Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022: Marcia Nozick uses EMBERS to fire up companies and employees alike

Nozick's temporary staffing agency puts all its profits back into its recruited members from the Downtown Eastside.

Around 20 years ago, Marcia Nozick was living in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood and involved in community organization efforts in the Downtown Eastside when a young man named Brian approached her at a meeting.

She remembers his words clearly: “He said, What we really need is a temp labor company. Me and my buddies, whenever we need to work, whenever we need money, we go to these other labor agencies but they really treat us poorly…at the end of the day, we’re lucky if we can come out with 60 bucks.”

Inspiration struck.

Nozick, who had come to Vancouver from Winnipeg in 1997 to complete a PhD in community economic development from SFU, was serving as the chair of a community development working group when she met Brian.

“Here I am, in this community with thousands of people who are sitting around not working, but they could work and they want to work,” says Nozick. “I thought that it could be really interesting if we take a temp labor agency model, but we put it toward social good.”

And so Nozick launched EMBERS—the Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society—in 2001. The organization started off as a charity focused on creating economic opportunities. Seven years later, Nozick established a social enterprise wing called EMBERS Staffing Solutions. Whereas the charity offers programs (with various sources of funding) catered toward getting people out of difficult circumstances (such as addiction or homelessness), the social enterprise arm is a standalone business focused on employment.

The temporary staffing agency connects companies in need of contingent labor with employees recruited from the Downtown Eastside. It generates revenue, trains its employees to become construction safety officers, has dental and medical benefits, provides meals, and puts all profits back into its workers.

“We have a worker support program, we have a counsellor, we provide people with a matched savings program so that if they want to they can save $600 and we’ll match that…we provide boots, all the PPE, equipment, we have a Tool Lending Library, because that’s a big barrier for people who are starting over and don’t have the means to purchase all of that to begin with.”

It may have taken a lot of fanning the flames before the business grew into a fire, but by 2012 EMBERS Staffing was pulling in almost $600,000 in gross revenue. Nine years later, it’s over $16 million, has four offices, and is employing 2,500 people a year.

10 Questions With Marcia Nozick

What was your first summer job?

Putting tags on dresses at my father’s clothing wholesale business.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?  

Both. They’re born visionaries and made great through execution.

What is your definition of success? 

Making a positive difference in the world.

What other job might you have had?   

I might have been a concert pianist but for my nerves.

Name one thing people would be surprised to learn about you. 

I wrote a book.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”   

…drive to become world change makers. 

What businessperson do you most admire?    

My Dad. He treated his staff like family.  

What do you do to relax/unwind?  

Golf. Binge on Netflix. Hang with my grandkids.

How would you describe your leadership style?  

Visionary and collaborative. 

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.  

An umbrella.