The Business of Good 2020: Community Involvement
Nathan Caddell, (BC BUSINESS) — A look at the finalists for the BC Business Good Awards in the Community Involvement category.
Botany nerds might get the meaning behind Rhiza Capital’s name. Pronounced RISE-ah, it’s a play on “rhizome,” the part of a plant’s root structure that spreads through the soil and creates new sprouts. That makes sense for an organization built on providing capital to B.C.-based ventures that have a substantive social or environmental impact.
Rhiza, established in Sechelt in 2015 by non-profit Community Futures Sunshine Coast, Powell River Community Investment Corp. and Sunshine Coast Credit Union, has allocated more than $3 million to 20 B.C.-based organizations. They include fellow Sechelt outfit Salish Soils, which specializes in organic waste disposal, as well as Terramera, the Vancouver-based agriculture cleantech company.
It’s a big job for three full-time employees (founders Brian Smith and Sean Melrose, as well as director of investor relations Elyse Crowston) and two support staff, as the Rhiza team thoroughly vets prospective ventures before making an investment. “Sean will essentially become the CFO of a company and dive into the financial projections,” Crowston says of Rhiza’s chief investment officer. “He’ll do the deep dive into the mechanics, the governance, the leadership team and their financial and social alignments, and once he feels confident that it’s something to bring to the wider team, the three of us will adjudicate the company before Sean presents it to our investment committee.”
Perhaps being small gives the firm a unique perspective on its industry. “At most, if not all, impact venture funds in Canada, you have to be an accredited investor to invest, and usually the minimum is around $100,000 to $500,000,” Crowston explains. “To be an investor in Rhiza’s venture fund, you don’t have to be accredited; the minimum is $5,000, and you can do it digitally.”
With plans to raise and invest $25 million in the next couple of years, Rhiza should have no problems staying grounded.
Development firm Beedie has been in business for more than 60 years, so as you can imagine, there have been some changes along the way. The biggest one: expanding from what Trisha Bouchard, the company’s marketing manager, industrial development, calls a “mom-and-pop operation” to four offices (its Burnaby HQ, plus Vancouver, Calgary and newly minted Toronto) and about 375 employees.
But Bouchard argues that otherwise, the business—founded by Keith Beedie and now headed by his son, Ryan—hasn’t swayed as much as one might think: “Because it’s family-owned and has stayed in the family, that really close corporate culture has continued over the years.”
The Beedie name is also worn by SFU’s business school, the result of a $22-million donation by the family. But that’s not where the developer’s efforts end; its Giving, Ignite and Luminaries initiatives (the latter started awarding scholarships from a $50-million fund last year) have all been widely celebrated. There’s also Beedie Cares, an employee-driven plan (co-founded by Bouchard in 2014) that has committed more than 4,300 volunteer hours and some $500,000 to organizations like Ronald McDonald House and One Girl Can, which invests in education for young women in Africa.
Most British Columbians know about the Canucks for Kids Fund, which has been active for more than 34 years, giving $64 million to charities like the Canucks Autism Network and BC Children’s Hospital Foundation.
But the province’s largest professional sports organization has other community-minded endeavours in play. Take the Canucks Family Education Centre, established in 2002 with a mission to boost literacy levels on Vancouver’s east side and elsewhere in the Lower Mainland. “The services it provides, to refugee families and those that don’t have resources, it’s just remarkable,” says Chris Brumwell, the Canucks’ vice-president of communications, fan and community engagement.
Then there’s the Hockey Talks mental health awareness program, launched in 2013 after the passing of former Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien. Fifteen NHL clubs now participate in the initiative, which donates significant dollars toward mental health awareness and education. “The feedback we get from fans, it’s emotional,” says Canucks senior director of community and fan engagement Alex Oxenham. “Rick had wanted to help kids who suffered from depression like he did, and he didn’t get the chance to tell his story, so we’ve been able to do that on his behalf.”
The Vancouver incubator has aided more than 700 entrepreneurs in their journeys while helping create some 350 companies, including B.C.’s Nada Grocery and Open Ocean Robotics (both of which are among our Women of the Year finalists in the Innovator category). Last November, Spring Activator launched a first-of-its-kind incubator for entrepreneurs living with autism spectrum disorder.
Always a fixture on best-employer lists, the Burnaby-headquartered consulting partner for Salesforce recently undertook groundbreaking efforts focused on bringing opportunities in tech to rural B.C., as well as teaching kids how to code through summer camps and programs. Since 2013, it’s given about $1.7 million in service grants to nonprofits.
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