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Reducing Conflict on Start-up Teams (CoST)

The goal of this project is to equip start-up teams in Waterloo Region’s innovation ecosystem to work through conflict constructively.

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Our theory of change: If we reduce destructive conflict on start-up teams by improving their ability to prevent or transform conflict, then we can optimize the positive impact these start-ups are having on peace, prosperity, and planet. Our approach to reducing destructive conflict on start-up teams is clearly outlined in the chart attached to this application as an image file and included again under the “Our Solution” segment of our slidedeck. The chart outlines our strategic goals, which focus on the start-ups themselves, the systems they are immersed in, and the culture that shapes the systems. See image attached to proposal and slidedeck for project breakdown.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Start-up teams: The 200+ start-ups in Waterloo Region could each benefit from this project ( Many start-up founders are current students or recent graduates (18-30 years old). While many founders quickly become recognized as experts in their fields, most have very little education or experience navigating conflict. People impacted by start-up teams: Waterloo Region’s start-ups are sparking innovations that address pressing social challenges across global markets, in addition to generating economic activity. For instance, in 2017, 50% of Velocity’s start-ups tackled a UN Sustainable Development Goal and the Waterloo Region tech community is prioritizing tech for good ( Other start-up ecosystems in Canada: Waterloo Region’s innovation ecosystem is recognized as a model for Canada. Thus, this project’s success can translate into major opportunities for national, and possibly eventual international, scalability.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Through our preliminary research, we discovered that no other program in the world is tackling the industry-wide problem of destructive conflict on start-up teams. However, fights between founders are commonplace and many start-ups fail due to having a founder leave (Graham, 18 Mistakes that Kill Start-Ups). The problem is not being understood or treated as systemic. Solutions are currently sparse and superficial. The limited support in this area currently amounts to blog posts offering simple advice like “10 ways to avoid conflict on the start-up teams.” The CPA has the unique resources, partnerships, and proximity to the problem to disrupt this unhealthy pattern at a systems level. The CPA’s network of program leaders both at the University of Waterloo and across the Waterloo Region have expressed the need for this support. This project is a collaborative, systemic, and timely response to a concern raised by many trusted colleagues.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Initial Design: I am exploring the idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

The Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement (CPA), a program of Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo, advances peace by catalyzing collaboration among peace-oriented entrepreneurs, practitioners, researchers, and students. Twitter handle: @GrebelCPA

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we are a formal initiative through a university.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

As leaders of an incubator program for peace-focused start-ups, we have been struck by the absence of peace within our innovation ecosystem. It is not unusual that the founder of a local tech company is directed our way when a disagreement threatens to implode their team. They presume that, as a peace centre, we have resources to help. Through a collaborative research project with Velocity in 2017, we learned that interpersonal conflict is more frequent and more harmful than we assumed.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

The start-up industry’s influence on shaping the Waterloo Region means that a threat to people, prosperity, and planet within this industry is a threat to the entire community. Five years ago, 20,000 jobs in Waterloo Region were directly attributable to start-ups, and the sector has grown significantly since (PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2013). Firstly, destructive conflict leads to lower levels of motivation and wellbeing for those involved (Biggio and Cortese, 2013). Also, fewer jobs and decreased return on investments result from the collapse of start-ups due to conflict. However, the social and physical well-being of the communities these ventures are partnering with are core to what’s at stake. A 2017 survey of 100 companies in Velocity indicated that over 50% had a solution that could measurably impact a UN Sustainable Development Goal. In these ways, the well-being of peace, prosperity, and planet are wrapped up in the success of these start-ups.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

There will be at least 3 partners involved alongside the CPA. The Conflict Management Certificate Program, a program of the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College, will be a partner in providing services to start-ups. The Certificate Program has identified a strong team of trainers who are well-positioned to work with start-ups. Velocity, at the University of Waterloo, is Canada’s most productive incubator. 100 start-ups have launched at Velocity since 2008. One of Velocity’s Business Advisors has a Master’s of Peace and Conflict Studies and has been a key visionary in this project since its inception. The Centre for Community Based Research (CCBR), at the University of Waterloo, will lead monitoring and evaluation. CCBR works to strengthen communities through social research. In 2016, the CPA partnered with CCBR on a local urban change research project where we served the community by reflecting research findings back in meaningful ways.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Peacebuilding is a defining mark of Waterloo Region and is reflected in the vast number of peacebuilding organizations located here. Organizations specializing in conflict resolution, such as Mennonite Central Committee, are resources available for this project, and the CPA is itself houses organizations who are eager to offer support, like The Tamarack Institute. Lastly, the pace of growth of the region’s innovation ecosystem makes this project likely to scale up and out in the future.

Geographic Focus

This project targets start-ups in Waterloo Region, Canada’s leading innovation ecosystem.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

36 months will be required to implement this project idea. 1-3 months: Further develop plan of action; grow partnerships and prepare partners for project launch 4-12 months: Begin programming with partnering organizations 13-24 months: Continue programming and begin monitoring and evaluation; first evaluation assessment complete by 24 months 25-36 months: Continue programming, complete second assessment of data by 30 months; develop plan for sustaining programming by 36 months

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

Attachments (1)

BridgeBuilder Challenge Slide Deck.pdf

A visual tour through our project proposal.


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