22 of the Most Innovative Innovations at CSI

Kyle Shantz

Kyle Shantz

Director of Communications and Marketing

It’s Canadian Innovation Week once again! It’s 2022, so we’re looking back at 22 of our favourite innovations to come out of CSI over the years, pulling from our founding members (Stephen Lewis Foundation!) programs and accelerators, and our time in New York City, to showcase some of the greatest hits that have emerged from our 18 year old experiment in social innovation. 

ACCESS NOW

In 2016, Maayan Ziv was part of the Agents of Change: Community Health cohort for AccessNow, her crowd sourced mobile/web platform the shows accessibility information for locations worldwide. Along with the other Agents of Change, Maayan received a $10,000-grant, a one-year membership to CSI, acceleration supports from leading advisors and educators in organizational and business development, and took part in special programming such as Peer Circles and special events.

Want to learn more? Check their our Technology OverviewPress Page, or find out How to Get Involved.

FLASH FOREST

Flash Forest uses swarms of autonomous drones to plant trees faster, cheaper, safer and with more ease than ever. They’re on a mission to plant 1 billion trees by 2028 by bringing their tech to six continents and pulling billions of tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere. 

 Right now, planting trees is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to sequester carbon but as Bryce Jones and his fellow co-founders noticed, tree planting hasn’t changed much in the last century. Seeing an opportunity for innovation, they created Flash Forest, Canada’s first-to-market drone reforestation company. Using drones that fire seed pods into the ground at a rate of one per second, they’re on a mission to plant one billion trees by 2028.

Tapestry Community Capital

TAPESTRY COMMUNITY CAPITAL

In 1998, a group of passionate community members decided to build North America’s first urban wind turbine. With perseverance, community support, and the investment of 600 committed individuals, the project came to life. This wind turbine that stands proudly on Toronto’s lakeshore has become a beacon for sustainable energy and community investment across Canada.

This project inspired CSI's Community Bond, an innovation in social finance that we used to purchase both of our coworking buildings, and one that has been replicated around Ontario and the world.

Witnessing the success of community investment in renewable energy, Tapestry committed themselves to making community bonds accessible across all sectors, from education to affordable housing. With full service support, they make it easy for nonprofits and cooperatives across Canada to raise funds on their terms, bring their projects to life, and build deep connections with their communities in the process.

LADIES LEARNING CODE

Founded in 2011 by Heather Payne, Melissa Sariffodeen, Breanna Hughes and Laura Plant, the organization's first workshops, designed to engage young women in technology and create more equality, were held Centre for Social Innovation Annex through a community partnership agreement that supported their volunteer-run model.

In August 2011, they began an expansion of these workshops across Canada, establishing chapters first in Vancouver and subsequently in more than 18 cities across Canada. Ladies Learning code now operates as a program of Canada Learning Code which has delivered over 10,000 events to over 600,000 learners.

Toronto Tool Library

TORONTO TOOL LIBRARY

Its like a library, but for tools! And its at CSI Spadina. Since its creation in 2012, the Tool Library has been on a mission to explore the benefits of sharing resources and skills.

At the Toronto Tool Library, anyone with a membership can sign-out tools for both their home and community initiatives. Whether you are hanging a picture or renovating a community park, the Toronto Tool Library offers a range of equipment for your project as a low-cost, resource sharing and space-saving alternative to purchasing and owning tools. Non-profits and charities will also enjoy special membership rates, while there is a variety of workshops and youth programs to get training on using the tools.

StopGap Foundation team

STOPGAP FOUNDATION

StopGap Foundation began as an initiative to raise awareness about barriers in our built environment. Their first project was the launch of its first Community Ramp Project in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood. Through material donations from local hardware stores, and volunteer labour from inspired community residents, the Community Ramp Project provided a free ramp to 12 businesses with a single stepped entry. The lightweight plywood ramps were brightly coloured to attract attention and were stenciled with the StopGap website address — StopGap.ca — in order to direct those interested to learn all about the project. Stopgap were part of our 2015 Agents of Change: City Builders cohort.

Headshot of Marc Soberano, Founder of Building Up

BUILDING UP

Building Up is a non-profit social enterprise that will install energy and water efficient retrofits in low income housing, while training and employing the marginalized residents of these buildings to carry out the work.

Based on successful non-profit social enterprise models across the country, Building Up was developed in Toronto to improve our city’s environmental efficiency, affordable housing stock, and most of all – to create a real pathway for individuals experiencing barriers to enter apprenticeships and careers in the trades. They joined CSI as part of Agents of Change: City Builders.

Mommy Monitor

MOMMY MONITOR

As the founder of both Mommy Monitor and the Racialized Maternal Health Conference, Elsie Amoako is a rising leader in racialized maternal health. A CSI Spadina Member, she first joined CSI through our Agents of Change: Community Health program, where she worked with leading advisors and received a $10,000 grant to accelerate her enterprise. Now, Mommy Monitor is a full-service social enterprise and app that offers customized maternal health services, support and education. The vision? Provide maternal health services globally in a way that is virtual, culturally safe, promotes autonomy over the body and birth, and prevents adverse outcomes.

GOODFOOT DELIVERY

Kirsten Gauthier founded Good Foot Delivery in 2010 with her brother Jon to provide employment opportunities to the neuro-diverse community. Jon was struggling to find employment even though he had the skills and drive to succeed. Kirsten soon realized that unemployment rates in this community were unusually high. Equipped with this knowledge, they created an organization that would provide Jon, and others from the neuro-diverse community, steady employment.

To be successful, Kirsten and Jon knew that the organization had to provide a reliable service to ensure that customers saw the value in doing business with Good Foot Delivery. With excellent customer service at its core, the organization quickly established itself as a competitive courier service within Toronto, where it has called CSI Annex home.

THE ONTARIO NONPROFIT NETWORK

Cofounded by CSI CEO Tonya Surman, The Ontario Nonprofit Network breaks down silos by developing working groups, provincial strategies and building regional nonprofit networks to actualize the potential of the Ontario nonprofit sector. Back in 2007, when the ONN was a fledgling initiative with a vision to build a network of nonprofits, CSI incubated ONN. We acted as a trustee, providing insurance, bookkeeping, leadership, accounting, management, and a board of directors. This allowed the ONN leadership to figure out what worked (and what didn’t), build a strong foundation, and grow their network.

In 2015, after spending seven years at CSI, they incorporated into a stand-alone organization. We’ve watched with complete admiration and inspiration at the incredible impact ONN continues to achieve.

Map of Canada

SOCIAL INNOVATION CANADA

Another project cofounded by Tonya and CSI, Social Innovation Canada is working to provide the collaborative infrastructure to strengthen Canada’s social innovation ecosystem, empowering people, organizations and systems with the tools, knowledge, skills and connections that they need to solve real and complex problems.

In 2022, SI Canada will graduate and join the other independent alumni organizations once incubated by CSI, but we will proudly remain Ontario’s node as we work together to connect Canada’s social innovation ecosystem.

TWENTY ONE TOYS

One of CSI’s Youth Agent of Change award winners, Ilana Ben-Ari began Twenty One Toys with the belief that toys could be the new textbooks by, in part, teaching us collaboration, creativity and empathy. She first created the Empathy toy as a way to bridge gaps between visually impaired and sighted communities through play. It turns out, the toy bridged gaps and evoked empathy in anyone who played – from students to teachers to business executives and beyond. Since then, Ilana has been “mass-producing empathy,” as the toys show up all over the world in professional development workshops, leadership programs and even in job interviews! What’s next? A true innovator in heart and spirit, she’s currently launching new toy to reframe how people understand failure, aptly named the Failure toy.

Headshot of Myra ArshadALT TEX

ALT TEX is creating sustainable textiles engineered from food waste. Using their proprietary fermentation technology, this venture ferments food waste into polyester-like bioplastic fabric that is biodegradable and carbon-neutral. 

Co-Founder and CEO of ALT TEX, Myra Arshad, joined CSI’s Earth Tech accelerator by impressing us with her numbers: polyester is the largest polluter within the fast fashion industry, generating 7 million tonnes of waste and 40 trillion ocean microplastics per year. ALT TEX is positioned to radically disrupt and transform this industry.

BRUIZED

Bruized is a Toronto-based, women-run startup on a mission to revolutionize our food systems. They create wholesome plant-based products from up-cycled ingredients and imperfect produce that are unnecessarily discarded as they make their way across the supply chain. After noticing “horrendous amounts of food waste” while working as a line cook in restaurants across Toronto, Monique began visiting local farms and grocery stores to better understand the extent of our current food waste problem. Through conversations with suppliers, she discovered that discarding perfectly edible food was common practice. From there, Bruized was born.

“Bruized aims to challenge this damaging notion of ‘perfection’ or ‘all or nothing thinking’, and show people that with a little creativity and care, perfectly good food can be transformed into something both delicious and nutritious,” Monique explains. And she proves this every day: when Monique isn’t taking part in CSI's WOSEN’s incubator program, she can be found wandering her local farmer’s market, experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, and – of course – cooking delicious meals with perfectly good, ‘imperfect’ ingredients.

EM-ONE

EM-ONE is an engineering, technology, and consulting firm that is delivering sustainable energy solutions and smart electricity infrastructure to Nigeria. They have worked closely with donors and leading technology partners to design and build nearly 300 decentalized, solar microgrids (over 12 MW of installed PV capacity) for small and rural communities as well as for larger commercial & industrial off-takers.

EM-ONE leverages strong local knowledge with industry best practices, innovative technologies and strategic partnerships to transform aging power models into decentralized, decarbonized and digitalized energy systems

ZOOSHARE

ZooShare, a nonprofit cooperative, built a biogas plant at the Toronto Zoo’s existing compost facility that converts zoo poo and food waste into renewable energy, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. You heard that right! Using Zoo poo as a source of energy is a beloved solution in the CSI zeitgeist.

Back in 2012, the biogas cooperative and CSI member won the Toronto Community Foundation’s Green Innovation Award after participating in the ClimateSpark Social Venture Challenge, a collaboration between CSI, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and the Toronto Community Foundation. At the time, Executive Director of ZooShare, Daniel Bida, said “Participation in ClimateSpark really helped to hone the unique selling points of the project as a result of getting feedback from so many individuals and experts from around the city.” Since then, ZooShare has been going strong, financing its operations by issuing Community Bonds (something we know a little about) with over five hundred impact investors.

Photo of Alisha and Sean McFetridgeRAINSTICK SHOWER

A water tech company, RainStick’s first product, the RainStick Shower, is a high-flow shower system that saves 80% energy and 80% water through point of use recirculation and filtration, making water clear and clean enough to drink! 

Every time we shower in North America, we heat up about 100 litres of fresh water, only to send it down the drain seconds later.Alisha McFetridge, co-founder and CEO of RainStick, wanted to find a better way to shower — and prove that you can be sustainable without sacrifice.

RainStick Still feels like a high-pressure shower. Users can lessen their environmental impact without giving up that squeaky-clean shower feeling, and they can also save upwards of $700 a year on utilities. “This technology is just around the corner,” Alisha told us. “We want to make it easier than ever to live a sustainable lifestyle without compromising the shower experience.” RainStick joined CSI as part of Climate Ventures: Earth Tech.

STEPHEN LEWIS FOUNDATION

Stephen Lewis is the former head of the Ontario NDP, and The SLF was created with the express purpose of supporting community-based organizations working on the frontlines of the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many of these grassroots organizations were originally formed by small groups of individuals responding to the crisis AIDS had wrought in their own lives and in the lives of their neighbours. Over the years, they have developed into thriving local institutions with deep connections to their communities. The SLF’s community-based partners are turning the tide of HIV and AIDS by providing care and support to women, orphaned children, LGBTIQ individuals, grandmothers and people living with HIV and AIDS.

Photo of Conner Tidd and Kevin JakielaJUST VERTICAL

Just Vertical is an indoor vertical hydroponic company that creates furniture that feeds you. Specifically, this venture is a premier vertical growing and vertical farming systems provider for residential and small scale commercial urban farmers. 

“We hope to make an impact in helping to decrease food insecurity across Canada and the world. Our goal is to enable individuals and communities to grow their own nutritious food, all year round, and help create more of sense of food sovereignty within remote communities with little access to fresh food. We hope to leverage our indoor farming technology to help compliment the existing food system by providing healthy food, with no GMO’s or pesticides, while using 95% less water” says Kevin Jakiela. Kevin is the Co-Founder and President. Just Vertical joined CSI as part of Earth Tech 2020.

Women participating in Newcomer Kitchen programs

NEWCOMER KITCHEN

During the 2016 Syrian refugee crisis, In a small gesture of hospitality, The Depanneur, a tiny culinary event venue in Toronto, invited a few newcomer women to use its kitchen to prepare and share a meal. The prospect of a field trip and a familiar, home-cooked meal offered a welcome break from the tedium of the hotels. This small act, initiated by a few volunteers using donated ingredients, quickly blossomed into a joyful and delicious weekly gathering. To sustain the initiative, the group began to prepare extra meals to sell to offset costs. The revenue paid for the ingredients and the kitchen space, and the surplus was divided up among the cooks.

Within a matter of months, the Newcomer Kitchen project had grown to include over 50 Syrian families and a large team of volunteers. Each week a group would prepare 50 meals to be sold online for pickup & delivery. Public and media enthusiasm was overwhelming; meals sold out in a matter of hours; local, national and international news outlets covered the story, and social media lit up with thousands of shares, likes, and tweets. What became clear was that the potential of this model went far beyond one tiny storefront; it was something that could work with any newcomer population, in any kitchen willing to open its doors, in any city in the world.

Photo of Kat Kavanaugh Water Rangers 

WWF-Canada’s 2017 Watershed Report uncovered a troublesome fact about Canada’s waterways: more than half of them are considered data deficient. Without the data to show us where there might be problems, how can we care for our precious freshwater resources? 

Water Rangers  empowers people without science training to sample the lakes and rivers near them, upload their data into an app, and learn to become stewards of their waterways. 

Water Rangers’ immersive programs have shown that as people learn about water and participate in testing, they’re much more likely to commit to action. “As participants track baseline water quality data and fill in the gaps for waterways near them, they’re also forming a network of dedicated water stewards who work together to solve water issues,” Kat said. “We envision a future where crowdsourced information makes it easy for all Canadians to understand when water is healthy and when it needs help.”

Water Rangers across the country are already improving local water health. One community scientist spotted a leaking pipe, so he tested the water nearby. Upon finding high levels of chlorine, he was able to call the city and get the pipe repaired right away.

THINX

THINX was founded at CSI New York City. First, they disrupted the women’s hygiene and underwear markets with their period-proof underwear. Second, they tackled the taboo of menstruation going head to head with the NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority who refused to run their ads in the subway (and you better believe THINX won). Last but not least, they made a difference in the lives of women and girls in Uganda by funding AFRIpads, an organization with 130 employees and four factories training women to make and sell reusable cloth pads.

In 2021 the New York Times called their underwear "one of the chicest and most comfortable pairs we’ve tested" !

Innovia GEO

Innovia GEO Corp. provides clean and efficient geothermal heating and cooling solutions to stakeholders involved in the design, construction, and operation of buildings and homes. Going beyond the status quo, they seek innovative and cost-effective solutions to support the sustainable development of our world.

Recently, Innovia GEO Corp. successfully commissioned their first full-scale pilot project for their GEOThermal Piles.  The technology dramatically cuts the cost of implementing a geothermal heating and cooling system by integrating geothermal functionality directly into a structure’s steel foundation piles. 

President and Co-Founder, Andrew Lee, said, “Soon, buildings can start using clean, efficient and cost effective heating and cooling with our GEOThermal Piles.”

The Centre for Social Innovation is helping to build the world we want – one that is regenerative, inclusive and prosperous for all – is possible. 

About CSI:

Here at CSI we try to inspire the belief that solutions are possible. We invite everyone, from all sectors and backgrounds, to be a part of the solution because we know that it’s up to us to create a better world. We believe that change happens when people decide to make a difference. We don’t sit back and wait for things to get better. We’re shaping the world now.

Sometimes people see us as an incubator and accelerator, sometimes a coworking space and community centre, sometimes a lab and an innovator. They’re all right. At our core the Centre for Social Innovation is supporting a platform and growing a community of social innovators that are building a world that puts people and planet first.

To learn more about our work, read our annual reports and Story and Impact page! Or, if you’re working on something cool or want to support our members and our work, you should join us!

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