A lot has happened since Belmont alumnus Derek Juno and fellow University of Victoria business school grad Andrew Hall walked away from promising corporate careers to launch a social enterprise startup last fall.
Expansion plans for Mealshare – the program sees diners buy a specific meal at participating restaurants, who in turn buy a meal for a local service provider – were put on hold as the young entrepreneurs joined a business incubator program in Vancouver.
“We stepped away and looked at our organization,” says Juno, 24. “We took nearly three months to work on business development … working ‘on’ the business rather than ‘in’ the business.”
Working within the Coast Capital Savings Social Venture Incubator, a partnership with the Sauder School of Business at UBC, the team has fine-tuned its model and is preparing to announce its next wave of restaurant signups.
Those nine local establishments include Floyd’s Diner in Langford, which will become the first West Shore restaurant in the mix along with more than a dozen others in downtown Victoria. In total, about 30 are on board with the program in Greater Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary and Juno expects that number to rise to 65 by the end of May.
Part of the tweaking has been to facilitate a closer connection between restaurants and the charity they help through Mealshare, he says.
“At the end of the month, say you’re Floyd’s Diner and you’ve been able to sell ‘x’ number of Mealshare items. (The idea is to give) the restaurant staff a chance to work with the actual charity to serve those meals.”
The first sparks of Juno’s motivation to work to help organizations such as Our Place Society, their charity of choice in the Capital Region, came when he went on a house-building trip to Mexico with Katrin Van der leeden’s PACE class at Belmont in Grade 10. Those sparks were further fanned by his participation in Kevin Harrington and Troy Harris’ leadership class at the school, Juno says.
His later work volunteering as an English teacher in Cambodia gave him further exposure to situations where getting enough food to eat is a daily struggle.
“(Those experiences were) the biggest life-changing moments for me,” he says. “To go outside this amazing place we live in and to connect with these people on a really deep level was amazing.”
Hall pitched the concept of Mealshare to Juno over Skype, while the latter was in Cambodia. The goal was to find a sustainable way to fund rural schools.
That goal has become more localized, but expanding the international flavour of the project remains a key part of the group’s plans, Juno says. “It’s been an absolute dream come true these last few years to see our dream take shape,” he says. “We’ve realized it’s not about what you get, it’s about what you give.”
The new additions to the restaurant list will be included after the April 24 launch at mealshare.ca, where you can also see how many meals have been provided to date by member establishments.
Other information can be found at Mealshare on Facebook and @MealshareTeam on Twitter.