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Guelph social start-up partners with people facing adversity to create products and hope

The Community Company was formed with the intention of helping empower people facing various life challenges

A new Guelph social business is using entrepreneurship to help people facing adversity feel empowered.

The Community Company partners with those people and uses their skills to create a unique product that is then sold online.

A man experiencing homelessness, a woman who escaped an abusive relationship, someone overcoming trauma following a workplace injury and someone born with a disability have all been partners on the first two products created: Christmas cards last November and tote bags featuring unique designs earlier this year.

A third product, a self-care box that is a partnership with Guelph’s HOPE House, is to be available on the Community Company’s web site by the end of the month.

“A lot of our partners also feel the desire to give back. You don’t feel good when you take and take,” said Justin Chan, the 25-year-old Guelph resident behind The Community Company.

“Community Company offers them a unique opportunity to put something out there in the world, but also to create something of value and have it validated by the community. That’s just as important as the product we’re selling itself.”

The partners are paid for their time and the profits are split 50/50.

“It’s important to distinguish that we treat them as shareholders,” Chan said. “These are people who share the profits with and whose opinions we respect.

“It’s about valuing them as a partner.”

The Community Company doesn’t try and be more than what it is. They aren’t looking to fix anything or any one.

The money made is nominal at this point.

What it is trying to do is give people a positive experience being a big part of a process.

“We don’t come into these situations offering to change our partners’ lives or circumstances. We don’t come in as a hero, simply because we can’t,” Chan said.

“But we do offer a unique entrepreneurial experience where they can create a product from scratch, where they can think about the marketing, and be a part of that experience.”

Jaya James, executive director of HOPE House, said the project Community Company project they are partnering on is a great example of enabling people who are facing challenges.

“He enabled the group to develop their own ideas, research the best products to include and even make some of the items themselves.

“The Community Company, he has done an amazing job of empowering individuals to develop this self care box,” James said.

Chan works for Blue North Strategies, a Guelph marketing company specializing in working with nonprofits.

As a student at Wilfrid Laurier University he started Homeless in Waterloo, a blog that detailed the stories of those experiencing homelessness with the objective of changing the stigma around homelessness.

That project stemmed out of a friendship he struck up with a homeless person while on a work term in Toronto.

“He said that more difficult than finding food or shelter, the hardest part was the fact that he is regularly ignored by society,” Chan wrote about what motivated him to create Homeless in Waterloo.

Chan would like to see The Community Company scaled up and help more people and put more money in their pocket.

“It’s all about empowering our community one person at a time. We can’t generalize and assume we can put the same template on everyone. Everyone’s situation is different. We need to treat everyone as a unique individual.”