Raised with a strong sense of justice, social entrepreneur Urooj Qureshi has lived a life defined by his principles.
Today, Qureshi is the founder and principal of Design Centered Co., a design and innovation firm that helps companies scale while remaining focused on impact. Following the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs), his company inspires entrepreneurs to leverage their skills to create solutions that address the needs of the people and the planet.
In 2009, Qureshi helped establish and launch the Centre for Social Enterprise Development (CSED) within the Causeway Work Centre. He developed his own design framework called “impact centered design” (ICD) and delivered workshops about it at CSED.
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One program participant went on to work for a Crown corporation in B.C. and invited Qureshi to support the team in delivering impact for citizens there.
Ten years later, Qureshi launched Design Centered Co. “As more and more projects came along, we had to grow, hire and train more people to be able to run the workshops and enable transformation,” Qureshi says, adding that most of his clients are in the public sector.
In 2021, Design Centered Co. partnered with the University of Ottawa to collaborate on the Startup Garage accelerator through the university’s Entrepreneurship Hub. This year, Qureshi launched the first Impact Centered Award, celebrating startups that focus on one or more of the UN’s SDGs.
This year’s winner was EcoSafeSense, a technology startup that is developing a sensor to provide accurate, real-time data into things like temperature, humidity and particulate matter. Among the sensor’s many uses is the detection of unsafe levels of airborne pollutants and the validation of island heat mapping in cities. Cities are warmer than surrounding areas due to buildings and roads absorbing more heat. If a city can validate its heat island areas, it can make better decisions when planning urban developments.
CEO and scientific co-founder Olga Koppel, a doctoral candidate with expertise in environmental science and sustainability, is in talks with the City of Ottawa about how EcoSafeSense could be leveraged.
Koppel says that winning the Impact Centered Award was a “crucial, tangible validation that industry cares about sustainability and a reminder that making a positive impact on our environment is a task best accomplished together.”
She adds that, as a company at the forefront of cleantech, EcoSafeSense has a bright future ahead.
As well as taking home this year’s Impact Centered Award, Koppel will receive mentorship from Qureshi to take EcoSafeSense to market.
“I believe that if startups become more sustainable, as they evolve and they grow, they will become a genuinely sustainable enterprise,” Qureshi says. “We’re starting at the roots, hoping that the bulb will grow into a beautiful sunflower that is focused around sustainability.”
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