Note: This blog was originally posted on It has been reposted here with permission from the author. 

Since watching Marty McFly in Back to the Future and Rufus in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as a young boy, I’ve always been interested in the perils and possibilities of the future.

Fortunately, MaRS is a great place to run experiments that will help us manage our way toward a better tomorrow. The organization is like one giant lab providing the facilities required to design enterprising solutions and to tackle intractable challenges. We mash up tough problems, intelligent people and good research, and then stir. (Think Doc Brown’s lab, only bigger, and with less illegal plutonium.)

The Finance Lab at the Social Finance Forum at MaRS gave us a great view into 2013 and beyond, featuring real Canadian impact investing initiatives in development from Vancouver to St. John’s.

These incredibly brave and intelligent developers pitched exciting initiatives and the one key challenge to tackle in their effort to develop sustainable food and marine ecosystems, culturally relevant renewable energy and education solutions, positive interventions for children, and local and international solutions to intractable problems.

Here’s a snapshot of these six exciting impact investing initiatives.

First Power specializes in culturally relevant education, training and energy solutions that create economic development opportunities for First Nations. The company’s vision is simple: to put green energy technology—along with jobs and economic benefits—into the hands of communities. Read First Power’s full overview and review their slide presentation from the Social Finance Forum.

  • FarmStart by Christie Young, executive director

Founded in 2005, FarmStart works to support and encourage a new generation of farmers to develop locally based, ecologically sound and economically viable agricultural enterprises. FarmStart’s role is to provide practical support, provincial leadership and a voice for a new generation of farmers. The company’s emerging impact investing initiative is “to develop and enable concrete and sustainable investment/financing vehicle(s) that will encourage and ensure viable farm succession and long-term farmland preservation.” Read FarmStart’s full overview; review their slide presentation from the Social Finance Forum.

The Old East Village BIA is undertaking research to create a Local Economic Development Plan for the Old East Village and a Neighbourhood Economic Development Corporation to implement and resource it. The ultimate goal is to create a more resilient local economy. Read the Old East Village BIA’s full overview; review their slide presentation from the Social Finance Forum.

SNAP is a cognitive-behavioural strategy that helps children and parents regulate angry feelings by getting them to stop, think and plan positive alternatives before they act impulsively. Read SNAP’s full overview; review their slide presentation from the Social Finance Forum.

Global Catalyst Initiative (GCI) partners with early-stage impact entrepreneurs who are pioneering market-based solutions to global poverty. Focused in East Africa, GCI connects ventures to the networks, technical assistance and funding required to help them refine their business models and prepare for growth. Read GCI’s full overview; review their slide presentation from the Social Finance Forum.

WWF is trying to find ways to provide financial investment for critically important measures, such as bycatch reduction, seafood certification, protected areas for biodiversity and habitats that build resiliency and allow marine ecosystems to recover. These measures are essential for the long-term sustainability that will provide financial security to the fishing industry. The goal is to create a self-sustaining financial institution that will complement the economic incentives created by sustainable seafood markets, starting with the Grand Banks. Read the WWF’s full overview; review their slide presentation from the Social Finance Forum.

If you’re not excited about the future now, you need to get your flux capacitor checked.

I’m looking forward to watching and supporting the progress of these initiatives over the coming year and beyond.

Adam Spence

Adam is the Director, SVX at MaRS. Adam helped found the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and the School for Social Entrepreneurs – Ontario. Prior to MaRS, he was Executive Director of the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB). See more…