When Victor Straatman arrived in Vancouver a year and a half ago, he was surprised at how inconvenient it was to buy grass-fed free range beef directly from local farmers—a process that was relatively simple in his native Holland. That’s when Straatman decided to bridge the gap between consumers and struggling farmers through Meatme, an online marketplace where consumers can buy shares in ethically raised cows, pigs, lambs or chickens, until the full animals are purchased.

“By leveraging technology to crowdfund whole animals, we not only minimize unnecessary waste, but we also support local farmers who raise their animals in free-range conditions and often find it challenging to reach consumers directly,” explains Straatman, a former digital agency director. “I truly believe that as a society, we need to think more critically about the consequences of eating factory-farmed meat, and what we can do to support local farmers producing some of the highest-quality meat in British Columbia.”

Using business to promote social change

Straatman and his business partner, Trevor Bird, are now one of six socially-focused ventures to participate in the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub (CCS iHub), run by the UBC Sauder Centre for Social Innovation and Impact Investing (S3i). With the help of the Innovation Hub, Straatman hopes Meatme will be propelled to the next phase of growth.

“The CCS iHub is an extremely valuable opportunity for us to learn the best way to successfully grow our company. We’re also fortunate to work alongside some talented mentors and entrepreneurs, both of whom have a wealth of advice and experiences we can learn from,” says Straatman.

Funded by a $1-million contribution from Coast Capital Savings, the CCS iHub is designed for ventures wanting to embrace social innovation while using business models to create impact in society. The incubator program brings together early stage social ventures with B.C.’s social innovators, seasoned entrepreneurs, investors, faculty, alumni, and students.

During a 12-month period, ventures are fully immersed in an entrepreneurial environment where they learn the basics of business and valuable insight into the social innovation sector. Over the last four years the program has supported a total of 23 social ventures; 21 continue to be operational and actively grow their business.

According to James Tansey, S3i’s executive director, Vancouver is seeing a growing number of entrepreneurs turning to the tools and methods of business to solve social and environmental challenges. “Business can be a powerful force for good in today’s world and can bring about meaningful change,” he says. “For five years now, the CCS iHub has been providing socially-minded entrepreneurs with a strong, connected community where they can grow as leaders and propel their impact to the next level of success.”

Giving students hands-on entrepreneurship experience

Ventures aren’t the only ones who benefit from the CCS iHub. Every year, MBA students intern with each company, learning valuable business skills while also contributing their classroom knowledge to help ventures build their equity.

“As an MBA student, I learned the strategies that would help businesses contribute positively to society and achieve social good,” says Sreejayan Rama Syam, who interned in 2016. “I gained practical knowledge about how sustainable businesses help achieve economic growth for society. In addition, the internship enabled me to wear multiple hats, so I could experiment with different business models and realize my weaknesses and strengths. I feel like I could never gain this type of experience in a corporate role.”

The future for Meatme

Straatman says there is still a lot of work ahead for Meatme, including deciding on the best business model, testing improved methods of shipping products to customers, and optimizing supply chains.

In the end, Straatman says it’s helpful to have the business expertise of the CCS iHub available, so he and Bird can ask critical questions to effectively guide their business to success.

“In the end, we want to create a blueprint in Vancouver that will empower other communities around the world to source their meat responsibly,” Straatman explains. “Through the CCS iHub, we intend to use the knowledge we gain to optimize our processes to make them as cost effective and efficient as possible, so we can make a global impact. We want to support local farmers and do something good for the environment, all with the click of a button.”