VERGE Capital Celebrates Social Finance Breakthrough


“There is a market in the intersection between money and meaning.” – Kevin Doyle

The first ever Social Enterprise Loan recipients were unveiled at VERGE Capital’s Launch event in London Ontario on January 19, 2016.

Over 100 change-makers came together to highlight two incredible social enterprises: ATN Access Old East Village Grocer & For the Love of Laundry. This event celebrated our growing social finance community and VERGE’s impact investments into social enterprises on the verge of a breakthrough.

It also featured a surprise appearance from the Mayor, a buzzing social enterprise marketplace, and to top it all off…an impromptu limbo dance! The event was held at Western Fair Farmers’ Artisans’ Market and was an ideal opportunity to recognize VERGE’s partners, funders, investees, advisors, impact investors, and get coverage by the media to create public awareness.

VERGE was founded by a collective of leading organizations in London Ontario focused on local investment for local impact: Pillar Nonprofit Network,London Community Foundation, United Way London & Middlesex and Sister’s of St Joseph.

Partners & Founds of VERGE Capital
Partners and Funders of oursocial finance collective: Michelle Baldwin & Lore Wainwright (Pillar) Lori Runciman (London Community Foundation), Sara Middleton (United Way), Jason Dearing (Libro Credit Union), Michelle Arnold (Ontario’s Social Enterprise Branch)

Work truly began with funding from the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development through the Social Enterprise Branch.

“I’m pleased to see VERGE Capital helping to build up local businesses and organizations that are making a positive difference in their communities. The growth of the global social finance market is expected to reach $1 Trillion by 2020, and our government is committed to helping London lead efforts to build this market in southwestern Ontario” -Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure.

In order to get funding from the government, local intermediaries had to provide matching funds, and thanks to the contribution of the Ursuline Sisters of Chatham, we had the seed capital to launch our Social Enterprise Loan Fund.

In order to provide access to capital for early stage and high potential social enterprises, we needed a partner that could administer the loans, and Libro Credit Union went above and beyond to make sure this happened. Not only do they administer the loans, but they also provide additional capital to the loan fund, which provides a direct investment in our local community.

The social enterprise ecosystem has been developing at a rapid pace thanks to the leadership of Pillar Nonprofit Network and their Social Enterprise Program. Pillar’s Social Enterprise Manager provides coaching, connections, and technical assistance to build a pipeline of investor ready social enterprises.

The first three social enterprises that VERGE helped access capital represent a great cross-section of types of social enterprises, those on the verge of a breakthrough. We have a charity, ATN Access, with the mission to provide training and employment to persons with disabilities. Their social enterprise, The Old East Village Grocer, does just that; it also provides a great place to buy fresh produce in one of London’s food deserts. At the event, there was tremendous support fromATN’s staff, board, funders, and investors, which culminated in the introduction of their new Grocery Manager!

On the for-profit side, we have two very different social purpose businesses. For the Love of Laundry is owned and operated by Melissa Power, a dedicated social entrepreneur to her vision of clean clothes for everyone. AndTextbooks for Change, led by two business graduates, provides educational supplies to underserved communities and is a certified B Corporation.

None of this effort would be possible if not for the great leadership of our volunteers and advisors. Lina Bowden, London’s premier social finance consultant, has brought onboard professionals from a variety of sectors to support the development of VERGE; this is complemented by a great Loan Review Panel, which brings together experts from the community to help make impact investing decisions.

The culture of investing is changing thanks to the desire to invest locally and for impact. The Innovation Works Community Bond provided the first opportunity for any Londoner to become an impact investor, and has been a success having raised 95% of its $1 million goal. VERGE led the design of the Bond with a group of Community Bond experts like TREC. At the event, Terry Zavitz, a successful business women and Community Bond investor shared our excitement to be able to drive by and look at Innovation Works and say “I’m invested in that!”

No event would be complete without great food, activities, performances, and not to mention a surprise visit from our Mayor! We had our audience posing in their B-boy and B-girl stance thanks to Ill at Will, and playing a variety of instruments orchestrated by the London Samba Troupe. We still can’t believe the night broke out into a Limbo dance –who says investing can’t be fun? I guess that’s why they call it social finance! Fireroasted Coffee and Momo’s at the Market kept everyone fueled for the night by providing a great selection of food and beverages for our guests.

Lastly, one of the main reasons for the event was to highlight the new wave of local impact investing happening in Southwestern Ontario to the general public. Thanks to great media outlets, we are beginning to get the word out. Thanks to The Londoner, AM980, Newswriter22, and The London Free Press, the story is being told and we can’t wait to celebrate more as we build our local social finance market. Check out the coverage below:

London Free Press — OEV Grocer and Loan Fund

The Londoner — Social Finance in London Moving Forward

Newswriter22 — VERGE Capital Launch and Loan Recipients

AM980 — VERGE Capital Announcement

Now that we’ve lifted off, it’s time for us to get back to work and keep the wave of social finance going. We’re continuing with the focus and mission of making a positive impact on both the market and the community –and the staff at here VERGE could not be more excited about it.

For more information and to contact us, visit

Reproduced from Verge Capital’s Jan 25 blog post

For our SEOntario Story on Textbooks for Change Click Here


Ontario Government Social Enterprise Stakeholder Survey

Building on the many successes of the Province’s first Social Enterprise Strategy, the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure (MEDEI) is in the process of developing a new social enterprise strategy to guide provincial social enterprise and social finance policy for the future.
The Social Enterprise Branch within MEDEI is holding consultations to support the strategy development process. If you attended a regional consultation, we are grateful to you for having taken the time to share your thoughts and feedback with us. If you were unable to join us for the regional consultation in your community, we appreciate you taking the time to provide your thoughts through this survey.

Note: In order to limit survey fatigue, questions posed during the regional consultations have been abridged.


If you would like to provide additional feedback on the Strategy, emerging strategic priorities and/or provide feedback on your consultation experience, you may do so through this online survey. Feel free to pass the link along to colleagues who weren’t able to join in person.

The survey will remain active until January 4, 2015.

Click Here to Participate in the Survey

Social Enterprises in Ontario: Opportunities abound

Social Enterprises in Ontario: Opportunities abound

Ontario’s social enterprise sector is dynamic and growing rapidly, as described in Enterprising Change: Report of the 2015 Social Enterprise Survey for Ontario.

597 social enterprises (SEs), both non-profit and for-profit, reported to a team of researchers creating significant economic and social impact across a diverse range of industries. The report finds a great deal of momentum, but also highlights challenges that are worth considering.

Creating jobs, contributing to the Ontario’s economy

Social enterprises in Ontario employed at least 12,000 people in 2014, more than half of which were full-time equivalents. They earned over $380 million dollars of revenue through the sale of goods and services alone.

These are just cold, hard, numbers. But they don’t even begin to capture the vibrancy of what these sales lead to, the importance of what this work means to so many people. The overwhelming majority of SE work in, and draw from, the local community. They engage with tens of thousands of volunteers and provide training and employment to people from marginalized backgrounds. Half of them have a focus on poverty. These organizations are doing work that matters.

Uncertainty amidst opportunity

Despite the increasing success of SEs across the province, challenges persist that need greater attention.

Access to capital remains a significant barrier to development, although the growth of the social finance ecosystem has clearly made a difference. Only a quarter of non-profit SEs receive loans (although this number has gone up by 150% since 2012, indicating greater risk tolerance from both SEs and impact investors). For-profit SEs are more able to use loans, with 68% of them reporting loans in 2014. Even more promisingly, most of these loans came from banks, credit unions and corporations, not private investors. This indicates greater institutional investment flowing into social enterprises.

Brand recognition and awareness is another area of concern – one that 40% of nonprofit SEs and 65% of for-profit SEs battle with. A common perception is that social enterprises have inferior products, but organizations lack the marketing muscle to change the image. The lack of a common understanding around social enterprise also poses challenges when it comes to recruiting skilled staff and accessing funding.

Finally, many SEs feel like they lack the human and technological resources with which to make things happen. When it comes to human resources, the challenge is not just finding high-quality workers but also finding funding to pay salaries and succession planning. As technology requirements change, SEs are increasingly concerned about having up-to-date infrastructure and information technology. Many SEs have highlighted the need for more capacity building resources, such as online manuals and in person workshops.

Join us this Thursday at the Social Finance Forum at MaRS Discovery District as we discuss these challenges. In an interactive session led by and for social enterprises, we’ll develop recommendations for enabling growth. We look forward to your insights!

This session is being organized by Social Enterprise Toronto and the Canadian CED Network.

The Earning Capacity Project – deadline extended.

The Earning Capacity Project will engage up to 30 community service organizations across Ontario to develop their social enterprise capacity. Successful applicants will have a committed team, marketable administrative capacity in areas including IT, HR, marketing, space, and finance, and will be ready for (or already involved in) earned revenue activities related to these service areas. A Project Advisory Committee (PAC), and social enterprise and evaluation consultants will contribute their knowledge and expertise in small business and nonprofit social enterprise development, and help in documenting results.

  • Is your nonprofit interested in generating funds that aren’t designated to a particular project?
  • Does your organization have administrative capacity that could be turned into earned income?
  • Are you already earning revenue and want to grow your capacity and find new markets?
  • Is your organization committed to exploring or further developing earned revenue strategies?
  • Are you interested in revenue development supports including training institutes in the Sudbury, Ottawa, Kitchener, or Markham/GTA area, and follow-up coaching?

If this sounds interesting to you and your organization, please sign up for one of the introductory webinars: Aug 11, and Aug 18. The application deadline has been extended to September 11th.

For more information about the earning capacity project, please visit their website.

Social Learning for Social Impact

Social Learning for Social Impact is a massive open online course (MOOC) with ambitious goals:

To inspire the creation and/or scaling of social initiatives that change the world (e.g. Grameen Bank, Doctors without Borders, Green Belt Movement, Khan Academy, etc.) by leveraging the social learning potential of MOOCs; and in so doing, drive radical renewal in society beyond left, right and center.

Social Learning for Social Impact is inclusive and intended for people at different levels of social engagement:

  • Already working within the social sector on a social initiative (formally or informally).
  • Thinking about contributing to a social initiative in collaboration with other like-minded individuals.
  • Concerned about where the world is headed and contemplating ways of responding.

Social Learning for Social Impact will consist of 7 sessions, each two weeks apart as follows: (more…)

re: Purpose now has an online storefront


re: Purpose is a unique storefront boutique located at Operation Come Home. The boutique products have an emphasis on recycled materials and young artisan creations. The boutique sells products from social enterprises, artisans and youth products that are made by at risk and homeless youth at OCH. The boutique stocks products that are unique, high quality and many are re: purposed. Products that are sold in the boutique provide jobs for at risk and homeless youth and give local enterprises and artisans an opportunity to sell their products. A portion of the product sales are re-directed back into re: Purpose to sustain the enterprise.


Recently re: Purpose has created an online store front, allowing even those outside of Ottawa to purchase socially conscious wares.  Their current offerings include: necklaces & pendants earrings; bracelets; rings & brooches; hats & accessories; purses & yoga mats; vases & decor; candles; handmade toys; and artwork.

Much of their jewelry is created through the BeadWorks program. BeadWorks offers street-involved and at-risk youth a safe and creative space to design, craft, and sell one of a kind jewellery. The jewellery is sold at their re: Purpose storefront at 150 Gloucester St. and at their online storefront. BeadWorks uses jewelry and art as a means to offer youth a supportive space, a creative outlet, a healthy meal, social opportunities, business skills and is often used as a stepping stone for youth to access other supports and services.

BeadWorks isn’t the only artisan whose goods you can find at re: Purpose’s digital storefront is home to over 20 artisans, including: A Touch of Glass, Amber Golden, Bejewelled, Doozy Candles, Eastcoaster, Eco Equitable, HTD Design, Jane Weiserman, Kozimo, Lindsey Weatherhead, Maama Watali, Magic Needles, Mystic Makings, Odd.Kat, TableWorks, Tender Thorn, The Laughing Crow, and Umuko Project.

If you’re looking for a beautiful gift that’s also socially conscious, don’t miss out on Buy local, and buy social.

Learn more about Operation Come Home by reading their Social Enterprise Story.

Nonprofit Driven Early Bird Pricing Ends July 31st

Conference 2015 – October 20 – 21

“Nonprofit Driven” for the only province-wide event for all nonprofits and charities in Ontario. Over 450 leaders like you will be coming in from across the province to connect, find out the latest public policy work for the nonprofit sector, join in discussions and network. Join us and drive positive change in Ontario communities!

Organized around three streams- Horizons, Strategies, and Tactics– sessions will cover big picture thinking, new report releases, discussions on sector strategies, and skills-building tools and resources to put into practice. Get inspired by keynote speaker Rick Cohen from Nonprofit Quarterly, the U.S.’s premier journal of nonprofit policy and practice.

Early bird pricing ends July 31:  #onn2015

The Conference will also feature the session: 1,076,395 km2: An Ecosystem Approach to Rural Social Enterprise Development.  Find out what ONN has learned over the past 4 years working with partners to test approaches for enabling social enterprise across Ontario- including policy recommendations based on work with over 200 rural nonprofits, regional partners and in-depth case studies. Consider the nuances of rural perspectives on nonprofit earned income, and the implications for provincial policy and program work in the next few years. Nonprofits and governments alike have roles to play in enabling this ecosystem.

More about the two day event:

Oct. 20 Pre-Conference: “Building Foundations” will provide the big picture of ONN’s current policy and advocacy work and give you a chance to actively engage in the fundamental skills and concepts on which ONN is built: policy, leadership and action. This is a chance for newcomers to learn more about ONN’s work, and for leaders already working with ONN to get updates on what’s happening across the network, beyond their area of focus. This will be a more intimate gathering, so spots are limited.

Oct. 21 Conference: “Seizing Opportunities” will focus the nonprofit sector’s collective energy on the province-wide topics that are affecting nonprofit work right now – and we’ll look at what’s on the horizon. What’s happening in communities, in government and in the labour market that’s affecting Ontario nonprofits and charities? We’ll open up conversations on current tactics and strategies to strengthen the sector and advance policy efforts to help nonprofits get their work done.

2015 Social Enterprise Survey for Ontario – Just 2 weeks left!

The Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet) is conducting an important survey to create an extended comprehensive, province-wide survey of nonprofit and for-profit social enterprises.

If you run a social enterprise and have not been contacted yet please visit the CCEDNet’s website to learn more about the 2015 Social Enterprise Survey for Ontario. This initiative builds on the results of the previous 2012 Social Enterprise Survey for Ontario , the first profile of the nonprofit social enterprise sector in the province, and will expand to include the for-profit social purpose business for a comparative analysis.

Click here for more information and for the link to the For-Profit survey being conducted through the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing (MCII)

L’Astrolabe unleashed: Francophone Social Enterprise Competition

L’Astrolabe unleashed is a competition that aims to recognize and showcase Ontario’s Francophone communities projects.

The competition aims to enable local and regional Francophone organizations in Ontario to present a community economic development project to accomplish in the year and for which they can obtain financial support.


The winning agency L’Astrolabe unleashed designated by the jury receives:

• $ 10,000

  • Provincial Media Coverage
  • Promotion on the website and social media The Assembly – duration 1 year
  • Join Free of two (2) years from the Assembly
  • Unlimited access to the information center for financial resources (ICFR)
  • Access to the VIP lounge at the Great Gathering of the Assembly in Toronto
  • One (1) pair of VIP tickets to the 400th Grand Closing Show in Toronto
  • DVD souvenir of the evening unleashed L’Astrolabe
  • Recognition in the promotional material of the Assembly

The organization “public favorite” L’Astrolabe unleashed receives:

• $ 5,000

  • Provincial Media Coverage
  • Promotion on the website and social media The Assembly – duration 6 months
  • Join Free one (1) year from the Assembly
  • Unlimited access to the information center for financial resources (ICFR)
  • Access to the VIP lounge at the Great Gathering of the Assembly in Toronto
  • One (1) pair of VIP tickets to the 400th Grand Closing Show in Toronto
  • DVD souvenir of the evening unleashed L’Astrolabe
  • Recognition in the promotional material of the Assembly

Finalists agencies L’Astrolabe unleashed receive:
• Access to the VIP lounge at the Great Gathering of the Assembly in Toronto
• One (1) pair of VIP tickets to the 400th Grand Closing Show in Toronto
• DVD souvenir of the evening unleashed L’Astrolabe
• Recognition in the promotional material of the Assembly

Competition procedure

Each applicant organization must submit an application file containing the presentation of the project in the form of a video of two (2) minutes.
Of the applications received, 10 projects will be selected to participate in the final.

Each finalist will be three (3) minutes to make a live presentation of the shortlisted project and to answer questions from the jury.

Important dates to remember

Competition Launched – Thursday, June 4, 2015
Submission deadline – Tuesday, September 15, 2015, at 16 am
Finalists – Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Finale at the Westin Harbour Castle, Toronto – Saturday, October 24, 2015

For more information, and to submit a nomination form, visit the L’Astrolabe déchaîné page.

Making an Impact: Ontario’s Social Enterprise Progress Report

Impact: A Social Enterprise Strategy for Ontario was released in September 2013. The multiyear strategic plan was launched with the long-term goal of making Ontario the best place in North America to start, grow and invest in social enterprises. The Progress Report, “Making and Impact – Ontario’s Social Enterprise Progress Report”, provides updates on activity to date relating to the 2013 Strategy.

The report highlights the outcomes and key deliverables that have been achieved, including the Social Enterprise Demonstration Fund, which enables 11 non-profit intermediaries to provide support and funding to social enterprises across the province.

Learn more about the progress Ontario has made in supporting social enterprise across the province.