Green Living: Groundswell Community Marketplace gives socially responsible startups a showcase

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      Since 2013, alternative business school Groundswell (566 Powell Street) has provided over 100 budding entrepreneurs the means, savvy, and mentorship needed to help get their socially and environmentally minded businesses off the ground.

      You may be familiar with a few of the resulting startups: there’s the Wood Shop Workers Co-op, for example, which upcycles discarded lumber into polished furnishings and décor objects; Rebel Soup, which transforms “ugly produce” into nutrient-rich soups and stews; and Amacata, which conducts DIY natural-dyeing workshops that forward the slow-fashion movement.

      And while many of Groundswell’s alumni have seen success since graduating from the school’s six-month social-venture course, they, too, face the same obstacles related to acquiring real estate, exposure, and investments that the majority of new businesses experience. For these reasons, the Downtown Eastside institution recently launched the Groundswell Community Marketplace, a weekly pop-up market on Granville Island that offers a platform for Groundswell’s grads to build their networks while showcasing their products, expertise, and services to the public.

      “We have a pretty close community of alumni,” Paola Qualizza, Groundswell’s managing director, tells the Straight by phone. “And we were looking for ways that our school…could help them pass the very early stages of their business development.”

      Featuring a mix of nonprofit and for-profit organizations, the market functions as a “collaborative economy”, where participants barter supplies and skills to support one another’s ventures. One entrepreneur may offer graphic-design know-how in exchange for storage space, for example, while others may trade strengths in web development for textiles or sewing tools. “It’s a network of people who are helping one another achieve things that they couldn’t achieve alone,” explains Qualizza.

      Among the pop-up’s 20-plus venders are Farewick, which partners with local farmers, butchers, and bakers to get high-quality, sustainably produced foods into the hands of city dwellers; MatterForms, which upcycles abandoned materials like metal and string into art and functional home items; and the aforementioned Wood Shop and Amacata. Visitors to the market, which takes place at Granville Island’s Triangle Square, will be able to interact with the founders of participating startups while learning more about their values and causes.

      Other socially and environmentally responsible businesses, such as eco-conscious clothing line Mixtli Apparel and organic-tea company Trinity’s Tea, will also be present. Some of the businesses will be offering fashion, home, and food items such as naturally dyed silk scarves, handcrafted wood cutting boards, and English breakfast sandwiches, but many are simply interested in sharing the fruits of their labour. “Some people are just there to get exposure and spread the word,” says Qualizza. “They’re not even necessarily selling products at the market.”

      The result is a cooperative, people-first model that has great benefits for both entrepreneurs and the community. “It’s a really warm environment,” says Qualizza. “Our venders are here to test their concepts and share their passions first and foremost, rather than sell.”

      A number of free and paid workshops, such as kombucha-making and woodworking sessions, will also be offered at the market. (See the Groundswell website for details.) Qualizza sees the event becoming an annual tradition at Granville Island. She says the business school also has plans to host one-off pop-ups at various locations around town during the fall and winter.

      As the market becomes an integral part of Groundswell’s social-venture program, Qualizza hopes that it will help connect established and up-and-coming businesses that are rooted in community. “We wanted this market to be created with and for the people who are using it,” she says.

      Follow Lucy Lau on Twitter @lucylau.