UBC student group raise $200K for women-run Vancouver cafe hit by COVID

Just a few months ago, East Van Roasters was struggling to stay afloat. Now, with the help of a $200,000 investment round led by UBC and SFU students, it plans to expand its operations.

The Vancouver Social Value Fund (VSVF), a student-led organization comprised of fund managers and associates from UBC and SFU, raised $200,000 to save East Van Roasters, a popular coffee shop in the Downtown Eastside, that supports employment programs for vulnerable women.

Founded in 2012, East Van Roasters (EVR) is a social enterprise — a business that measures success based on community impact rather than profit — with a long history of working with marginalized populations in the Downtown Eastside.

EVR has historically relied on revenues from Portland Hotel Society’s (PHS) Community Services Society to fund operations, but its future was left in the balance after PHS needed to restructure during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when the roastery was introduced to David LePage, a local businessman who sits on the investment committee for the VSVF.

In May, VSVF led a two-month investment campaign rallying seven local investors as a syndicate to provide a $200,000 loan to EVR, which has since shifted to become a community contribution company.

“When the Vancouver Social Value Fund team learned about East Van Roasters, we were excited to see how impact was embedded into the core business model. Aside from its programs offered to at-risk women in the Downtown Eastside, EVR has established numerous initiatives for building the community,” VSVF said in a press release sent to The Ubyssey.

Shelley Bolton, executive director and head chocolate maker at EVR, says the student-led funding is invaluable to them.

“This funding will [not only] allow us to return from the pandemic shutdown stronger [but] with additional resources [we can] support peer employment … provide training and employment opportunities to vulnerable, at-risk people in the DTES community,” said Bolton.

Annie Chepal, a fund manager at the VSVF, says that the social impact that EVR creates is essential to its community.

“[We were] absolutely speechless at how social impact is respected, encouraged and blended with [EVR’s] actual business model. The impact there is just so embedded into the community as well as the SPO,” said Chepal.

Aside from East Van Roasters, the VSVF has also invested over $500,000 across eight other social purpose organizations since its inception in 2017.

“We're investing real money into real companies that are creating such important change and impact in the Vancouver community,” said Chepal. “We’re always looking for new deal flow, we’re always looking [for] new opportunities and new ways we can support the Vancouver startup ecosystem.”

To learn more about the Vancouver Social Value Fund and their portfolio companies, visit VSVF’s website here.