Epoch: Connecting Not-for-Profits and Businesses to Make Greater Social Impact

If you’ve ever wanted to volunteer for a non-profit organization, you know it can be challenging to find the right person to reach out to. And if you’ve ever planned a not-for-profit event, you know that finding partners and volunteers to help you make your vision a reality can be hard too. That is the challenge that the Epcoh team hopes to solve by connecting non-profits with industry and individuals looking to give back to their community. The hope is the platform will encourage more volunteerism in the region and around the world.

The platform works by utilizing not-for-profit profiles that list volunteer opportunities for businesses in the region and matching that with profiles from corporations and individuals based on their interests, what they’re passionate about, their availability and what type of work they’d like to. Epoch then curates opportunities that match individuals, and offers a bi-weekly or monthly schedule of available volunteers, fostering more long-term volunteerism relationships.

A tight-knit team

Jade Choy began her journey in 2017 when she graduated from University of Waterloo and was introduced to an opportunity to compete for the $1,000,000 Hult prize. Jade and her team went through the program not really expecting to get into the second round let alone the finals. They ended up being in the semi-final in the UK, which then landed them in a one-year program in Boston where they were able to build out their platform. This past September, the team pitched in New York City for the finals among six other companies. Although the team did not take the grand prize home, they learned a great deal and were able to take those learnings to grow the company into what it is today.

The team consists of Jade and 6 other individuals including her brother, a recent UW design graduate, and five other UW students who are working on the platform part-time. All of the team is like-minded, highly-skilled and very excited about the work they’re doing. When we asked Jade how it is working with her brother, she laughed and said,

“ It’s really great and funnily enough I think we were conditioned to do this. Growing up we were always close, both in age being 13 months apart, and due to our interests and passions. As kids, we always had tennis lessons, swimming, hangouts, excetera together, probably because it was convenient for our parents to put us in the same activities —  but being together so often like that made us very close, making it easy to communicate. It was as if we were in training. So yeah, it’s really good we communicate well and I have a lot of fun working together.

Jade and the founding team, including her brother decided ultimately to come back to Kitchener Waterloo to grow their company.

“Looking at the tech ecosystem here, the openness to innovation, the interest in giving back, the number of not-for-profits also open to innovation, and the need to connect more businesses with them in the region made our decision to come here a no-brainer!”

What’s Next

In October of 2017, Epoch received $30,000 in seed funding from the Accelerator Centre’s AC JumpStart program to help them continue to build and grow the platform. Currently, Epoch works with several not-for-profits in the region, including the Downtown Kitchener Library and the YMCA bringing those organization together with the community to foster a collaborative community culture. “I wanted to make sure that our platform wasn’t a standalone form but rather that it integrated into systems that employees are and not-for-profits are reusing in their day-today lives, making it easy to volunteer and find information about how to volunteer,” Jade says. “Epoch is meant to facilitate meaningful partnerships and we are proud of the work that’s already being done in the beta program.“

Currently, the not-for-profits Epoch is partnered up with, are those who are looking for volunteers that are skill-based and that would need minimal additional training. The platform is not yet working with organizations that serve  vulnerable groups, due to the additional procedures, background checks and training that volunteers will need to work with them. However, those groups are on their roadmap to start beta testing the platform soon. The team will launch the pilot project with two to three not-for-profits right here in Waterloo region.

“The whole purpose of our company is to make giving back time-energy-skills on a volunteer basis easy. We want to facilitate more meaningful connections, because if someone has some extra energy after their work day and they want to volunteer their time, what we’ve seen is that a lot of those individuals will go to not-for-profit website message forms to look for opportunities and it’s actually very difficult to find the information and by the time that they are aligned and ready to do the volunteering, their availability has changed.

We need to change the system so that it empowers more people to do what they want to do when they have the availability and we are determined to make this a tool that can empower social impact in our community, work and beyond.”

To learn more about Epoch, please visit: https://www.epochapp.com/aboutus/

AC JumpStart is made possible by and investment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario(FedDev Ontario) and is delivered in partnership with Conestoga College,  Laurier, and the University of Waterloo.

 

Engineers for Hope Bring Clean Water and Sanitation Facilities to Underprivileged Communities

20 million people in Bangladesh drink from contaminated water sources and 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to sanitation facilities. What began as a student group, comprised of six University of Waterloo students, has turned into a social innovation powerhouse that promises to bring clean water and proper sanitation facilities to those people.

In June of this year, the Accelerator Centre welcomed, Engineers for Hope (EFH) to our headquarters facility in Waterloo so they could continue combining their passion for helping others with their technical skills to improve lives around the world.

Starting with their first project in Khuskshia, Bangladesh in late 2016, EFH works to install hand pumps that deliver water to under served communities and establish infrastructure that supports proper sanitation facilities.

EFH completed its first project in Khukshia, Bangladesh between September 2016 to December 2016, where the organization installed eight hand pumps in order to give the rural village’s residents access to clean water.

CEO and Co-founder Nirbhay Singh started the organization with co-founders Rumman Rahman, Adnan Abu Atiya, Tariq Hasan, Shihab Saadeldeen, and Youssef Zaki after witnessing the impact of poverty and lack of access to clean water in India as a child. “We want work together for the betterment of these people,” Nirbhay explains. “This feeling is better than having a job,” Rumman adds. “It’s the satisfaction that you can make a difference. Now that we have a platform to do so, we want to take full advantage of it.”


While at the Accelerator Centre, EFH is accessing mentorship and expertise from the in-house mentor team as well as specialist in the not-for-profit space to help them plan and execute on future projects. “It’s been really great in terms of connecting with people, networking , and getting mentorship,” said Nirbhay. “They know what they are doing and they are experts in providing guidance.”

In addition to bringing clean water and sanitation infrastructure, EFH is focused on sustainability. “We want to make sure that whatever we do in the rural community, it’s sustainable,” said Nirbhay. “Our infrastructure is built by locals and maintained by locals.”

EFH is currently planning for their next project, also located in India. The project is estimated to begin later in 2017.

For more information on EFH visit:
http://www.engineersforhope.com/

Social entrepreneurship pitch contest supports next big idea

The AC’s Andrew Jackson helps select the winners of the Big Ideas Challenge

A company that uses smartphone technology to improve vision care in India was among the big winners at a pitch competition designed to elicit big ideas in health and well-being. EyeCheck, a for-profit vision-care company, won mentorship and access to AC Pathfinder, a market validation platform developed by the Accelerator Centre, at the inaugural Big Ideas Challenge for Health and Wellbeing at the University of Waterloo this week. It uses smartphone technology and proprietary hardware to provide much-needed vision assessment in India with just two pictures.

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Tania Del Matto of St. Paul’s GreenHouse, Rachel Friesen of EyeCheck and Andrew Jackson of the Accelerator Centre.

The other winning pitches consisted of ways to address mental health issues among students, heart-friendly meal delivery and meaningful leisure for older adults, and support for breast cancer survivors. They each received the grand prize of a term’s stay in St. Paul’s GreenHouse, the first and only live-in campus-linked accelerator in Canada focused on social innovation and entrepreneurship.

“The Big Ideas Challenge for Health and Wellbeing was intended to encourage undergraduate students to develop innovative interventions, for which the primary purpose is to improve the quality of life of individuals or communities,” said Tania Del Matto, director of GreenHouse.

“We’re proud to partner with St’ Paul’s to encourage social innovation”, added Andrew Jackson, VP, Client Services at the Accelerator Centre. “It’s encouraging to see a group of young entrepreneurs building businesses aimed at addressing difficult challenges.”

About the winners:

• Marlena – Committed to meaningful leisure for older adults of all abilities by creating books to meet the needs of older adults with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other conditions.

• Panic, Anxiety, & Stress, Support (PASS) kit – A first aid kit for mental health and wellbeing to address the increasing incidence of mental health issues among students.

• Heart Helpers – A non-profit, heart-healthy meal delivery program that offers older adults at risk or living with cardiovascular disease a simple, inexpensive way to reduce their risk factors by modifying their diet.

• Node– Offering smart, beautifully designed, custom-fit compression sleeves for breast cancer survivors suffering from lymphedema.

The Faculty of Applied Health Sciences is hosting the program in partnership with St. Paul’s GreenHouse.

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