Brianne Miller, Zero-Waste Entrepreneur

Brianne Miller is the Vancouver-based founder and CEO of Nada, a package-free grocery store. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Ebony-Renee Baker

Brianne Miller wears white lace top

Brianne Miller; @nadagrocery


How do you describe your job to your family?

I am the founder and CEO of Nada, a package-free grocery store based in Vancouver. (There’s no packaging at all—we encourage customers to bring in their own containers, bags and jars to refill with food). I’m currently managing a team of 20 staff and am responsible for all things legal, finance, and HR.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I did my undergrad at McGill in biology and my masters in marine mammal science at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

In terms of the business that we’re doing now, I was accepted into a full-time business accelerator program called Radius. It was through Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and they had chosen five companies for the year. So that was kind of the one thing that made me take the leap from my full-time job in biology. It was at that point that I had to make the decision to stay working full-time or go into this business accelerator full-time. And that was definitely the start of Nada.

What would you say has been your most significant setback, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

It’s tricky because, on one hand I don’t think it was a setback, but I guess it was not really knowing what I wanted to do after university. I took two years to travel and to work odd jobs, but I think it was probably the best thing that I could have done. From a traditional career standpoint you’re kind of wasting two years, but I think it was that time that I really was able to learn about a lot of different cultures and see a lot of problems in many different places around the world and all of those experiences ultimately led me to what I’m doing now.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

“Just ask.” There are so many times when people don’t ask questions or don’t ask for help and the worst that someone is going to say is “no.” So that’s something you should always try to do. For example, one of the things that we wanted to do with our store was have a community fridge, where the idea is that if anyone in the neighbourhood is going on vacation, they can leave food that’s about to go bad—or food they just won’t get through—so that anyone can help themselves to free leftover food. For that, we needed a big commercial fridge, but they cost thousands of dollars and we’re a startup and we don’t have the funding to do that. So, we just reached out to one of our fridge suppliers and asked and they said, “Yeah of course we can give you a fridge.” We were like, “Wow, that’s amazing.”

When you’re feeling low about your work, what’s the one thing you always do/watch/read/listen to bring yourself back up again?

It would be some sort of exercise—yoga or going for a run on the seawall or hiking a mountain.

 

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?

For grocery, it’s definitely not the best when you start to think of larger companies and executives in those large grocery companies. It’s very male-dominated and there aren’t a lot of women in larger executive roles. So yeah, the needle can definitely be pushed in that direction.

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now?

This is more specific to startups and entrepreneurship than it is to grocery, but definitely funding. Only three percent of venture capital goes to female-founded ventures. There are a very large number of ideas and businesses that don’t get started because the women behind them don’t have access to capital.

What would fix it?

Getting more women in the position to invest and fund companies is a good place to start. There’s an amazing network called SheEO that we’re part of and I really love their model. Every year, 500 female investors from across the world each put up $1,100 in capital. This pool of money is then allocated to five female-led businesses.

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