Oct. 2, 2023
Nursing student's startup takes on employment barriers for vulnerable Calgarians
A University of Calgary nursing student has started a company to get people facing barriers to employment back into the workforce.
Bill Zheng, now in his second year, was inspired to create his company, RadiCare Ventures, after a trip to Edmonton where he visited Hire Good, which hires people experiencing homelessness and addiction to offer services like pressure washing and graffiti removal.
Zheng wanted to create something similar in Calgary, and RadiCare Ventures was born. The company also hires folks experiencing homelessness and addiction and offers services such as litter pickup and graffiti removal.
“Folks who have employment barriers are really looking to reintegrate into society,” says Zheng. “They oftentimes just need a company as a transitional ground for them to build themselves back up. Without income, most people experiencing these systemic vulnerabilities will not be able to be an integral part of society and be a contributing member to society, so, even if you’re looking at it through an economic lens, giving these people an opportunity to work is going to cost way less than having them live on social-welfare assistance.”
Zheng also works as a harm-reduction outreach worker at SafeLink Alberta and works as an adult care worker at the Calgary Drop-In Centre. Additionally, he helped create Calgary Pop-Up Care Village in his first year of nursing. This makes Zheng particularly close to this cause.
“I just want to see a solution or some sort of space where they can heal but also grow, so this is why I think RadiCare Ventures has kind of provided that space for folks that have these employment barrier issues, but are really trying hard and are really motivated to make a living and better themselves,” says Zheng.
During the interview process for people wanting to join RadiCare, Zheng realized the weight of what employment meant to the folks he was speaking to. “One of the interviewees broke down crying in the middle of the interview,” he says. “And I was shocked to learn that another interviewee had not worked for 10 years and he used to work as an accountant for a non-profit organization, and he was so happy to be able to work with us.
“It just brings light to my heart that RadiCare Venture is providing an opportunity for so many people.”
Running RadiCare Ventures has not come without challenges. “The biggest obstacle for us is to find clients who trust us to be able to do as good, if not better of a job than any other company,” says Zheng. However, he was lucky to acquire support from the Beltline Business Improvement Area (BIA), which took on RadiCare Ventures for litter clean-up when it was still only in the ideas stage in June 2023.
Zheng also enjoys the support of the rest of his management team, both UCalgary alumni. Kristen Campbell, BComm’19, volunteers extensively as RadiCare’s director of finance, is a co-founder of the company, and comes in weekly to teach the general staff members about how to run their own businesses and how to take care of their finances. Em Cataford, BA’20, BSc’20, meanwhile, is its general manager and helps with hiring and operational needs.
“Without Beltline BIA, I would not be able to stand here today and tell you that the company is fully operational with five-days-a-week operation,” says Zheng. “And, right now, since we have the Beltline support, we are able to spread out and find additional clients who trust us to be able to make their property clean and also provide this opportunity for folks who need it.”
RadiCare Ventures now employs 12 general staff members, three site supervisors and one general manager.
UCalgary has also helped Zheng along the way. “I have reached out to many people from UCalgary. I am glad to be in a university that is so entrepreneurial,” says Zheng.
The university has provided help and guidance: for example, Zheng was successful in his application for the Mabbott Leadership Award designed to encourage projects that promote leadership in nursing. He also was appointed a supervisor, Dr. Meredith Brockway, BN’04, PhD’19, an assistant professor with UCalgary Nursing, who he has been able to bounce ideas off.
Zheng hopes to continue to grow the company. If you have a property that could benefit from RadiCare Ventures services, you can go to its website for more information.