Vancouver's inner city gets creative with economic development

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Midway through BOB's mandate The Harper Government defeated Paul Martin's Liberals (then under the leadership of Stephan Dion) and, well...priorities shifted. This is not to say that our current federal government has entirely turned its back on cities, WD was gracious enough to let some funding remain in the DTES in the form of a loan fund that BOB had been overseeing.  But if one scans the media for talking points on economic development it seems both Provinces like BC and the Federal Government are more apt to talk about natural gas or exporting petroleum resources from Alberta and building pipelines to the U.S. and China than they are the human capital of cities, the knowledge economy, social innovation or creation of low barrier urban jobs. I don't disagree with their right to make policies or strategies or show leadership in this regard, though I disagree with this near infatuation with pipelines, fracking and other extractive exercises.  

This is not a sad story though. This is a story about community organizations finding creative ways to adjust and continue bringing impact under changing circumstances. 

With government priorities shifting towards this new focus BOB and other CED organizations in Vancouver's inner city have learned how to became increasingly entrepreneurial, collaborative, and creative in the way they go about fulfilling their mandates. One particularly strong example is captured in a recent collaboration between BOB and EMBERS (Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society) that combines access to finance and a network of advisory support/mentorship to help businesses that are growth ready but find themselves in a gap - too old for startup or seed funding, but not big enough for traditional lenders or investors. 

The concept is called the V Prize and in its pilot year Olla Urban Flower Project, featured here for Buy Local Week, is its first winner.

Recently showcased in BC Business Magazine V Prize began out of a desire to approach business development, in the interest of social impact employment, in a nimble and networked way. The concept didn't want to compete with other local organizations or lenders or duplicate an existing service or program. Instead it wanted to find gaps, create links, and leverage what others were doing through collaboration by bringing the one resource it retained in the wake of losing its core funding. That loan fund previously mentioned.

This is also at the core of tensions between some activists who see it fit to target small businesses as icons of gentrification and local CED organizations who are focusing on creating social capital and leveraging new SMEs for social impact. Some in the area see new businesses as something to leverage, some see it as something to oppose. 

According to Mark Shieh, co-chair of BOB, V Prize is about helping existing businesses scale up their ventures and amplify their social impact. "We work alongside social entrepreneurs who are committed to hiring DTES residents with barriers to employment. We invest both financial capital and technical expertise. We hope to grow a network of entrepreneurs and advisors year after year to create meaningful employment in our community."

So we now know how the old BOB ended....how did this new BOB begin?

After scanning the social finance ecosystem BOB recognized an opportunity to partner with EMBERS, who had also been formed several years ago, as it had recently created a social enterprise and small business accelerator called the Grow A Business program, or GAB. 

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