Emily Bland is “Seed-EO” at SucSeed, a social enterprise that designs and builds hydroponic gardens. The aim is to improve food sustainability, especially in the North, by manufacturing kits that enable people to grow fresh vegetables for a fraction of the usual cost. The kits are built in partnership with Choices for Youth, offering job experience to homeless and at-risk youth, and the gardens are used in seniors’ homes, educational facilities, and family homes.
Emily never planned to be an entrepreneur. She went to university with a long-term plan to become a CPA and transition to law at the age of forty. She studied accounting and completed work terms with Ernst & Young. But during her time at Memorial, Emily became involved with Enactus, a global non-profit organization that brings together students, academics, and business leaders seeking to improve society through youth entrepreneurship. Her interest in business was sparked by what she discovered there: the idea that a student could really make an impact, the passion to change the world.
Emily finds inspiration in her grandfather. Entrepreneur isn’t a term she would have used to describe him when she was growing up, but he arrived from England with a few dollars in his pocket and came to own veterinary clinics, farms, and a variety of businesses that contributed to the community. Emily’s grandfather died suddenly while she was in university, and that changed everything for her. Her grandfather had told her repeatedly that she wasn’t going to be an accountant or a lawyer. After losing him, Emily heard that voice keenly. She wanted to do something in his memory, something that he would be proud of, and that meant using agriculture to make a positive change. On the verge of graduating and moving into an accounting firm, she pitched her project to the Enactus team and secured their support to transition from volunteer activity to standalone social enterprise.
For Emily, the best thing about entrepreneurship is being able to do things your own way, and to have an impact: “For me it’s so incredible to think that a Rubbermaid container that grows plants has affected 15,000 youth and it’s helped people in northern communities grow fresh produce.” But she has reached out for help as well. Operating in Newfoundland and Labrador, she says, offers the unique advantage of a supportive community. “Established leaders in this sector are so helpful - reach out and contact a senior CEO to ask for help and they’ll answer the phone, they’ll have a meeting with you.”
The team is key to SucSeed’s success. The average age is 24; at 26, Emily is the oldest team member, and she values the young, energetic vibe. She has been thrilled to watch the staff grow - it’s a great achievement, she says, to bring in “young women who are passionate and really want to change the world” and to create a place where they can begin to do that.
The Young Entrepreneur award is “a huge, huge honour - many women leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador are really stepping up and making change happen, so being recognized as a leader under 35 means that we’re on the right track.”
Emily is motivated by the goal of making this province the best place that it can possibly be: “We have a lot of challenges here when it comes to food security, and it needs us Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to use our duct-tape, we-can-fix-anything attitude and find solutions and build this province into something special.” One way to do this is to encourage young people to look at agriculture as offering a viable future.
It’s hard to imagine when you hear Emily speak - because she sounds extremely knowledgeable, capable, articulate, and convincing - but her biggest challenge has been believing in herself. She suffers from imposter syndrome. Her advice to young entrepreneurs is to get past that: “Your ideas matter; you can help build a stronger community. Do it now: this is the time in your life when you can take a bit more risk, when you can take the passions you have and act on them.”
Young Entrepreneur recognizes an entrepreneur 35 years of age or younger as of March 31, 2020, who has owned and operated a profitable business for at least two years. Sponsored by College of the North Atlantic