The Social Ventures Zone was founded in 2014 by the Toronto Metropolitan University Faculty of Arts, building on the rich history of world-changing ideas and approaches from the humanities and social sciences. It was designed as a place where teams of students, alumni, and innovators from the community could develop viable social enterprises that positively impact social issues.
The overall aim of the Social Ventures Zone is to develop and incubate the next generation of innovative and sustainable solutions to Canada’s most pressing social challenges. As they develop their social enterprises, team’s progress along a continuum of learning that will give them the entrepreneurial skills and work experience necessary for whatever their future might hold.
More than a co-working space, the Social Ventures Zone is a community of innovators from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines who are supported by coaching, training sessions, incubation space, peer-to-peer connections and other community resources. Alex Gill, our Social Innovator in Residence, provides overall direction and support to venture teams, backed by a team of community coaches and the peer support and encouragement from the other teams. Innovators can also engage a growing roster of subject matter experts drawn from Toronto Metropolitan's faculty, giving them on-demand access to the most up-to-date knowledge and research about their social issues.
From big to small and local to global, we’re looking for creative ideas and ventures that have the promise of sustainability and impact. Toronto Metropolitan University undergraduate and graduate students (or alumni) from any Faculty – or innovators from the broader community – can apply with their idea.
Individuals or venture teams can apply with their social enterprise by completing an online application form. Our Admissions Committee is made up of faculty, staff, fellow entrepreneurs, and community members and meets each semester (three times per year) to evaluate ventures requesting admission. Each application is blindly scored according to the following criteria:
Potential Impact: How will the venture impact people or the environment, address a serious concern and/or have a potential to engage community partners?
Degree of Innovation: To what degree does the venture idea mimic established approaches or does it present a new and innovative approach (and the potential for disruptive change)?
Potential of Sustainability: Has the individual or team thought through how the venture can be viable (e.g. multiple sources of revenue, support of a partner, etc)?
Personal Capacity: Does the team lead and/or team members have a demonstrated history of self-starting, a passion for the issue, etc.?
After the Admissions Committee reviews and evaluates the online application, it may choose one of two (2) options:
Decide not to accept the application and recommend other courses of action to improve the idea for resubmission, suggest other places it can find support, etc.; or,
Offer stage one approval and ask the individual and/or team proponent(s) to attend an in-person pitch session with committee members
Proponents who are asked to pitch in person should prepare a basic slide deck (no more than ten slides) explaining their project and why it is a good fit for the Social Ventures Zone. Each pitch should be no more than ten minutes long and will then be followed by up to 15 minutes of questions from the committee. For an example of a template presentation, check out Guy Kawasaki’s pitch guidelines, external link.
In the event that the venture is not accepted, the committee will provide the proponents with feedback as to why and make suggestions, as appropriate, for further work on the concept, other places they may go for support, etc.
The Social Ventures Zone receives dozens of applications for each round of admissions and our Admissions Committee selects the ones that best fit the criteria for admission. But in addition to the criteria outlined above, we often receive applications that are rejected because they fall into the following categories:
Ventures that are not true social ventures, but rather businesses that have some social aspect. For example, if your idea is to build a new dating app but donate a portion of proceeds to charity, that does not meet our definition of a social venture because it does not have a social issue at the core of its operations.
Innovators who do not sufficiently support their idea. We sometimes receive pitches from innovators who propose what looks like an innovative idea but they do not support it with research, an organizational model or a basic understanding of the population it will help, etc.
Ideas that are better suited to a community group or student club. While social progress often comes from the dialogue and connections that happen in groups of volunteers, such groups are not per se a social venture.
Innovators can join the Social Ventures Zone as one of three cohorts we accept each year. To determine whether applications are currently open or when they might be, check here.
Should you have questions or need assistance completing the application, you are welcome to call 416-979-5000 ext. 7255 or email email@example.com.
There is no cost involved to apply to the Social Ventures Zone and successful ventures are not charged a fee once accepted. Ventures accepted into the Zone are provided with free access to resources, professional advice, funding opportunities, skill development, and ongoing mentorship from successful community innovators and social entrepreneurs.
Venture team members are expected to contribute a minimum of 10-12 hours per month to their social enterprise. This includes your participation in workshops and modules, time dedicated to your venture, and ongoing peer-to-peer collaboration.
On that note, we believe in helping, not holding back. While focus is a good thing, we know that innovators sometimes need encouragement. They need to know others believe in them and can pitch in to help, when needed. That is why we want the Social Ventures Zone to be a space where we actively look for opportunities to help our fellow innovators when we see them facing a challenge. Because what we give, we get back.
We are located at 40 Gould Street, Kerr Hall South 45 (KHS 045). You can find the entrance under the arches across from Balzac’s on Gould Street.
The Social Ventures Zone offers a supportive environment for ideas that are at least partially formed, have a team and are ready to put more work into moving their venture forward. But we welcome people whose idea is still in the early stages or who would like to learn more about social enterprise, entrepreneurship and community change. We offer the following opportunities to:
Develop ideas and formulate a plan through degree credit courses such as SSH400.
Join an ideation cohort at the Zone and develop your initial idea into a pitch-worthy one! Each term, we accept a small number of innovators who want to improve their ideas through a regular series of ideation sessions. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Social enterprises that are already in the Social Ventures Zone also regularly looking for team members and volunteers. For more information, contact us at 416-979-5000 ext. 7255 or email email@example.com.