughout B.C. in the past year.