This is part of our Investment Readiness Program series, showcasing how IRP funding is helping social purpose organizations prepare for investment while continuing to have a positive impact on their communities.
In 2016, British Columbia declared a public health emergency after a large increase in the number of opioid-related deaths. Vancouver-based social enterprise, Brave Coop, prevents accidental overdose death, using technology to connect people to community support when they’re most at risk. It is a recipient of the Investment Readiness Program (IRP), receiving funding to become investment ready.
“60 to 90% of overdoses are actually reversed by non-professionals, non-EMTs,” says Brave founder Gordon Casey. “The community has really been at the forefront of preventing more overdose deaths happening. Our go-to has always been to ask those people, ‘how can we serve you to be able to respond in a sustainable way to get there faster, to be better equipped?’”
Brave’s products include the Brave Button, designed for multi-unit supportive housing. Once pressed, these wireless buttons send a text message to building staff, who then respond accordingly. The buttons are often installed in bedrooms, and were co-designed with the community. “This is the framework of design justice, where the role of the innovator is to be a facilitator between the person with lived experience and the world — in our context, the experience of overdose and technology,” Casey says.
Brave is a co-op, meaning it is democratically controlled by its members: staff, financial investors and customers. “That’s one of the ways in which we baked into our DNA that we will always be held accountable to the community that we’re claiming to serve, because they are the equivalent of shareholders,” Casey says.
Brave was founded in 2016. “This is not the first business that I started, but it’s definitely the first one that’s been exclusively social impact focused,” Casey says. “It was obvious to potential investors that the business model was the last thing we had thought about.”
Brave wants to make its product distribution as efficient as possible, to increase its impact on the community’s health and wellbeing. To do so, the business needs investors — and this is where the IRP came in. “We knew about the government funding that the IRP is a part of,” Casey says. “We heard about it when it was announced, and we got excited. We’ve really struggled to communicate ourselves to potential impact investors. We deal with awkward questions like, ‘I’m sorry to ask this, but why should we be helping to stop people from dying?’ Having tools to answer those questions would be helpful for us because we do know that [investors] need to be able to go back to their stakeholders with answers to these things.”
Brave Receives $87,000 to Get Investment Ready
With $87,000 in IRP funding, Brave is able to create the kinds of assets that show potential investors that it can become profitable, and provide returns. “The things that we’re doing through the IRP are primarily financial modeling, tying that into our impact measurement, and then tying that into our marketing and positioning,” Casey says.
He continues, “We wanted to bring expertise into the existing financials and projections, and for somebody to walk us through the process of saying, ‘how many buildings are you talking to right now? What does your sales pipeline look like? What does that look like in terms of your current pricing?’”
With a financial model, impact measurement and marketing, Casey says Brave can “articulate our business and financial model really clearly, at the kind of level that we think [investors] will be looking for.”
When the time comes to pitch, Casey says, “We’ll probably structure a round in a more formalized sense, probably about $5 million. The primary goal will likely be scalability into our product mix, so that we can do things like turn our sensor [ODETECT, detecting if someone has overdosed in an enclosed space] into something that we can send in one box, so people can install it themselves.”
Looking to the Future
Like many businesses, Brave has struggled during COVID-19. Their current challenge is to figure out how to do remote sensor installation for U.S. customers. Reflecting on the large-scale impact of the pandemic, Casey says, “People who are essential workers are not the people who we valued in society previously. Those happen to be the kind of people that we work with all the time — social workers and people working in social housing, [as well as] blue collar workers, who are also large consumers and are at risk of overdose quite a lot.”
He continues, “In a mid-COVID world, the focus has all been shifted to that particular public health crisis. The overdose crisis has just been amplified as a result of that. Part of our role in the new world is to advocate for there to be greater support for all [social issues], and to continue to stay aligned with people that are fighting for social justice at large.”
Nickie Shobeiry is a writer, TV host and journalist, focusing on stories of social impact and entrepreneurship in Canada and beyond.