Northstar Startups initiative aims to help food bank users and others ‘identify their talent’ and achieve self-reliance

Northstar Startups is an organization “focused on helping people identify their talent” in order for them to achieve self-reliance. Photo: Submitted.


There’s a feeling of hopelessness that can accompany standing in line at a food bank. Although most food bank clients waiting for their rations are grateful about the opportunity to be fed, many of them are plagued by thoughts about their inability to find, or retain, employment.

With food banks, like Grace Pascoe at Main Street and Benlamond Avenue in East Toronto, reporting that a large number of clients are employed with jobs that don’t quite meet their financial needs, many other food bank users are unable to find work due to the mental or physical barriers, according to Northstar Startups co-founder, Janice Waugh.

In 2021, following a stint as a food bank volunteer where she became acquainted with the stories of various clients, Waugh, along with Bryceson Dodge, launched Northstar Startups, an organization “focused on helping people identify their talent” in order for them to achieve self-reliance.

“When I met people, I saw a lot of talent and skills,” said Waugh. ”But, for many different reasons, employment doesn’t work for everyone.”

As an individual who has been self-employed most of her adult life, Waugh told Beach Metro Community News that she wanted people to feel the same sense of freedom and worth that comes with self-sufficiency.

“With self employment, you don’t need any formal education or degrees,” she said. “As long as you’re good at what you do, someone will pay you to do it.”

With this goal in mind, Waugh and the volunteers at Northstar Startups visit food banks around Scarborough and introduce them to the first step of their educational program called You can make money doing that.

“It’s to help them identify what they love doing, what they’re actually good at doing, and what the business could be,” said Waugh.

Following this step, the clients are put through a business basics course before then being introduced to the incubator.

“They get a mentor (and) some financial support,” said Waugh. “They get more workshops for specific issues, and away we go.”

Northstar Startups assists clients with their business startup costs “to the tune of a few hundred dollars”.

“If it’s to get posters to put on the side of the road, that’s not a big expense so that’s a no-brainer,” said Waugh. “If it’s a tool that’s needed, that’s something different.”

Decisions about how much financial support a client gets are made by a leadership team that evaluates each individual situation.

Waugh said the organization’s ultimate goal is to help aspiring entrepreneurs, who are financially insecure, design a business that suits their specific lifestyle.

“We prefer that the entrepreneur pay for things themselves and we reimburse,” said Waugh. “But sometimes that’s not possible and so we will simply pay for it.”

Northstar Startups works with various organizations such as the Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities, Bluffs Food Bank, Soso World Ministries Food Bank, and Malvern Family Services.

Although the organization is driven by the idea of bringing the business incubator model to Scarborough neighourhoods where there are less developmental programs to assist the underserved communities, Waugh said that they also serve clients in the East York area as well as downtown.

“We just do our outreach in Scarborough but it doesn’t mean that we would exclude someone that we feel we could really help,” said Waugh.

Northstar Startups is a fully volunteer run with options for interested participants that fit their skillset.

This includes an operations team which provides back office support, tech-support, communications, and more; mentors who provide clients with business advice that will help them get closer to their goals; and ambassadors who use personal and professional networks to assist with Northstar Startup’s community outreach, partnership development and funding.

To become a volunteer with Northstart Startups, fill in the application form here.

For more information on the initiative, please contact


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