• entrepreneurship@UBC

The Venture Spotlight Series: Global Entrepreneurship Week edition

At entrepreneurship@UBC, we work with a rich pipeline of ventures ready to change the world. Within our vibrant ecosystem of ventures are the leaders who are developing solutions across industries, regions and trends, commanding the cutting edge evolution of our world. 

As part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, November 16th to 22nd, and as part of our larger Diversity & Inclusion campaign, we wanted to celebrate some of the ventures and innovators in our community who are pushing boundaries and creating a better future for everyone through entrepreneurialism and innovation. Showcasing the various pathways to entrepreneurship is crucial to creating a landscape of leaders reflective of our world and these entrepreneurs are going beyond global innovation to create impact within their own organizations. 

Meet (some of) the entrepreneurs a part of our ecosystem building the innovations of tomorrow while creating change today:

Emkao Foods

Founded by Ayissi Nyemba

Tell us a bit about Emkao?: Emkao Foods is a startup food processing company, founded in 2017, focused on the production of organic and transparently sourced cocoa ingredients - cocoa butter, cocoa powder and related products. It is located in Mission, British Columbia. The founding mission of the company is to buy high quality cocoa beans at a fair price, and to process them into higher value added products for sale to businesses in Western Canada and beyond. This approach would generate a premium product for Emkao’s customers, aid small farmers in Cameroon, and help transform their local economy. How did you get started as an entrepreneur?: Growing up in Cameroon with five brothers and sisters, I have fond memories of running around Kotou Farm, my family’s cacao plantation. From a young age, I gained an astute appreciation for all the sweat and hard work that went into growing cacao. Coming from generations of cacao farmers in a country where cacao production and export contributes significantly to the national economy and in poverty alleviation, I soon came to understand the immense challenges and inequity faced by my family and Cameroon’s many cacao farmers due to measures imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). I was convinced that they deserved better, and that I was going to help.  What global problem does Emkao solve for?: Emkao is still at the start-up phase but is step-by-step developing international connections and network. Steps we are taking in the short-term include partnerships with LME-Cameroon and SOCAM, two community-based organizations working with smallholder farmers in Cameroon, for the promoting Organic certified cocoa beans production. In British Columbia, Emkao is promoting women entrepreneurship and the integration of young immigrants into the international business community. In the mid-term, partnership with suppliers from Peru for importing Fair-trade certified cocoa beans with accredited farmers cooperatives. In the long-term, partnerships expansion in Ghana and hopefully Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa and possibly other Latin America countries like Costa Rica.  How does equity, diversity and inclusion play a role in how you are building your company?: Emkao is still too small to address such sensitive and macro-level issues as equity, diversity and inclusion. However, despite the complexity of the issues, Emkao has within its limited capacity included these concerns in its agenda and action plan: addressing food and livelihoods security in working with smallholder farmers in Cameroon (this involves promoting conservation agriculture practices for organic cocoa beans production, and UTZ certification to increase vulnerable household income). Additionally, supporting increased food production to reduce the income gap, increase food availability, access and utilization to reduce malnutrition essentially for children under five in targeted cocoa production communities. As well as creating opportunities and jobs in both rural communities in Cameroon and in their small factory in British Columbia. Finally, being part of the community in British Columbia and mobilizing the small business community in the fight against COVID-19 (the IKARE-KAO campaign was launched in this respect to support our front-line Health workers and Firemen in Vancouver). Exciting news! Emkao foods will have its own traceability device "TRAKAO" to track shipments from Cameroon to Canada, to assure shipment security and track quality attributes while in transit. We are also getting close to our grand opening. Stay tuned!

Emako Foods is an alumni of our Social Venture stream

Nautical Crimes Investigations (NCIS)

Founded by Dyhia Belhabib

Tell us a bit about NCIS?: NCIS strives to bring transparency to the world of illegal fishing and maritime criminality, detect illegal activities, and decolonize maritime surveillance by using affordable smart and autonomous drone technologies that are able to make decisions and fill in important gaps for our customers, enforcement agencies and environmental defenders. How did you get started as an entrepreneur?: As a researcher in the field of illegal fishing, fisheries, and maritime criminality, I have witnessed the devastation of thriving coastal economies to these crimes and offences. I have seen first hand the enslavement of sea people onboard big boats that exploited them and offered almost nothing in return. I have understood that low income countries struggled to monitor their waters because of an inherent lack of resources and technology that was adapted to them and their needs. I decided to create a comprehensive system that filled in those gaps by having eyes on the water and ears on the data. 

What global problem does NCIS solve for?: Our drones will help tackle illegal fishing and maritime criminality with result in over $500 billion US in losses every year, millions of jobs, and thousands of lives.

How does equity, diversity and inclusion play a role in how you are building your company?: We target countries from the Global South as a core focus. Nobody knows the issues therein and the reality of illegal fishing and maritime crimes better than people who have to handle those issues on a daily basis. As such, we strive to be inclusive. Our team of founders and advisers includes mostly women, and women of color notably from Africa and Asia. We believe that diversity and inclusion will bring in a much better and nuanced understanding of how our drone technology could be adapted to the reality of the issues to be solved.

NCIS is a current venture a part of our CORE Venture Building program


Co-founded by Paige Whitehead and Yamila Franco

Tell us a bit about Nyoka?: Nyoka Design Labs is a circular economy innovation hub working towards a cleaner Earth by designing Earth-friendly technology to replace standard toxic, wasteful ones. Nyoka leverages advances in sustainable biotechnology, material sciences and Land-based knowledge to build inspiring & innovative technology, processes and education to engage with the world. Starting with the world's first sustainable, non-toxic, bioluminescent glow stick (the Nyoka Light Wand), Nyoka is designing products following the circular economy model. These products are aimed at advancing climate justice and equitable access to STEM as an empowering tool to lead in sustainability and entrepreneurship.  How did you get started as entrepreneurs?: Paige: Paige started Nyoka Design Labs and developed the Light Wand during her time as a Microbiology and Environmental Studies Student at the University of Victoria. With a background in research (WWF, Deep Bay Marine Research, Starzomski Labs), business, environmental restoration, permaculture design, and a growing understanding of bioluminescence, she conceived of the Nyoka Light Wand and the ethos of Design for Rebirth. She is an active member of the MIT Global Community Biotechnology Initiative and passionate science educator and serial inventor. Some of her research interests include: bioluminescence theory and applications, indigenous microorganisms, global microbiome health, connectivity of the "microecosphere", and carbon sequestration.  Yamila: As a proud Afro-Indigenous Womxn, Yamila's work is centered around empowering communities to innovate & co-create alternative solutions to solve Earth's most-pressing socio-economic and environmental challenges. With an Honours in Biology & a background in business and finances Yamila works on bringing Nyoka's vision and mission to life through their circular economy design hub. Yamila believes that research, entrepreneurship, community, and identity are interconnected and therefore leverages her skills as a way to empower fellow innovators. Earlier this year Yamila was awarded the Representation, Engagement, Participation Youth Award by HERE in Canada due to her advocacy, and anti-racism work in the community and was a recipient of both the regional and national 2020 Startup Canada Canada Export Challenge
. Yamila's knowledge is built on wholistic enterprise design, giving back to the Land, and sustainable development goals.  What global problem does Nyoka solve for?: Starting with our first invention, the Nyoka Light Wand is the world’s first non-toxic, biodegradable, portable, bioluminescent light source designed to disrupt single-use, waste-generating light source industries. We are developing the technology to eliminate the billion plastic glow sticks created every year. with a sustainable, circular economy model that removes and reduces waste in our systems. How does equity, diversity and inclusion play a role in how you are building your company?: As we are building Nyoka we are coming from a place of understanding and having experienced firsthand some of the barriers that diverse communities face to access STEM. As such, it is part of our building blocks to not perpetuate the same negative cycles and create spaces where everyone feels and understands that their knowledge is valued, respected and protected. We approach our work with an intersectional, gender-based and culturally-aware lens. We do so from the way we are building our teams to the conversations we host in our meetings and our decision-making process. Our stakeholders include our team, our community and the Land. We are creating new systems that embody equity, diversity and inclusion because we want Nyoka's intergenerational impact to be meaningful and contributing to the world.

Nyoka is a current venture a part of our Lab2Launch Venture Building program

The C.O.D.E Initiative Foundation

Co-founded by Bahar Heravi Moussavi, Mikhaela Torio and Felicia Chan

Tell us a bit about The C.O.D.E Initiative Foundation?: Over the last 3 years, The C.O.D.E Initiative Foundation has worked with nearly 400 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other neurodiversities to teach them the basics of computer programming through a tailored educational plan. As we continue to immerse ourselves in a community of passionate and dedicated families where we learn more through their stories, we now aim to design a technological platform that streamlines the process of finding support for children with neurodiversities.  How did you get started as entrepreneurs?: In 2017, we were three friends in our second year of university with an aspiration to change the narrative and promote inclusivity. So came to be our start as entrepreneurs, co-founding The C.O.D.E. Initiative Foundation, an organization with the mission to Create Opportunities and Define Education. The first few months brought about adversities we chose to face head-on. Over 3 years later, we have hosted over 40 workshops to nearly 400 children. We hope that throughout our journey as entrepreneurs, facing new challenges as we begin new projects, we can continue to give back to a community of families that have been unendingly supportive of our ventures.  What global problem does The C.O.D.E Initiative Foundation solve for?: For parents of children with neurodiversities, money, time, and lack of guidance are the barriers they face every day when grappling to find support. We aim to alleviate this challenge by designing a platform that breaks down these barriers and gives them access to the form of support they believe is best for their children. How does equity, diversity and inclusion play a role in how you are building your company?: Inclusion and diversity have always been the pillars of our mission. Not only do we strive to promote these through our services and products, but we also incorporate this within our team structure. As we continue to grow, we have now seen over 300 dedicated volunteers, all of whom strive to promote our mission. Each one of us is dedicated to encouraging neurodiverse youth to pursue the opportunities that await them. This does not change, even as we now work to build a new product that will help their parents, those of whom are just as dedicated - if not more - to providing opportunities for their children.

The C.O.D.E Initiative Foundation is a current venture a part of our CORE Venture Building program

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