When Peter Ciuffa started his artisanal pasta business, he thought that he’d use the extra income to support his acting career. He made pasta by hand as his Italian mother had taught him to do when growing up in Calgary. But the real magic happened when he sold the product at Vancouver farmers’ markets.
Peter would start conversations with people, describing what made his pasta so special, how to cook it, and what seasonal vegetables and fresh meats to use to make a delicious home cooked meal. It was more than food to Peter—pasta brings friends and family together. Most people who stopped bought a bag of pasta.
Things were going great. The only problem was Peter wasn’t making enough money to cover his costs. How was he going to turn this into a real business?
Peter was one of 10 entrepreneurs who joined the RADIUS Summer Accelerator course this summer. Through 10 weeks mixing classes and one-on-one mentoring, he learned to turn his ideas into strategy through rigorous market testing and validation. He learned marketing, accounting and business modeling. More importantly, Peter discovered that his acting skills and passion for telling stories were not a liability in the business world, but rather were exactly what would set him apart from the competition.
The hard skills of entrepreneurship are relatively few but starting a new company is one of the most difficult things that one can do in life. The team at RADIUS designed the course to maximize the time that the cohort had together learning and collaborating. Using a flipped classroom model, where the content was largely delivered via videos and exercises outside the classroom, class time was reserved for working sessions and feedback on weekly participant progress.
Many participants identified focus and accountability to the group as important factors for them in choosing to do the course. Each week instructors, Dave Cameron and Miguel Guerrero laid out the work to be done outside of the classroom and heard from each of the participants how they applied this to learning from customers about their particular idea.
The model for the RADIUS Summer Accelerator course was originally designed by RADIUS co-founder Shawn Smith as a Simon Fraser University class for undergraduate students to team up and validate their business ideas. In 2013, RADIUS partnered with SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development, Vancity, and Community Futures, piloting the model as a remote accelerator where community cohorts from small towns in BC would participate with the instructor(s) facilitating via videoconference. After several successful iterations on the Sunshine Coast and in Squamish BC, the team decided to re-vamp the material for a new in-person format open to community members in Vancouver.
The course ran in the evenings during July and August 2014, with participation open to anyone with a social business idea and willing to work hard to test it over the summer.
Peter Ciuffa has decided to focus on his sales and marketing strengths when he relaunches his artisanal pasta business in 2015. He now has the needed business skills and the renewed energy to take his business to the next level. All the while, Peter is remembering the real reason behind all of this hard work: bringing people together to share food, conversation, and connection.