Values-Based Businesses Picked for UBC Accelerator

Andrew Hall and Derek Juno, co-founders of Mealshare, one of the recipients of the $60,000 prize

Food security a common concern for startups bent on making a difference

Local food is at the heart of all five companies chosen to receive funding and support from a business accelerator at the University of British Columbia.
This is the second year the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub at UBC’s Sauder School of Business has gifted cash, mentorship, rent-free office space and student intern support to young businesses committed to making positive social and environmental change as much as they are to making money. But it’s the first time all the prizes, valued at $60,000 apiece, have gone to companies focused on feeding people.
“We actually didn’t notice the heavy food focus until we’ve made all the offers,” said James Tansey, associate professor at UBC and executive director of the ISIS Research Centre at the Sauder School of Business, which runs the business accelerator. “Of all the entries we got, they were the ones where the theme was most passionate and there was proven demand for it and they were the most well developed,” he said.
Tansey said this year’s winners (last year’s cohort included three more food-focused firms) show Vancouver is becoming a hub for innovation in food security, a pressing global concern he hopes the city’s entrepreneurs can address by developing local market-driven solutions.
One of the firms is Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery, which takes the pre-paid veggie box approach into the ocean. Another is the Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society, which turns unused real estate into commercial food farms. The others feed healthier vending machine snacks to office workers, pepper vacant lots with temporary community gardens and allow restaurant diners to buy a meal for someone in need.
High school teachers Sonia and Shaun Strobel started Skipper Otto’s several years ago by getting their friends to pool enough cash to send the old family salmon boat out fishing. Word of fresh local seafood at competitive prices spread quickly — in 2013, its 15 fishers came back with $250,000 of fresh seafood, feeding shareholders with whatever nature made available: pink salmon stepped in when sockeye returns dwindled, halibut and tuna made up the difference.
“Definitely what we do is also political in nature,” Sonia said. “This has just been a historical blip where people have lost the connection with their food and I think we’re now going back to a more natural, more sustainable, more logical way.”
The business accelerator was founded with a $1-million contribution from Coast Capital Savings credit union.