Growing Canada’s new field of dreams
By Robynne Anderson
Feb. 12, 2018 - Canada has always been an agricultural powerhouse, but these days it’s not just about selling prairie wheat, P.E.I. potatoes and maple syrup to the world. Now we’re also building bio-cars from ag-based fibres, composites and foams. We’re creating naturally derived pharmaceuticals and functional foods that help fight disease. We’re cutting carbon emissions by finding valuable uses for agricultural wastes, and we’re boosting agricultural productivity in all kinds of ways.
By Robynne Anderson
Recently, our prime minister issued a challenge to Canadian agriculture to grow our annual exports to $75 billion by 2025. This will only come through innovation and new technology. Bioenterprise is a great example of a federal-provincial-private partnership to accelerate that innovation.
Over the last 10 years, the organization’s clients (generally small start-ups) have launched more than 1,000 new products, services and technologies; created thousands of new jobs; and generated over $268 million in revenues. Bioenterprise has also worked closely with 30 companies in helping them secure more than $120 million in investment.
Agri-technology is a sector with huge potential, but it needs scientific and technical expertise, industry knowledge, business services and global connections, to help start-ups commercialize innovations and grow successful businesses.
For example, Energrow enables farmers to process their own oilseeds on farm into fresh, high-quality meal and oil through one of the most reliable, efficient and user-friendly pressing systems on the market.
But innovation alone doesn’t guarantee commercial success. You also need business savvy, industry knowledge, and financial resources to navigate the path to market.
At several points throughout the entrepreneurial journey, Enegrow turned to Bioenterprise for support. The agri-business accelerator helped source market data, established industry connections and provided all-important reality checks.
Today it is great to see the Ontario-based company has 15 dealers across North America and a customer base that Energrow expects to double in the coming year.
Of course, one of the biggest hurdles facing start-ups and established companies alike is financing growth – it’s especially challenging for agri-tech innovators in Canada. Seed funding and funding proposals, as well as connecting clients to investors, are a few ways Bioenterprise is working to address this gap for early-stage companies. But agri-tech is still just a blip on investors’ radars.
For one established Guelph, Ont., company, that seed financing helped them take their business to the next level. Rootham Gourmet Preserves turns Ontario produce into gourmet condiments, sold in local specialty markets and gift stores. Using a grant from Bioenterprise, they were able to expand processing capabilities and launch a highly targeted direct mail campaign engineered by one of Bioenterprise’s corporate partners.
The results were immediate: Rootham gained more than two-dozen new clients in just two months. That boost to business allowed them to expand production, hire more staff and increase the hours of current employees. The grant also helped support product development with Longo’s, a chain of grocery stores across the Greater Toronto Area, leading to a significant contract. The company not only hit their target of doubling gross sales, but they did it in just one year instead of the projected two.
The fact is, Canada has no shortage of promising agri-tech ideas, technologies and products but the big stumbling block is the lack of growth or venture capital. There are few investment firms out there who understand the sector, and even fewer angel investors.
That’s why accelerators like Bioenterprise are needed. There are great inventors, farmers, and food innovators in Canada, we can help them get investment and market ready by providing strategic advice. It’s an area where Canada really excels, creating a co-funded public-private programme, such as Bioenterprise, to help those innovators grow.
Agri-food is a big sector in Canada that represents over 12 per cent of our employment and a big proportion of our trade – a growing proportion if we are to meet this new national target of $75 billion in exports. That goal, and the goal of healthy, diverse diets for Canadians, will be driven by innovation. So from super-clusters to agri-tech accelerators, it is a growing reality that the public and private sectors will be working together to reap the benefits.
Robynne Anderson was recently inducted into the Canadian Agriculture Hall of Fame (www.cahfa.com), one of eight women among 210 men. She is a member of the Bioenterprise board of directors and President of Emerging ag (www.emergingag.com).