TORONTO, ON–Desjardins has announced that applications are now open for the third annual GoodSpark Grants program, the financial cooperative’s support fund for small businesses which has been increased to $3m in 2022 – its largest contribution to date.
Continuing its commitment to support small businesses who make a big impact in their communities, Desjardins will be giving out the sum in grants in early 2023. Each of the 150 recipients will receive a $20,000 grant to further drive innovation, investments in their employees, and/or sustainable development.
Across Canada, there are over 1.1 million small businesses who together employ over 10 million Canadians – almost two-thirds of the workforce (Gov. Of Canada / StatCan). Many of these organizations are innovative and have a positive impact on their local communities but find themselves needing support to grow and expand.
The GoodSpark Grant can make a big difference to small business owners like Purush Cannane, who used his 2021 grant to develop a semi-automatic assembly line for his sustainable paper bag production company Greenii, which has allowed the company to sell nearly 55,000 paper bags without external advertising.
How GoodSpark Grants are helping one entrepreneur turn clean paper waste into eco-friendly bags—and how others can emulate his path to success.
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
That message from Apple CEO Steve Jobs during a 2005 Stanford University commencement address resonated halfway around the world with a budding entrepreneur searching for his next big idea. Sixteen years later, Purush Cannane was one of 150 successful entrepreneurs to have his hard work recognized and receive a Desjardins GoodSpark Grant.
It wasn’t until Cannane and his family moved from India to Brampton a few years after Jobs’s commencement address that he experienced his first spark—a moment of clarity which came at an unlikely source: his wife’s baby shower.
“I noticed my mom used leftover gift bags from our wedding for guests who came that day. Their reaction was one of appreciation and gratitude that we were mindful about reducing waste and saving money,” recalls Cannane. He decided to use the auspicious event as a springboard for his new venture.
When the Canadian government announced its plan to ban single-use plastics in 2019, the mechanical engineer—who had worked previously at Rogers and IBM—saw a challenge that begged for a solution.
“We had recently moved to Nova Scotia, where Dalhousie University, through its Launchpad Accelerator, had an open call for innovative ideas. I came up with the concept of repurposing clean paper waste from newsprint and flyers into paper bags,” says Cannane. “I made some prototypes and took them to a Halifax farmers’ market. They sold out in one hour! I knew we were onto something.” Greenii was born.
Leading into the spring of 2020, he thought success was “in the bag,” but a worldwide pandemic was a major obstacle that would test his resolve and his resourcefulness.
“We had no sales for several months and things were looking grim, but deep down I knew we could make this idea fly. I spoke to my business mentor and she thought there might be an opportunity for us turn this into a social enterprise, where we could team up with a local employment program aimed at immigrant women to provide jobs to newcomers who have language barriers.”
Cannane invested in his community, providing a few weeks of training and hiring 6 women as independent contractors to work out of their homes, which in turn helped him manage his workload.
While things were looking up, money was still tight. Cannane’s business mentor suggested he apply for a GoodSpark Grant, noting that Greenii’s focus on sustainability, innovation and making a local impact made the company a great candidate.
“I was at Costco when my phone rang and I thought it was a prank at first,” remembers Cannane. “An entrepreneur is always somewhere between confidence and fear on the spectrum of emotions, but this was validation that we were on the right path and were doing a good thing.”
Since receiving the $20,000 grant earlier this year, Cannane has developed a semi-automatic assembly line that allowed him to go from producing 50 bags per hour to 800 – a 1600%, increase in efficiency and a step towards eventually moving into a standalone facility. According to Cannane, the assembly line has been “effectively used for business growth,” and allowed the company to sell nearly 55,000 paper bags with zero external advertising. And with a growing list of customers consisting primarily of independent shop owners, his long-term goal is to supply corporate offices and become a household name in Canada for gifting and packaging needs. He also has an eye on developing a licensing model that would fuel further growth.
“Our economy wastes a lot of clean paper and we believe a tree saved is equal to a tree planted. Our purpose is simply to do our part to build a strong community and a sustainable business.”
Desjardins is again calling for applications for GoodSpark Grants, to support 150 more small businesses like Greenii that make a big impact by investing in sustainability, innovation, employment, and giving back to their communities. This year will mark the 3rd edition of the GoodSpark Grants program, launched by Desjardins in 2020 to provide support for small businesses. The organization is committing $3 million in grants to recognize deserving business owners across the country who make a local impact and could use financial support to keep their businesses growing.
Applications for this year’s program are now open until November 6.
Full details and eligibility criteria can be found at GoodSparkGrants.ca