Social Entrepreneur: Bill Zheng’s Journey with RadiCare Ventures

Social Innovation

At just 20 years old, Bill Zheng is already making a significant impact in Calgary through his social enterprise, RadiCare Ventures. A nursing student at the University of Calgary, Bill recently graduated from the Research to Social Innovation Incubator (R2SI) program and now serves as the co-founder and managing director of RadiCare Ventures. This innovative business hires individuals facing employment barriers, offering them work in cleaning and security services. Their mission? To address some of Calgary’s most challenging urban issues, such as vandalism, graffiti, litter, needles, and open drug use.

RadiCare Ventures was born out of Bill’s recognition of a gap in social enterprises that provide sustainable employment opportunities for people facing employment barriers. While there were small-scale initiatives, Bill saw the potential for something much larger. “With RadiCare Ventures, the goal is to scale up, hiring many more people for a wider variety of jobs,” he explained.

Bill’s desire to create RadiCare Ventures is deeply rooted in his personal experiences. Growing up in a low-income family, he relied on community resources like food banks. As his mother’s primary caregiver until her passing during his last year of high school, Bill became acutely aware of the gaps in the social and healthcare systems. This frustration fuelled his decision to study nursing at the University of Calgary and work as frontline staff at a local homeless shelter. His first summer job at the non-profit SafeLink Alberta further opened his eyes to the deficiencies in the emergency shelter system.

“I started working as frontline staff and really got an experience of what it’s actually like in the emergency shelter system,” Bill shared. This hands-on experience allowed him to understand the system’s issues and envision how his new venture could fit in and make a difference.

RadiCare Ventures not only offers transitional support for individuals looking to expand their skills but also provides long-term employment opportunities. “Giving people an internal opportunity to grow and remain within the company if they choose to do so is one of our intentional processes,” said Bill. “People can stay with us if they want and still find meaningful work.”

Bill’s involvement in the Innovate Calgary ecosystem, particularly through the R2SI program, has been instrumental in his journey. “Working with Brad Andrews and the rest of the team really helped get me into that entrepreneurial mindset and find the pain point to address,” he said. The camaraderie and support he found in the Social Innovation Hub also played a crucial role in his development. “It was very interesting to see how we kind of grew together and problem-solved together,” Bill noted, adding that practicing pitches in the Creative Studio boosted his confidence.

The Propel Business Project at the Haskayne School of Business provided additional student support, especially the work of Rica Grinstead John, a recent graduate from the Master of Management program. Her help was instrumental website development and SEO, content plans, proposals and flyer designs, and in the creation of service pitch decks that helped Bill with client meetings and presenting to the city and business partners. Jessica Vu from Experience Ventures assisted with strategy planning, customer interviews, aiding Bill in making key business decisions in areas that RadiCare Ventures is currently undertaking. “They were great support throughout the school year, and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Bill acknowledged.

Looking ahead, Bill is focused on raising awareness about RadiCare Ventures and the resources available through the University of Calgary and Innovate Calgary. “I want to inspire more people about what I’m doing, to help people passionate about social issues and joining a cause to learn more about filling gaps in the system and working collaboratively,” he said. Bill will expand on this message during his featured guest speaker engagement at the Social Innovation Hub on July 8, as part of the Social Innovator Breakfast Club.

“I want to encourage more students, not just at the University of Calgary, but across Calgary and Canada, across North America, to be doing what I’m doing right now,” Bill emphasized. “You’re never too young to start something. Your tenacity, your resilience, is what’s going to show the world what you’re actually capable of.”

Join us at the Social Innovation Hub on July 8 to hear Bill Zheng’s inspiring story and learn more about how social enterprises like RadiCare Ventures are making a difference in our community. Register here.