The second event of the University of Waterloo’s “Green Entrepreneurship Workshop Series,” hosted in partnership with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, was held on March 10. The first workshop focused on green entrepreneurship as a whole, while the focus of this event was mainly on how established companies can support new entrepreneurs and the importance of entrepreneurship.
This session was facilitated by UW’s Majid Mirza, a PhD student in Sustainability Management and founder of ESG Tree. Mirza also has over 10 years of experience in international development and impact investing — investments made into an organization that have an environmental or social benefit in addition to a financial return.
The first speaker was Juan Del Cerro, the CEO of SociaLab and Disruptivo.tv in Mexico City. Cerro is an expert in social entrepreneurship and he explained how entrepreneurs could help with many problems that our environment and society are facing today. Cerro highlighted social enterprises, which are enterprises that acknowledge that problems like poverty or environmental destruction aren’t going to fix themselves, meaning businesses have to take action and work towards solutions.
Cerro noted that we can’t solve all these problems by ourselves; instead, we must create ecosystems and collaborate with the people around us. He further delved into the three layers of collaboration — exchanges, contracting and co-creation.
Along with his presentation, Cerro also mentioned some tips for social businesses to succeed. Simply having a positive impact isn’t enough, they must still aim to have the best product in the market. Additionally, social businesses need to have clear goals and work towards those goals in all areas. For example, if they decide to focus on a positive environmental impact, they cannot collaborate with a big company that is polluting the environment and takes part in greenwashing, which is basically when organizations make false claims on them being green. The social business must stay loyal to its morals and values.
The second speaker was Samira Khan, the Director of Citizenship and Market Development at Microsoft in San Francisco. Khan’s presentation focused on the importance of collaboration between entrepreneurs and established companies. She spoke about how this collaboration has many benefits and profits for both parties.
Khan described how entrepreneurs are truly connected with their communities, whereas bigger and established companies aren’t. Accordingly, entrepreneurs also have a better understanding of the community’s needs, which allows them to come up with solutions for those problems sooner. If companies and entrepreneurs worked together, they could expand that solution much faster than either of them could alone, which could greatly benefit both parties and their communities.
Khan also went on to talk about how this collaboration enhances trust within communities, facilitates reach and footprint and also demonstrates leadership. When companies work with entrepreneurs, they both become more profitable and sustainable as well. As entrepreneurs drive innovation, collaboration with other companies can lead to their innovations scaling faster, and those innovations could also inspire other firms to become more sustainable as well. Khan mentioned how established companies could help entrepreneurs by providing capital in many areas, from financial support to social and cultural connections.
The third and final speaker was Dr. Trevin Stratton, who is the National Economic Advisory Lead at Deloitte Canada. Stratton spoke about how both entrepreneurs and big companies have a similar set of goals. For example, many established enterprises take environmental problems seriously.
Stratton also talked about how entrepreneurs and enterprises all have a unique set of skills and strengths, which can lead to a lot of success for both groups if they collaborate with one another. According to Stratton, major enterprises are often very serious about helping entrepreneurs and understand that entrepreneurs could assist in transforming their business in a positive way as well. Several large companies, such as Deloitte, have established programs to help entrepreneurs and encourage collaboration that will benefit their business as well.