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Social Ventures Zone marks its 10th anniversary at TMU

By Wyatt Gilliland

Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) Social Ventures Zone (SVZ) marked its 10th anniversary at the Sheldon and Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre (SLC) on March 19.

According to its website, the SVZ is an incubator focused on funding and supporting business ventures looking to address social challenges. The organization was founded in 2014 by TMU’s Faculty of Arts.

It is a part of the school’s Zone Learning—a group of school-founded organizations seeking to promote entrepreneurship within specific disciplines.

To celebrate the anniversary, a symposium complete with speeches by the SVZ’s leaders and key stakeholders was held in the Sandbox room at the SLC.

In SVZ co-founder and president Alex Gill’s opening speech to attendees, he reflected on his top highlights from the past ten years. 

“There’s never a better, more magical moment than when you’re beside an entrepreneur and the lights start to come on for them and a little piece of the business model falls into place,” said Gill. “When the funding comes through and where you get a path in front of you where you’re like, ‘Hey, this could work.’”

Following his speech, SVZ’s operations coordinator Sarah Brigel shed some light on upcoming ventures. One new opportunity included launching workshops designed to engage non-SVZ members interested in social entrepreneurship that will commence in May.

While the organization has proven its legitimacy by reaching the 10-year mark, it did not always attract supportive voices.

“In the start, people said ‘I don’t know if this will work,’” said Gill. “We didn’t have a physical space for the first two and a half years…and now, we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary.”

Melanie Côté is the founder of Do Good Donuts, a Toronto-based bakeshop that provides employment and work opportunities to youth facing intellectual disabilities. Her startup got support from the SVZ beginning in the spring of 2021.

Before connecting with the SVZ, Côté tried going the mainstream route for funding through traditional investor spaces in March 2020 but was unable to secure funding. That prompted her to seek an alternate route. 

“It was that spring that applications opened for community social enterprises to join the SVZ,” said Côté. “We did an interview and were accepted into the program.”

That was the turning point for Do Good Donuts.

“Within the tight constructs of a social enterprise, there’s not a lot of money, not a lot of funding…without the kind of support from the SVZ, we never would have gotten to where we are now,” said Côté. “I would have quit a long time ago.”


Also in attendance was the Mayor of Toronto, Olivia Chow. The City of Toronto supports the SVZ through financial grants. 

In an interview with The Eye, Chow said ventures like the SVZ can help develop resources for underserved populations, including people with disabilities struggling with the cost of living. 

“If I’m that person struggling to make ends meet, how do I work with other people to organize for change so that the government recognizes it cannot continue to provide disabled people with inadequate subsidies?” said Chow. “If an entrepreneur could create an app, or a game, that connects these folks, and teaches them how and where to push for systemic changes, that would be fantastic.”

Brigel also wants to see another community supplied with more social ventures. 

“We don’t have enough Indigenous entrepreneurs. The capacity to create change is spread evenly among people, but we just don’t see enough representation from that community,” said Brigel.

In Chow’s concluding remarks at the event, she shared what she’s most grateful for with the SVZ. 

“Your commitment to social purpose, and to strengthening our city’s social fabric, is inspiring. Thank you for helping build the more safe, caring, and affordable city that we all deserve.”

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