Social innovation through entrepreneurship

A discussion panel at UW, titled “Improving Health and Well-being through Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship” was held Oct. 7. The event was a collaboration between applied health sciences and the St. Paul’s Greenhouse.

The panel featured entrepreneurs from startups whose primary focus was social problem solving. The evening was hosted by faculty of applied health sciences alumnus and entrepreneur Rohit Ramchandani.

“Waterloo is often regarded as the Silicon Valley of the north, but so far there is no recognized mecca for social innovation,” Ramchandani said.

Resources like St. Paul’s Greenhouse, which launched in fall 2013, promote the inclusion of social action startups in the expansion of the Waterloo startup community.

The startups at the event had diverse backgrounds and motivations for entering the startup community, ranging from promoting mental wellness to ending student malnutrition.

Amina Sadiq, a Greenhouse student who is making an app that seeks to provide the principles of positive psychology and mindfulness, said that “resources like the St. Paul’s Greenhouse are able to connect people to what they need to grow as an innovator.”

Stork Community, started by Samantha Johns, looks to provide students with food alternatives that are organic and local. All of the food is washed and packaged in proper portions prior to being sent out to the customer.

Johns said that when finding her niche, she looked towards her end user.

&ldquo;For the past 20 years of my life I had been eating food and I had no idea where it came from,&rdquo; Johns said.<br />
She used herself as an example and remarked that, like most students, she lacks the cooking skills and the time to prepare a proper meal.

The resources available at the university have provided students like Johns and Sadiq with the technical information that they need to get their startups off the ground.

Ashutosh Syal and Daxal Desai of the startup Eye Check, which aims to get fast and reliable optometry care in developing countries, discussed the lack of services available in the developing world.

&ldquo;To get optometry services, many countries need to rely on volunteer services that aren&rsquo;t always there,&rdquo; Syal and Desai said.<br />
The duo had a lot to add to the panel. They shared that &ldquo;Although we have no background in optometry whatsoever, we decided to go for it and see where it goes because social innovation is about entrepreneurship, and it&rsquo;s about translating that passion into action.&rdquo;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;

The event closed with a discussion on the difficulties that stand in the way of social innovation.

&ldquo;I always leave Waterloo feeling inspired and I can&rsquo;t wait to see what comes out from here next,&rdquo; Ramchandani said in his final remarks.