By: Jen Brignall-Strong
How do you create jobs, help to future-proof businesses and support the transition to a greener economy?
As Innovation Guelph can tell you, it’s teamwork that makes the green work.
This past spring, the Regional Innovation Centre (RIC) was tasked with spearheading a new targeted initiative to accelerate the growth of up to 240 businesses across the region: the i.d.e.a. Fund was born.This southern Ontario-focused program helps clean innovation firms unlock their potential and access the capital and mentoring needed to commercialize innovative technologies. It also fosters inclusion and diversity, with a focus on a green economic recovery.
Supported by a $10-million Government of Canada investment through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), the i.d.e.a. Fund is led by Innovation Guelph in partnership with five Regional Innovation Centres (RICs): WEtech Alliance, Haltech, Innovate Niagara, Innovation Factory and TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario.
Through the program, each RIC is able to distribute a maximum of $30,000 in matching seed funding to select innovative businesses in various sectors including medtech, agritech, social enterprise, advanced manufacturing and more.
“Canada will be positioned for a successful future with the exciting new solutions developed by entrepreneurs through the i.d.e.a. Fund. Supports such as mentoring, resources, and the access to capital will enable entrepreneurs to contribute to a green recovery,” says the Honourable Filomena Tassi, Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. “The Government of Canada, through this support, is creating good jobs, fostering our transition to carbon neutrality, and encouraging innovation, all of which lead to healthy and prosperous future for Canada.”
While Innovation Guelph is responsible for disbursing funds and creating the program’s guidelines and processes, Program Manager Linda Horowitz says the first cohort has truly been a cooperative effort between the six RICs.
“The collaboration to me has been a big success,” says Horowitz. “You have six organizations coming together to deliver a program, and seeing everyone work together to support all these companies has just been amazing.”
The RICs also work together to ensure the i.d.e.a. Fund participants have the best resources and expertise available to them, often reaching out to each other if they are searching for a specific mentor or industry connection.
“Opening up doors for the entrepreneurs is really what it’s all about,” says Horowitz, adding that it’s been exciting to watch the program unfold over the past several months.
“The whole thing excites me,” she continues. “I like to go out and hear the stories from all the RICs; I like to see what all the projects are. I also want to hear about the challenges they’re having because that helps us know how to improve how we’re supporting them.”
In addition to facilitating the delivery of the program across southern Ontario, Innovation Guelph is also responsible for their own i.d.e.a. Fund cohort, made up of 18 companies across a variety of sectors including agtech, food and beverage, cleantech, life sciences and advanced materials and manufacturing.
“It’s been wonderful to support each of these unique clients through the i.d.e.a. Fund,” says program coordinator Jordann Hunsperger, noting that the financial piece has been integral to many of their business initiatives. “Our clients are doing really cool things that people might not know about if they weren’t provided with this seed funding.”
“Thirty thousand dollars in non-repayable grant money is a huge injection of financing that a small company might not otherwise get,” adds Horowitz. “It can be the difference between a company commercializing or not, or getting into the supply chain or building a prototype.”
For i.d.e.a. Fund recipient Iris Redinger of Material Futures, the funding allowed her to pursue key technical support to reach the company’s next major milestones.
The biotechnology design company investigates the applications of bacterially derived pigments; turning microorganisms into miniature dye factories and creating a cleaner, greener alternative to toxic, petroleum-based dyes.
“The i.d.e.a. Fund was really helpful in supporting us in growing our concept of using bacterial dyes to colour textiles,” says Redinger. “The project has allowed us to explore new markets and reinforce our business model.”
i.d.e.a. Fund participants also benefit from one-on-one business coaching with specialized mentors from various business sectors, providing invaluable guidance to entrepreneurs like Redinger.
“I was paired with an amazing mentor through the program,” she shares. “They supported us in our decision to enter new markets and provided us access to and summaries of key market data. He also gave feedback on our business strategy, which we were able to implement with the project funding, including scaling our manufacturing processes and entering new market segments.”
As a result of her project, Redinger was also selected as a Delegate to Canada at the Asia Pacific Foundation for the second ever Mission to Japan.
“This mission supported 36 female founders from across Canada in healthtech and cleantech,” explains Redinger. “We are now working with Japanese businesses to implement our technology. The trip helped foster business relationships and build a stronger network of founders and entrepreneurs.”
It’s stories like Redinger’s that Linda Horowitz hopes continue to emerge as the program begins accepting applications for its second cohort this March.
“I’m excited to be able to tell a great story so that maybe we’re able to go to a cohort three or four,” says Horowitz. “That’s my wish—that we can continue offering this great program and support more companies.”
In addition to Material Futures, Innovation Guelph’s first cohort includes 17 other businesses:reLit, BabylonX, Agrobot, Black & Blue Foods Inc., Cabin Office Company, Energrow, Escarpment Labs, Friendlier, Gomedics Health, Henry’s Tempeh Inc., Maison Apothecare, Mylko, New Earth Solutions, Psigryph Inc., Springbay Studio Ltd., Terra Bio, WaterPuris and Wishing Well Services Ltd.
Companies must have their i.d.e.a. Fund projects completed by February 28, 2023, after which a celebration event to unveil the completed projects from all the Regional Innovation Centres will take place. Applications for the second cohort of funding recipients will open on March 24, 2023.
To discover more about the i.d.e.a. Fund, visit https://innovationguelph.ca/i-d-e-a-fund