How these little companies are generating revenue although generating the globe a far better spot


Jeff Ward was not familiar with the term “social enterprise” when he launched Victoria-primarily based Animikii Indigenous Technologies, his award-winning technologies and digital media firm in 2003.

He was 23 and not too long ago returned household to Canada just after living by way of the tech boom and bust in Silicon Valley.

“I’m Ojibwe and Métis. As a technologist and Indigenous particular person in that atmosphere and then seeing all the layoffs, I knew I wanted to do items differently,” Ward stated.

Distinctive meant constructing a values-primarily based for-profit company that would permit him to use his ability set and technologies to help and advance Indigenous peoples.

“There was and is a digital divide involving Indigenous persons and the rest of Canada,” he stated. “I believed, our persons require to get on the net and I can support them do that.”

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Social enterprises are broadly defined as income-creating for-profit or not-for-profit organizations that want to be great citizens and make a good social, financial or environmental influence. Their numbers are on the rise, largely due to two crucial trends: Developing customer/investor awareness about the social influence of their spending and investing, and the growing access to capital for social enterprise entrepreneurs.

Jeff Ward.


The quantity of socially conscious customers has risen by 170 per cent in the previous 20 years and the worldwide social finance market place is projected to attain $1 trillion by 2020, according to Generating an Effect: Ontario’s Social Enterprise Progress Report, a report by the province’s preceding Liberal government.

For Ward, the timing of his company concept was correct and the require was there. Ward incorporated Animikii, which suggests thunderbird in Ojibwe and is also his spiritual name, and started operating with non-earnings, Very first Nations and Métis communities on Indigenous-focused projects that in some way enhance their lives.

That concentrate continues to advance Animikii’s development across its service lines — software program improvement, web sites, graphic design and style and digital communications — turning the digital agency into a 1-quit shop to support persons get on the net.

“Many Indigenous entrepreneurs are currently operating a social enterprise. They just are not calling it that,” stated Ward, a Company in Vancouver 2019 40 beneath 40 Award winner and sought-just after speaker on social enterprise. “This nation was founded on company and social enterprise. The fur trade was an financial partnership exactly where Indigenous persons have been exporting goods internationally for the advantage of our persons and neighborhood.”

Animikii also funds a scholarship for Indigenous youth in technologies and entrepreneurship.

“That aspect of providing back for the advantage of neighborhood is ingrained in how quite a few Indigenous persons do company,” Ward stated. “That’s also correct of Very first Nations communities, which have an financial improvement concentrate. People and whole communities are operating social enterprises.”

Of course, it is not just Indigenous persons who are interested in social enterprises.

For instance, Umang Dua founded Mississauga, Ont.-primarily based TrySight Inc., which develops solutions and technologies for persons with low vision — defined as visual impairment that cannot be completely corrected with glasses, make contact with lenses, medication or eye surgery.

Dua launched TrySight in 2008 when he was 25 years old with the target of generating a social influence, obtaining been inspired by his grandmother, who was losing her sight from low vision. The software program engineer, who had worked as a consultant for IBM and turn out to be disillusioned with the corporate globe, decided to resolve her dilemma.

As a student at the Georgia Institute of Technologies in Atlanta, he had created a technologies to support persons living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, (also identified as Lou Gehrig’s illness), who are unable to move or speak, to communicate. He wanted to have that exact same influence in his operating life.

“I wanted to know that I was generating someone’s life far better in some way,” he stated.

Dua’s very first item was laptop or computer screen magnification software program that also study out emails, so everyone with low vision could access their laptop or computer. But it wasn’t till he attended a trade show in Florida in 2009 and landed a $500,000 order from the United Kingdom government that he knew the company could be a accomplishment.

I wanted to know that I was generating someone’s life far better in some way

TrySight founder Umang Dua

TrySight not too long ago received a $1-million grant from the federal government’s new Accessible Technologies Plan, which invests in hardware and software program options that support Canadians with disabilities overcome barriers, to create artificial intelligence-primarily based glasses that will inform customers what’s about them, and it has also benefited from tax credits from the Scientific Investigation and Experimental Improvement plan.

Currently, Dua has eight staff and a suite of 10 solutions and 4 technologies made use of by 800,000 persons in a lot more than 16 nations. His clientele are largely institutional — the Toronto District College Board is a important client — and TrySight has elevated revenues by 25 to 30 per cent boost every single year more than the previous 5 years.

Similarly, Animikii through the previous 4 years has grown to 11 complete-time employees, 5 contractors and is hiring for 3 open positions. In 2016, Animikii became the very first Indigenous firm in Canada and second in North America to turn out to be a B Corporation, certifying it as a firm whose whole social and environmental efficiency meets the highest requirements.

“Before that, it was, ‘Oh, you are carrying out a niche factor.’ Now I’m getting interest and validation from the mainstream social influence globe,” Ward stated.

Animikii this year received funding from Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, a new Indigenous-led venture fund that invests in Indigenous social enterprise.

“We’re establishing a new item focused about Indigenous information sovereignty that will permit persons to design and style information sets, handle their personal information access and possess their personal information,” Ward stated. “We’re constructing a tool that will bridge that digital divide and hopefully scale Indigenous technologies in a way in no way just before noticed.”

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