Groundswell's alternative business vision emphasizes people over profit

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      As a school for social entrepreneurship, Groundswell doesn’t subscribe to the idea that it’s business as usual.

      It follows an alternative way of conducting commerce, one that emphasizes collaboration over competition, and people over profit.

      Located in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Groundswell is training grassroots entrepreneurs who believe that there’s a better world to be had. That world can only be a “happier place”, according to cofounder Jim Barker.

      “It’s a place where more people can win. The current system means you do have winners and losers. But there’s very few winners, and lots of losers,” Barker said.

      At its handsome brick-and-mortar location on Powell Street, which functions as a café, classroom, coworking space, and event venue, Barker and Gilad Babchuk talked with the Straight about the alternative business school they founded in 2013.

      “If you want to buy cheap T-shirts from somewhere and bring it to Vancouver and make a business from that, we’re not the right place for you,” Babchuk said.

      According to Babchuk, Groundswell is about helping build a business that not only turns a profit but also contributes to the well-being of the larger community and the planet.

      He cites one venture that is launching this fall from Groundswell’s kitchen. It’s called Rebel Soup, a project by alumna Amanda Slater to cut down on food waste. Slater will buy bruised produce from local farmers that is difficult to sell and turn it into soup.

      Babchuk also pointed to the wood fixtures at Groundswell, which were produced by the Wood Shop, a co-op that was born from the school. It uses wood discarded from construction and demolition sites to make furnishings.

      Another example is the B.C. Centre for New Farms by school alumni Rob Spring and his wife Stacey. With a fertile land of more than 121 hectares in the Nicola Valley, they will be supporting new farmers grow their own independent agricultural businesses starting next year.

      “The school is different because it’s more garage than a classroom,” Babchuk said. “So you have your dream, and your dream can be whatever you want to establish. And what we’re doing is we’re building that with you.”