Incubating world-class student social entrepreneurs

Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A man on a phone works on his computer, alongside three other students.
Corey Ellis, president of Enactus uOttawa, works on a project alongside other members of the non-profit group. Photo: Dave Weatherall
By Dave Weatherall

There’s an audible buzz emanating from a room tucked away in the Morisset Media Library, as about 20 students are hard at work with a looming deadline of “70 days” scribbled on the room’s whiteboard.

“That’s the number of days until the Legacy conference, a national student entrepreneurship conference we’re organizing at the Shaw Centre,” says third-year management student Corey Ellis, in between answering phone calls, navigating densely packed Google calendars and exchanging advice with his peers. “It’s just one of the projects our 120 members are working on this semester."

Ellis is the president of Enactus uOttawa, the non-profit group that encourages students to apply entrepreneurial principles to make the world a better place. His excitement about the club’s various projects is palpable – particularly the work he and his fellow social entrepreneurs have been doing with the data amassed by FSS professor and researcher Elizabeth Kristjansson as part of her Ottawa Neighbourhood Study.

“From the data, we identified 39 [of 103] neighbourhoods in Ottawa that didn’t have ready access to fresh produce, which is key to maintaining good health,” says Ellis. “So we set about finding a solution to a social issue using entrepreneurial principles.”

The solution, set to launch this spring, is a custom shelving unit stocked with fresh produce. The innovation: packaging the fruit or vegetables along with dry ingredients and a recipe that incorporates the produce.

“We’ve done an immense amount of research to find out the challenges low-income families face when it comes to including fresh produce in their diets,” says Ellis. “We found it isn’t just about access. There’s also a need to share how to cook it.”

“Our group is assuming all of the financial risks for the produce on the shelves, so we need to ensure our product is properly marketed to our customers.”

The group placed first at the Enactus Canada National Exposition last year for projects like CigBins and 16th out of 1,800 teams at the subsequent world competition in Johannesburg.

Clearly, Ellis and his fellow members have the structure, the interest and the faculty support they need to succeed. All they lacked was a permanent space for Enactus members to meet regularly.

“The way students use library spaces is evolving, and we need to evolve with it,” says science and engineering research liaison Melissa Cheung. She put Ellis in touch with the head of the Media Library, Jasmine Bouchard, who arranged for the group to have exclusive use of MRT153 every Wednesday.

“Having this space allows for greater cross-pollination of ideas, both between groups working on the same project and on different projects,” says Ellis. “We have excellent online collaboration tools, but there’s something about meeting in person that accelerates our efforts.”

Visit Enactus uOttawa to learn more.

Morisset Library is also home to Difference Makers, which offers University of Ottawa students the opportunity to identify and act upon their vision for creating positive change. Visit Difference Makers for information on how you can get involved.

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