Monthly Archives

August 2015

Supporting Innovation in Materially Deprived Urban Environments

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Social Enterprise Networks was recently awarded Social Innovation seed funding from RADIUS and Embark. This post is cross-posted from their website.

Research at the Department of Urban Studies, Simon Fraser University shows a link between the centrality of individuals running a social enterprise and the material deprivation of the area that their social enterprise is in. Our findings seem to support the hypothesis that highly materially deprived urban areas host greater levels of communication strategy innovation among social enterprises by forcing social enterprise heads online to get information and resources from their social networks.

Social Enterprise Networks will support this radical innovation at a grass-roots level. It will provide tangible help in the form of software that is often costly, particularly for social enterprises starting out. Our services go a long way. They support social enterprises for a minimum of one year. The Financial Times writes that austerity promotes innovation. On one level all social enterprises are a response to cuts in public services. However, on another level, social enterprises in materially deprived areas exist under pre-existing conditions of austerity within their immediate community. And our research shows that this in and of itself promotes innovation. As the Financial Times article quotes, “the hard times are when the really good people start to shine,” or to put it more succinctly, are when the innovators come to out play, by necessity. This doesn’t justify the cuts. But it shows that initiatives like Social Enterprise Networks are essential in supporting welfare services get back on their feet through the medium of innovative social enterprises in materially deprived areas.

Our project will also support social enterprises that are not in areas of high material deprivation. This will allow us to compare and contrast social enterprises operating under different conditions, and to come to balanced conclusions. While the research already undertaken supports the idea that high material deprivation generates more online innovation, it would be interesting to see if this is the case on the ground, and to do that the project must support a variety of social enterprises. In the end, wherever the social enterprise operates, the goal is to benefit the community. Social Enterprise Networks is not only a tool for social enterprises. It is a tool for communities, and a resource that can help prepare them for the coming challenges of a post-capitalist world.

Technology Entrepreneurship Program Propels SFU Start-up Ecosystem

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Artemis Technologies was recently awarded Social Innovation seed funding from RADIUS and Embark. Written by Brandon Chapman.

Dr. Professor Lubik and Dr. Kevin Oldknow have been championing a program that pulls together business students with mechatronics students here at SFU.  Sponsored by Dr. Ken Spencer, the Technology Entrepreneurship program gives young entrepreneurs the skills and the resources to create a new technology venture.  Jessica Peare, Miguel Cruz and Ben Tuline, captains of SFU’s drone club – Team Guardian have partnered up with business students Clair Lam, Brandon Chapman and Joey Boulé to create Artemis Technologies.

Berry farmers in British Columbia can lose up to a third of their crops from a single disease and this is costing farmers millions of dollars in British Columbia.  Many of these losses are preventable, if the disease is detected early enough.  Now, we have Artemis.  Artemis uses drones and sensor analysis software to provide precision agriculture services for berry farmers in BC.  Traditional monitoring services (like manned roamers) are unreliable and expensive (like manned aircrafts) and all have slow reaction times resulting in lost crop yield and inefficient distribution of pesticides and irrigation.  We add value by providing a much more effective surveying solution at an affordable price.

So far we’ve secured funding through three sources:

  • Tech Entrepreneurship program
  • SFU’s Opportunity Fest where we won 1st place in the “Most Investable Category”
  • And most recently, we’re humbled to receive a grant from RADIUS’ social innovation program.

All of these funding opportunities wouldn’t be money well spent if it wasn’t for all the great mentorship and support we receive from the SFU community.  As new members of SFU Venture Connection, Artemis is now running a pilot this summer testing with a number of government agencies and private corporations.   For more information on the project please email Brandon at

Leading Social Enterprises Towards A New Era of Post-Capitalism

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Social Enterprise Networks was recently awarded Social Innovation seed funding from RADIUS and Embark. This post is cross-posted from their website.

Social Enterprise Networks is a cutting edge initiative at Simon Fraser University that empowers social enterprises who are taking social welfare into the next post-capitalist era. By providing social enterprises with access to the software they need to maintain online social networks, we safeguard the passing of information and resources between social enterprises, helping them grow and maintain their presence.

Paul Mason, writing for The Guardian, hails the beginning of a new era of what he calls ‘post-capitalism’. This is rooted in a lesser known theory spun out by Marx about information sharing, as Paul writes, “Marx imagined information coming to be stored and shared in something called a “general intellect” – which was the mind of everybody on Earth connected by social knowledge, in which every upgrade benefits everybody. In short, he had imagined something close to the information economy in which we live. And, he wrote, its existence would “blow capitalism sky high”. Paul further writes, “by creating millions of networked people, financially exploited but with the whole of human intelligence one thumb-swipe away, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being”. Social Enterprise Networks is part of this info-capitalist revolution. It seeks to empower the ‘educated and connected human being’ that sits at the helm of a social enterprise, one click away from a vast sea of human social networks. This is with the aim of supporting a business model, social enterprise, that subverts capitalism using a method, networked communication, that further subverts capitalism.

There’s little doubt that a profound and subversive revolution is underway. Social Enterprise Networks recognizes this and seeks to position itself as a leader in providing basic technological assistance for social enterprises looking to plug into the network. More than this, however, are our longer term aims that seek to position social enterprises at the very forefront of the revolution in machine learning and networked ‘things’. We already provide our social enterprises access to an app that allows them to take advantage of machine learning so that they can create better, more targeted Tweets.

As part of our strategy to grow with post-capitalism we will continue to use radical world-changing sources of funding, such as Radical Ideas, Useful to Society (RADIUS).

Team Guardian Competes at Unmanned Systems Canada 2015

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Blog by Kris Gjernes. Artemis Aerial Imaging has received support from Social Innovation seed funding available to SFU students from RADIUS in partnership with Sustainable SFU. Read more for details about our SI seed funding pilot program.

Team GUARDIAN participated in the 2015 Unmanned Systems Canada competition which was held in Alma, Quebec. This year’s scenario is based on a train wreck that resulted in an oil spill near agriculture fields and infrastructure. Our team is required to survey the area to locate and identify damaged objects, train containers, and debris piles. 13 university teams from across Canada competed this year, making this the largest USC competition to date!

Day 0: Thursday, April 30

After suffering through a long and sleepless night of flying from Vancouver to Montreal to Quebec City, followed by a drive to Alma, we finally arrived at the competition grounds early afternoon. We claimed a work station in the hangar of the Alma airport and unpacked our team equipment. After a well-deserved nap, we worked into the night to further prepare our system.

Day 1: Friday, May 1

Today the activities of the competition begin. After a brief welcome and guidelines of the competition, all the teams presented the overview of their team and system. The afternoon was spent doing test flights. Team GUARDIAN was the fourth team to test, and after witnessing crashes from each of the systems before us, we were nervous, but was unwarranted since our test went off without a hitch, performing well and executing a successful landing. Our success made us feel prepared for the next day’s evaluated flight for the competition.

Day 2: Saturday, May 2

Team GUARDIAN was scheduled to fly late morning for our first flight that counted towards the competition. The scenario is a train wreck that has resulted in an oil spill in the region. Our task is to locate affected agriculture and any objects in the region such as cars, debris piles, and buildings. We were given 45 minutes for surveillance, followed by an hour to write a report. From the moment the timer started, our flight crew efficiently put the system together and were up in the air in very little time. Our efficiency was unparalleled at the competition thanks to our very coordinated flight crew! The flight was executed flawlessly with plenty of time to survey the entire area and fly over a second time to get additional details. We were extremely pleased with our performance at the competition so far!

Day 3: Sunday, May 3

A second time to compete was given, but this time we were only allotted 30 minutes. From the time we were allowed to begin, it took us 2 minutes 50 seconds to get our plane in the air, half the time as our first flight of competition and significantly dated than any other team. We planned our flight differently, doing a flight at 200m to get a better overall map, and a lower pass at 80m to get better detail, such as the QR codes we were required to read. We were able to get better results this day and more effectively analyzed the images we received. Unfortunately our team did not place in the competition, but with our stable flight and efficiency, we feel that with focussing on our image system and processing, we could significantly improve our performance at next years competition. Team GUARDIAN is proud to have been mentioned by the judges as having the fastest airborne time from our flight today! We look forward to improving and testing our system this next year and competing again in 2016!

Convening your Personal Board of Directors: soliciting advice from the right people at the right time

By | Fellows, RADIUS Edu, RADIUS Ventures | No Comments

Finding a table to sit down at and ask the right questions to the right people about life, business or spirituality is not an easy feat these days, yet we should keep trying. It’s the only thing that keeps us going forward.

#RADIUSFellow Theunis Snyman is looking to bring folks to the table to help answer big questions.

Theunis Snyman is a RADIUS fellow and maker who classifies himself as a “dumpster diver designer” who is always looking for new opportunities to expand his curiosity of the way things work. He is the co-founder of BASIC DESIGN and #Vancouver Trash Lab. They upcycle everything they get their hands on and help teach SFU Business students how to do it. He just finished designing and building Vancouver’s first #Zerowaste coffee shop, Lupii Cafe in Champlain Heights with Dr Lisa Papania, SFU business professor and new Social Venturist.

Asking for help or advice does not come to me naturally. I grew up in a context where there was very little access to advice. I had to navigate through life using my own judgement and mental resources, sometimes learning lessons the hard way, and the learning came from introspective reflection. To ask is to trust and to trust is to know that the person that you’re asking advice from has your best interest at heart and is solid in their objectivity. Asking helps when you’re unsure about your direction, but also when you’re on the right path and just need adjustments to help  identify the opportunities for learning. This process helps build us up as “travellers” of this world.

The RADIUS fellowship, an SFU Beedie School of Business initiative, has transformed partly the way I think but mostly the way I do through a series of personal development strategies and tools. The RADIUS Fellowship is a room full of radical doers, determined to change the world with grassroots areas of Social Innovation. Being able to check in every Monday night session with these folks has been a real experience.


At the RADIUS Fellows opening retreat, February 2015.

In one of these sessions together, Jennifer McRae and Sue Biely introduced the Fellowship to the concept of the “Personal Board of Directors” tool to help keep us on track to the next destination. This is an abstract concept, using language from a very structured institution. It’s a leadership tool to help you make informed decisions based on experience from folks you chose to assemble when faced with a challenge.

What is a Personal Board of Directors?

We all come to a major crossroads in our life, challenged with making a critical, sometimes life-changing decision. The conceptual idea of the “Personal Board of Directors” is the idea that you can present a problem to trusted advisors and then ‘lean in’ and listen. The data you garner from this convention should come from a broad range of experience and hopefully there is enough substance for you to formulate a plan to implement a possible solution to your problem.

This is not an opportunity to surrender your responsibility to think critically. This PBoD only serves to be a part of your strategy to solve a problem you’re struggling with. They provide an experiential perspective and you have to merge their perspectives into your context, because only you can know your full context and have to be honest about it. The act of convening a Personal Board of Directors could mean that you or I am evolving to the next level of problem solving and critical thinking. It means that I stopped, thought about my challenge, added in some really good advice, and then acted. This adds depth to my thought process by allowing me to step back and think about what I should do next before I jump trains or whether I should switch tracks. The “Elders” system in aboriginal cultures have been doing this for millennia and I believe we have often forgotten the utility of this wisdom in becoming great leaders.

How does it work?

To clarify, this tool is not the corporate structural “board” that Michael J Fox and Melanie Griffith in eighties movies made famous, but more of a reference to the concept. It is not a bunch of folks in suits sitting in a boardroom deliberating  over  piecharts of annual profits. It is, simply put, a bunch of folks that you have chosen to assist you in “workshopping” with you navigate a problem you are facing right now. This problem is specific and temporary. This is probably a one shot deal. One problem, one board and hopefully good data to choose from to work toward a solution. The premise of the Personal Board of Directors represents the capability of an impromptu convention of trusted advisers who you know or know of, who might be willing to hear about a situation in your life or organisation and offer a perspective.

Lupii Cafe - Theunis & Jesi

Theunis with partner and Basic Design co-founder Jesi Carson in the newly opened Lupii Cafe, Vancouver’s first zero-waste cafe.

How you assemble your PBoD is really up to you and what technology and analog method you choose . A google group hangout or skype meeting is completely adequate in direct feedback. You can use a well-written email to prompt your chosen group, outlining your problem and a request for participation, and then follow up with a skype meeting, return email, or even a long table dinner discussion at a central convening point, if physically possible.

How do you choose your Personal Board of Directors?

Well, you can start with your most trusted advisor, a parent, a sibling or old philosophy teacher. These folks could be inside a circle of trust, but also people that you think might have a unique perspective in a the field of your challenge, so identifying them carefully is very important. They may even have a completely opposite worldview than you do which could give you a very well rounded perspective. These are also potentially people that know you well enough to know your blind spots and to redirect you when they think you’re going down the wrong track.

I began to think of ways I could compose my own “Personal Board of Directors” and the possible strategies I could use to find appropriate “sets” of board members. I say sets, because I think you can have more than one PBoD, depending on the nature of the problem, be it professional or personal. The idea of having more than one board with different sets of advisory groups really resonated with me because of the agility in which I am then able to present my challenge.

How do you manage this Board of Directors?.

Theunis will RADIUS Fellow Zoya Jiwa, a few minutes after they'd first met at the first RADIUS Fellows event.

Theunis will RADIUS Fellow Zoya Jiwa, a few minutes after they’d first met at the first RADIUS Fellows event.

Your PBoD may be a one-time spontaneous gathering with a group convened for a specific reason that may never meet again, or become a powerful, ongoing steering committee in your life. It’s limitless because it’s not a formal structure at all. The Board can be comprised of close friends or admired colleagues or both and this gathering would be informed by the particular challenge you are seeking advice on.

I think that the beginning, a PBoD can be a very fragile space as relationships and fostering them is a very delicate dance. We are all busy and when asked for time to dedicate to someone’s else’s challenges need to be carefully stewarded so that you can use this forum again in the future. We all want to feel we’ve been useful and so do our mentors and coaches in life–if we abuse that privilege prematurely we might lose the future value of it. So be considerate in the ask.

Once your adjourn the meeting it would be your choice or responsibility to reflect back to your PBoD on the outcome of your implementation of advice garnered if it’s measurable. This of course is another opportunity for your Board to give feedback and advice to the outcome, which then becomes really valuable to you: you are entering into the prototyping realm with your advisers and only good can come from that! Testing and failing and trying again becomes so much easier at this point when you have this level of commitment from your board as they want to see you succeed as well.

Why would you want to be on someone’s “Personal Board of Directors” and how does it become a place where symbiosis occurs?

Deep in conversation during Vancouver Trash Lab

Deep in conversation during Vancouver Trash Lab.

Advisers see potential in outcome when they become part of that equation. Their interest in this relationship could be multilateral and an analogy might be of that of a child-parent relationship. We grow, we get advice from our parents, we take it or we don’t, we flourish or we do not. They’re proud, they are not. We give back, we do not. They receive, or they do not .As simple as that. They get what they put into it. It’s an educated gamble on what the outcome might be. Sometimes the outcome cannot be measured until much later, and this is where the impact of well implemented advice become apparent. When you can recognize the long game outcome. The benefit to my board could be as simple as finding value in others’ feedback to me or even collaboration and new networks they may not have had access to before. It’s all about the human connection and how far we go to find our perfect group of trusted advisors, friends and colleagues.

How do you “Spread the love” of the Personal Board of Directors?

Deep in thought at the Fellows retreat, with Jeff McGregor and Irina Molohovsky.

Deep in thought at the Fellows retreat, with Jeff McGregor and Irina Molohovsky.

“How do you capture the wisdom and value of this convening?” I think this question is an important opportunity for reflection while engaging in this process. Knowledge and wisdom is ultimately power and should be distributed evenly so we all can benefit from it. When I engaged my first PBoD, they helped me formulate this blog post from feedback across a variety of experience bases. It’s a small exercise on collaboration and mentor engagement. If I am diligent in collecting the data and documenting the implementation of my advice, creating an open forum might be a next step where these challenges can be viewed by others and how the outcomes affected the convener. This would be a next layer of this process and could be another platform of experiential learning. Learning from other’s challenges can be the most painless way to learn valuable lessons. What we do with these nuggets, of course is ultimately up to us. Engage thoughtfully and ask carefully.