Business school focused on creating ethical entrepreneurs

Part non-profit, part business school takes collaborative approach to economics

Folks at the Groundswell business school want nothing to do with the traditional dog eat dog mantra often found in the corporate world.

Instead, they’d rather help you take your dog for a walk and even help plan the route in advance. Established in 2013, Groundswell is part non-profit society, part business school, focusing on social enterprise, sustainability and collaboration. The school recently began a four-month run on Granville Island where students and alumni set up shop every Tuesday to sell and test their business model across a number of ventures: personal training, yoga, artisanal items, chefs and those in the clothing industry, among others.  

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They do so under a Groundswell guiding principle, an idea referred to as the collaborative economy.

Groundswell’s managing director Paola Qualizza: “By being together and sharing resources, communicating and being more than the sum of our parts, we are able to do this and have more impact together.” Photo Dan Toulgoet


“The vendors are finding valuable connections with each other so that they can do more together than a person could do on their own,” said Groundswell’s managing director Paola Qualizza. “By being together and sharing resources, communicating and being more than the sum of our parts, we are able to do this and have more impact together.”

Groundswell was established in 2013 by a pair of serial entrepreneurs who preferred ethical sensibilities over dollars and cents. The necessary start-up capital was provided by the Vancouver Foundation and Vancity, and both remain as funding partners today. The school operated out of a bricks and mortar location on Powell Street before moving to Granville Island in mid-July.

The school has two intakes a year, comprised of roughly 15 students each. Courses last six months and students begin their studies by flushing out one, or many, ideas. They then work with industry professionals, alumni and others aligned with the principles of social enterprise to hone research and development ideas, budgetary demands and the marketplace for their ventures.

The end goal is to create a business model with a “blended bottom line,” where environmental impacts and social values are as important as profit margins.

“It’s pretty obvious we’re not this slick, profit-oriented business school — no one wears a suit,” Qualizza said. “We spend a lot of time on personal development and we have a big focus on ethics.” 

Roughly 100 grads have gone through the Groundswell program in four years. They’ve gone on to become personal trainers, artists, designers, chefs, nutritionists and art therapists. Qualizza said practically every graduate has launched their business with less than $5,000 in start-up capital. Tuition costs are roughly $3,000 for the six-month program,

“We try to make it as low-risk as possible,” she said. “We don’t encourage them to take out big loans or anything like that. Instead we encourage them to stay connected to each other and their mentors and to share resources.”

The Groundswell marketplace runs each Tuesday until September between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Triangle Square.

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