Associate Director, Social Venture Connexion
Mayor, City of Vaughan
Social enterprise and purpose-driven entrepreneurs are thriving in Vaughan thanks to the city’s innovation-supportive culture and programming.
The City of Vaughan, a fast-growing municipality located in Canada’s largest industrial market, is the place to be for purpose-driven entrepreneurs. With an educated and talented workforce of over 225,000 people and extensive small business and entrepreneurship programming, the city has the resources, networks, and transportation connections to help businesses of all sizes grow.
Investing in innovation
Starting back in 2017, the City of Vaughan launched a concerted effort to invest in social enterprises, with Social Innovation Challenges. The Activate!Vaughan innovation program was then established in 2019, which connects high-potential, purpose-driven startups and scale-ups to market-driven entrepreneurship opportunities and mentorship from industry leaders and multinationals. The program identifies and creates networks of collaborators to develop solutions to clearly defined opportunities for social, civic and environmental innovation.
Vaughan’s small business and entrepreneurship programming has grown and evolved over the years. Today, Vaughan’s social innovation program incorporates problem-based challenges and creates a forum for large enterprises, startups, and mentors to collaborate to co-develop solutions that produce not only innovation, but impact. The program is partnership-driven and has been deployed with support from local innovation partners including ventureLAB, YSpace and the Centre for Social Innovation.
A number of industry-leading success stories have emerged from Vaughan’s innovation programs, including ventures such as RainStick, Rekammend, Steadiwear, Fero International, Treasured, Able Innovations, and Culcherd.
Working together to increase impact
The programming is also partnership-driven and deployed in partnership with or with support from organizations including ventureLAB (a leading technology hub), YSpace (York University’s innovation hub), the Centre for Social Innovation (Canada’s largest social innovation community), and the Ryerson Social Ventures Zone (the home of social innovators at Canada’s most entrepreneurial university).
“Vaughan has emerged as a hub for innovative founders to grow and scale their business,” says Jane Gertner, Vice President of Partnerships at ventureLAB. “We look forward to strengthening our partnership with the City of Vaughan and bringing together our community of global founders, innovators, and industry leaders to create a cluster of anchor Canadian companies with transformational hardware and enterprise software technologies to scale and go global, from Canada.”
“York University and the City of Vaughan are united by a shared vision of generating social impact through groundbreaking programming, research, and innovation activities that advance our collective progress in addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” says Rhonda Lenton, President of York University. “For example, our collaboration on the Activate!Vaughan program has been a key driver in supporting social enterprises such as Hop In Technologies, Able Innovations, and Culcherd as they scale up. Another example is our work, along with our partners at Mackenzie Health and ventureLAB, to develop the Vaughan Healthcare Centre Precinct, which will create a world-class health innovation hub that will enhance the well-being of residents in York Region and across the GTA. York University looks forward to continuing our work together as anchors within the innovation ecosystem to support social enterprises and drive positive change in our local and global communities.”
Other notable success stories that have emerged from Vaughan’s innovation program include ventures such as RainStick, Rekammend, Steadiwear, Fero International, and Treasured.
Since 2010, we’ve created more than 60,000 new jobs, issued more than $13 billion in building permits, and maintained an economic growth rate of more than four percent. Very few cities in North America grow at this rate.
Embracing social enterprise
The City of Vaughan recognizes that fostering social innovation not only generates positive social and environmental outcomes, it also drives economic growth and competitiveness, and promotes future economic resiliency. The city has embraced the social enterprise sector as an important and distinct opportunity for the local economy.
“Vaughan has continued to develop programming uniquely adapted to the needs of social entrepreneurs to help them raise capital, find customers, and connect with the broader community in Vaughan,” says Kevin Taylor, Associate Director at Social Venture Connexion, an impact investing platform. “With a growing interest in place-based investing, where investors can target businesses operating in their communities, these programs are fostering an amazing pipeline that will promote local economic development, motivate and inspire business owners to consider sustainability and equality in the way they operate their businesses, and continue to direct capital to where we live instead of just chasing the latest investment fad.”
“The City of Vaughan knows the potential for igniting businesses that address social inclusion and climate solutions,” says Jo Reynolds, Social Innovation Specialist at the Centre for Social Enterprise. “This is the next economy at work — one that is regenerative, equitable, and prosperous for all.”
Looking forward to the future
Purpose-driven businesses will continue to thrive in Vaughan as new resources and assets emerge to support innovators. The city also boasts unique and impressive economic growth. “Our city is far outpacing the province and the country,” says Maurizio Bevilacqua, Mayor of Vaughan. “Since 2010, we’ve created more than 60,000 new jobs, issued more than $13 billion in building permits, and maintained an economic growth rate of more than four percent. Very few cities in North America grow at this rate.”
The City of Vaughan’s Economic and Cultural Development department offers support for local businesses and entrepreneurs at all stages from ideation, to start-up, to growth and scale. Fostering innovation and encouraging purpose.