Photo: Marko Savic, cofounder and CEO of FunnelCake, on King St. W. in downtown Kitchener.

With multiple new startups, funding announcements and large tech companies opening offices here, it’s no surprise that Waterloo Region is flourishing.

And while our region’s technology sector is booming today, a local tech leader — who wishes to remain anonymous — has challenged the tech community to raise $50,000 to help displace the harsher realities that come along with the success of a growing city. The unnamed local tech CEO has agreed to personally match that amount for The Working Centre’s affordable housing initiative.

The Working Centre, a local not-for-profit helping those in need in the community find work, shelter, and develop employable skills, is $900,000 towards a $1-million fundraising goal to build 18 units of supportive, sustainable and affordable housing in the Kitchener downtown core.

The funds will help purchase and renovate the units and support residents struggling with mental health, emotional and addiction issues. The Working Centre hopes to announce meeting the fundraising goal at the Mayor’s Dinner, April 2. With the deadline around the corner, local tech companies are encouraging each other to help.

“If ten companies donate $5,000, that’s it,” said Marko Savic, co-founder and CEO of marketing startup FunnelCake, who heard about the challenge Tuesday.

For Savic and the FunnelCake team, giving back to the community is a fundamental company goal. As they planned the The Marketing Leap conference last month, they chose to donate $15,000 raised from ticket sales to The Working Centre.

“We’re building our business downtown,” Savic said. “Most of our employees live downtown and we walk to work everyday. We’ve seen how downtown is changing very quickly and we want to make sure that it remains a place that’s inclusive for everybody. The things the Working Centre is doing, especially the supportive housing project, make sure that there is a place for everybody to live or work downtown. It’s helping people who definitely need the most help and who are most affected by gentrification.”

Savic believes tech companies in particular have the resources and ability to make change within the community, as well as a social obligation to have a hand in shaping its future.

“We started companies because we see a way that the future can be different,” Savic said. “We’re doing a lot of hard things to make that happen, whether it’s in software, manufacturing or something else. We’ve all had a chance to go to San Francisco and see what it’s like. We don’t want Kitchener to be like that.

“We need to make sure that everybody is a part of that and we’re not just complaining about it — we’re actually acting on it. And that we’re putting our money where our mouth is and saying, ‘Yes, you can be a for-profit company that gives back and shapes the community you want to live in.”

NetSuite is a downtown Kitchener company putting its money where its mouth is. It regularly collaborates with The Working Centre on a number of different programs, including partnering to launch the Slower Cooking, Faster Meals initiative last month, which teaches disadvantaged families how to prepare nutritious, cost-effective, slow-cooker meals.

Joseph Fung, NetSuite’s vice president of HCM Products, believes the local tech community can learn about entrepreneurial success from The Working Centre’s programs.

“They really are targeting some of the most vulnerable people in downtown Kitchener,” Fung said. “So when we think about how the tech companies are recharging and changing the face of downtown Kitchener, this is one of the few opportunities we get to actually help have a direct impact on some of the negative side effects of the changes. And it is a great way for us to make a very material, real contribution to the lives of some people who may not normally walk through our doors.”

And that contribution is what Joe Mancini, director of The Working Centre, appreciates most about seeing tech companies supporting the community.

“The main thing is that there’s a general recognition that supporting the community in need demonstrates the importance of building the community socially and economically,” Mancini said. “It’s not just about raising money; it’s about building culture. It’s innovative.”

For Savic, making giving back to the community a priority has delivered a strong return on investment for the startup in ways beyond moral gratification. Not only has it increased brand awareness and goodwill in the community, it has also created a culture that attracts enthusiastic, community-focused people interested in joining the FunnelCake team.

“Those are going to be the high-performing people who care,” said Savic. “Our customers love it, too.”

Anyone interested in making a donation can find more information here or by calling The Working Centre at 519-743-1151.




I see and hear that… THEMUSEUM is hosting Beer + Terrariums tonight with Living Fresh Flower Studio and School and Wellington Brewery. It’s a 19+ event that starts at 7 p.m. … The Conor Gains Band is playing some live blues at the KW Boathouse Friday, Mar. 25. Show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10 at the door… There will be a Year of Code Challenge Drop In at KPL on Saturday, Mar. 26 from 2-4 p.m. A great way for people of all ages, from 8 to 80, to discover coding in a fun, integrative and educational environment.