By Brandon Gillet
Enactus uOttawa, a campus entrepreneurship organization, has taken top spot at a national entrepreneurship competition and will represent student entrepreneurs across Canada at the Enactus World Cup competition in Johannesburg, South Africa this October.
The uOttawa group was created just over four years ago, and only two years later it nearly folded. Outgoing president Kathleen Kemp joined Enactus uOttawa in her first year of university, just eight months after it was formed. When she assumed the presidency in her third year, the organization, which takes entrepreneurial action to improve lives and promote sustainability, had only five members.
“We took 20 people to nationals, where we didn’t place in anything,” said Kemp. “We basically just watched and hung around for four days.”
From that point, Kemp saw it as a “make or break” situation, putting in 60 hours a week along with then co-president Ajmal Sataar.
“We had by the end of that year (to improve),” said Kemp. “If we weren’t able to grow Enactus on campus, then we were going to have to shut down the (group) because it just wasn’t working here.”
Rallying support from members and group executives, Enactus uOttawa’s work has clearly paid off with its win at the national competition. It beat two of the dominant competitors over the past eight years.
“We went from five to 85 members, seeing 140 people go through the door in terms of membership in two years,” said Kemp. “It’s like night and day in terms of where we were.”
Here’s a look at some of the innovative projects that have put Enactus uOttawa on the map.
Its main project, CigBins, is a cigarette butt collection and recycling service which, with the help of Causeway Work Centre, employs individuals with mental illnesses. The service sets up disposal units on various properties across Ottawa, which property management companies usually pay for.
“So we install the unit and typically once a week we go and empty out the bin and clean the surrounding area,” said Kemp.
Another project, Eco-Equitable, is a fashion boutique in Vanier which hires “under-employed” women and diverts textile waste. The clothing is made at the boutique itself from re-purposed fabrics.
Teengage is Enactus’ entrepreneur training program. It provides workshops and competitions for young people, mostly in high schools. The program has existed in Ottawa for four years, operating in both French and English. Now it will be available in the North as well.
“This year we decided to expand the program and took it to Iqaluit,” said Kemp. “The programming will be for the Nunavut Arctic College as well as most high schools across the territory.”
Though Enactus is focused on tackling needs within Canada, the success of these programs is allowing it to look at opportunities worldwide. Enactus builds its business models here in Ottawa and then tests them in other locations. For example, Eco-Equitable has empowered over 50 women here, so it is expanding with a boutique in Iqaluit. Similarly, Teengage has been successful in Ottawa, and even more so in Iqaluit, so Enactus is now taking it worldwide.
“CigBins is growing in Ottawa and we just finished a small pilot in Toronto,” Kemp said. “We’re hoping to expand to Toronto and Montreal in the next six months and worldwide within a year or two.”
For now, the world competition in October looms on the horizon for the group that went from the bottom to the top in Canada’s entrepreneurship efforts.
“The fact that we get to go and represent the whole country is amazing,” says Enactus member Wendy Liang. “We are all very honoured, and it’s not just representing Enactus uOttawa — we’re really representing the success of Enactus Canada.”