ALT/Now: Creating new ventures to take on big issues

What Is ALT/Now?

International experts, community leaders and sector specialists come together in Banff to share diverse perspectives on economic inequality. They frame key challenges for innovation and entrepreneurial action.

Over the last the 20 years, the gap between the richest and the poorest in society has grown – in Canada, as in so many of the world’s developed nations.

The benefits of globalization and technological advancements are not flowing strongly enough for many people, who who feel left out and left behind, insecure and over-worked. They want not just more money, but more meaning in their lives - so working hard does not come at the cost of relationships and the local economies on which those relationships depend. As the political and economic status quo comes under immense pressure, there is a growing constituency of economists, policy-makers, business leaders, and ordinary people who feel that the rules of the economic game need to change.

The 21 innovators who participated in ALT/Now took up this challenge, informed by insight into the lives of over 150 Canadians across the income spectrum.  Their practical innovations in areas such as real estate, financial services, flexible work, rural economies and the ‘squeezed middle’ embody the principles of a better market economy – one where resources flow in ways that generate shared prosperity.  

Although at an early stage, these ventures show what a more equitable future could look like.  We hope they will inspire further exploration and experimentation.

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There is a general consensus that existing models are failing us as new types of problems appear.

The Challenge: Economic Inequality

Over the last twenty years the income and wealth of all groups in Canadian society has risen. Yet those who are already well off have seen their income and wealth rise much faster than those in the middle and the bottom.

Economic inequality can be understood in terms of the size of the gap between the richest and poorest in a society. It is the size of this gap – rather than the relative levels of poverty – that matters. In developed nations, a wider gap is associated with lower social mobility and poorer health and social outcomes, even as overall GDP increases.

Economic inequality matters for a variety of reasons: for social mobility, for fairness, for the success of common endeavour. It has implications for other kinds of inequality – in concentrations of power, in life chances – and for the places in which we live.

Creating an economy that generates greater prosperity alongside greater wellbeing for all means creating economic models that combine money and meaning in new ways. This is the challenge we set out to meet.

In July 2015 we brought 30 leading thinkers and practitioners - from economists and sociologists to Indigenous leaders, policy thinkers, community builders, entrepreneurs and creative practitioners - together to frame the innovation challenges.

From this we set a national call to action for leading innovators, entrepreneurs and community builders to take on the challenge of developing new solutions on four themes:

  • Rethinking models for housing, land, and real estate
  • The squeezed middle
  • Wealth creation opportunities for all
  • The future of work and good business in a changing economy

Developing New Ventures

Alt/Now came about because we asked ourselves these questions: 

How can we draw entrepreneurial people to work on what matters? 

How can we act to bring new systems into being?

We set out to create impact by developing new ventures that lead to better outcomes, building a new network with the capacity for systems innovation and generating actionable insights into the opportunities for wider system change.

In ALT/Now we:

  • Frame the challenge – mapping the issue and convening a wide range of stakeholders to identify areas for strategic intervention.
  • Identify potential systems innovators – inviting entrepreneurs, innovators and community builders from across Canada to bring their skills and expertise to bear on the challenge.
  • Support early stage innovation – a nine-month program takes participants through gaining insight and reframing the problem to forming teams and prototyping solutions.
  • Build for collective impact – teams are supported to develop promising propositions into start-up ventures and build relationships to bring about wider system change.

In the spirit of ALT/Now, the approach we lay out is its own experiment and we are learning as we go. 

View Featured Venture Projects

Calvin Brook

Indigenous Placemaking Council  

Restoring Indigenous presence to our cities, towns and communities through creating beautiful public places that celebrate Indigenous culture, engage Indigenous youth in the process, and bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens together in a space of inspiration and common cause. A project of Reconciliation led by Indigenous Youth that reconnects all Canadians.

Devon Carr

Guerrilla Benefits Project  

As more and more Canadians, young and old, find themselves in contract employment, running their own small business or juggling multiple employers, the traditional models offered by the insurance and benefits industry aren’t meeting their needs. The Guerrilla Benefits Project is working with individuals, Canadian SMEs, and benefits companies directly to craft new services and respond to this evolution in how we work.

Monica Da Ponte


Strive uses peer to peer workshops to build financial capacity, agency, and resiliency for individuals and families at financial transition points, and those struggling but not in crisis. We will additionally use the learning from users to identify and advocate for other systemic solutions over time.

Carolyn Davis & Momentum Calgary

Catalysing Change: Accelerating Financial Inclusion for Low Income Albertans  

Alberta has a two tier banking system that pushes less credit-worthy people to very high cost shortterm loans. Momentum Calgary has experienced some success in helping catalyse market adoption of innovative alternatives and is seeking support to replicate this systems change work in other regions.

Kira Gerwing

Working Title  

‘Working Title’ provides values-motivated developers with recognition, legacy, and sustained competitive advantage to deliver affordable rental housing. Current costs of collaboration, maintaining a healthy deal pipeline, and securing site access are too expensive to justify below market returns for developers in major cities across Canada. ‘Working Title’ is a service that convenes market developers (a “pod”) and provides them with access to otherwise unattainable land, brand recognition and esteem, and reduced costs and risks, enabling them to build their legacy by setting a new, scalable trend for affordable housing delivery. The pod pioneers a collaborative real estate development process that connects market development expertise to the creation of community-owned affordable housing portfolios.

RJ Kelford


Only 37% of Americans have enough savings to cover even a $500 financial emergency. Cornerstone is a simple, one click application that helps young people take basic, initial steps to build better financial resilience. Our users know they need to be doing more to take care of their finances, but they don’t know what to do and our research shows they often aren’t taking even the simplest steps, often due to confusion and intimidation around all things financial.
Cornerstone is a subscription service that allows you to invest, save and be insured with a single click – no complicated decisions, no upfront financial literacy required, just a decision to make a basic monthly contribution to improving your financial resilience.

Seth Leon

Employee Ownership M&A  

Employee Ownership M&A helps businesses with strong cultures of employee ownership and profit sharing grow through merger and acquisition. This helps grow the number of Canadians building wealth through their work, supports retiring business owners in a difficult transition, and builds stronger local business through deployment of local capital.

Karen Secord

Food and Finance  

Food and Finance connects kids to their food by installing growing towers and walls in schools, community centres and other youth serving locations, and supporting youth and those working with them to harvest and sell the food to local businesses and community.

The Journey

In January 22 leaders, innovators and serial entrepreneurs from across Canada were selected to form the Alt/Now 2016 cohort. Our mission was to develop new market-based for- and non-profit ventures that could play a role in generating greater prosperity and wellbeing for all.

Over eight months the cohort developed and tested a wide range of potential solutions. Three four-day residencies in Banff gave us the opportunity to work with leading advisors from diverse fields. Between residencies the cohort used design tools and methods with people in their local communities to gain insight into their daily experiences and rapidly prototype new solutions.

These solutions range from new housing development deals, new forms of security and savings, services for childcare, food growing and diversifying incomes in rural communities, to new forms of indigenous place-making.

The cohort has engaged over 150 Canadians across the income spectrum in research and prototyping activities. This collective investigation has painted a unique picture of life in Canada: the resourcefulness, commitment and values at play as people create the means to both survive and thrive in a changing economic landscape.

At the outset of the program the cohort looked at a number of ‘dynamics’ underpinning a growth in the gap between rich and poor. These dynamics - accumulation, polarisation, the shrinking middle - are reinforcing, or compounding in their effects.

We asked how different strategies and interventions might act to disrupt those dynamics. 

We saw that ‘resource flows’ of all types might be channelled differently to have more positively reinforcing effects, and that different types of business models were required to make that possible.

Program Advisors & Contributors

The Alt/Now cohort has been supported by the following advisors and contributors:

  • Charlie Leadbeater, CL Ideas Ltd. 
  • Andrea Dicks, Community Foundations of Canada 
  • David Hulchanski, Centre for Urban and Community Studies 
  • Michelynn LaFleche, United Way of Greater Toronto 
  • Norm Tasevki, Purpose Capital 
  • Andy Broderick, Vancity 
  • Elizabeth McIsaac, Maytree 
  • Marc Ventresca, Saïd Business School 
  • Peter MacLeod, MASS LBP 
  • Cheryl Dahle, Future of Fish 
  • Lori Stewart, NEX Technology Capital 
  • Tonya Surman, Centre for Social Innovation 
  • Denise Withers, nLab 
  • Soushiant Zanganehpour, Tribeca Impact Partners 
  • Hesam Masoumi, Idea Couture 
  • Barbara Steele, The Natural Step 
  • Marjorie Brans, Centre for Social Innovation 
  • Nisa Malli, Privy Council Office 
  • Julius Tapper, MIT 
  • Sean Geobey, Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience 
  • Paul Miller, Bethnal Green Ventures 
  • Bonnie Foley-Wong, Pique Ventures
  • Ivy So, HubOttawa 
  • Francois Bonnici, Bertha Centre for Social Innovation 
  • Dan Overall, Trico Charitable Foundation 
  • Carol Anne Hilton, Transformation International 
  • Michael Norton, Harvard Business School 
  • Allyson Hewitt, MaRS 
  • Jonathan Hera, Grand Challenges Canada 
  • Vickie Cammack, Tyze Personal Networks 
  • Karen Joseph, Reconciliation Canada 
  • Pedro Barata, United Way 
  • Phil Haid, Public Inc. 
  • Simon Jackson, Independent Strategist 
  • Dan Buchner, Dan Buchner Consulting 
  • Cale Thompson, Ziba Design 
  • Chris Downs, Method 
  • Rob Bolton, Idea Couture 
  • Paul Hartley, Idea Couture 
  • Tamsin Smith, Harmonesse 
  • Sean Peters, DryGro

Contact Us

For questions about ALT / Now, please contact: 


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107 Tunnel Mountain Drive
Box 1020, Stn. 43
Banff, Alberta
T1L 1H5 Canada