When Emily Bland finished her presentation on the food insecurity solution she helped create, she looked out to the audience and saw a sea of people waving Canadian flags. “It was an incredible experience,” said Ms. Bland, who was part of the four-woman pitch team from Memorial University that won the Enactus World Cup last month.
Enactus is an international non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students in developing entrepreneurial responses to community needs. More than 1,800 Enactus groups exist worldwide with 60 located on Canadian campuses. Several operational models exist for Enactus groups – some are volunteer-only while others offer credit for participation; some focus more on international goals while others encourage a local-first approach. All groups, however, exist to connect students to the tools, resources and expertise they need to incubate a socially responsible entrepreneurship project.
“The work we do is real work,” said Lynn Morrissey, an assistant professor in Memorial’s faculty of business administration and faculty adviser to Enactus Memorial. “It’s an opportunity to make a real impact in your community. It offers students the ability to guide and lead … and see their own potential and how great it is to give back.”
Ms. Morrissey has been advising Enactus Memorial for 13 years. By Ms. Bland’s count, the business communications prof has helped thousands of students to “figure out their dreams.” And after all that time, “she knows when something special comes across her plate,” Ms. Bland said.
For the past year, that something special has been Project SucSeed.
“I’ve been playing around with hydroponics for years,” says Ms. Bland, a fifth-year commerce student majoring in accounting and Enactus Memorial president. “I grew up on a farm in central Newfoundland and I could never quite grasp why people in Newfoundland, where we have a 100 day growing season, were still trying to grow things in the ground. With all these new advances in agriculture – aquaponics, aeroponics, hydroponics – why are we still sticking with traditional agriculture at times?”
About a year ago, the team hosted a “think tank” and invited business leaders, professors and leaders from the local community in St. John’s to help the students take stock of Newfoundland greatest challenges. “It kept coming back to food security, eating well, and unemployment for youth,” Ms. Bland recalled.
It occurred to her that alternative agriculture methods could be a piece that would help to solve this puzzle. “Instantly we knew that hydroponics was the thing to do,” she said.
With the help of local botanists and technical services in Memorial’s engineering department, the team designed and built a hydroponic growing system from recycled materials like containers, plastic bags and fish pumps.
Prototype in hand, the team approached communities primarily in rural Labrador to start Project SucSeed cooperatives; to offer training on growing produce year-round the hydroponic way. They also provided each cooperative leader a micro-loan to go towards the purchase of their system. Eventually the cooperatives started growing enough produce to sell at a much cheaper cost to retailers, at which point they could begin to pay back their loans.
The Project SucSeed team also struck a partnership with Choices for Youth, a non-profit organization in St. John’s that helps youth secure housing, education and employment. Through the organization they hired six young people to build the systems, which then get sold for $350. About $166 of that go to recover production costs and the rest is reinvested into the project.
Project SucSeed initially set out to sell 15 units. Within seven months of knocking on doors, they had sold 54 systems and broken even. Today, Ms. Bland counts 236 systems sold. The team estimates that the systems will altogether grow about 72,000 pounds of produce this year.
Project SucSeed and its pitch team took Memorial Enactus to the national championships this year (where the school won its 9th national title) and on to the Enactus World Cup.
The annual event brought together 35 international teams to Toronto from September 28 to 30 for a round-robin contest that finished in a top-four final. Nearly 600 delegates from various Canadian Enactus teams – including the remaining 60-plus students that make up the Memorial Enactus group – converged on the exhibition hall at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to cheer on Memorial in their successful final showdown against Germany, India and Nigeria.
“The best part of it was that it was in Canada and you had all of the Canadian teams there and they were incredibly supportive,” said Ms. Bland. “These were all students that we had competed against and watching them be supportive of us and be proud of us was special.”