A new initiative ― the Foodpreneur Advantage ― looks to lend guidance and support to small start-up and scale-up food manufacturers
Photo: Natalie White, owner of London-based Cafézia Coffee
A NEW INITIATIVE PARING Libro Credit Union, a handful of small business development centres and support agencies is aiming to help food manufacturers in Southwestern Ontario via a new program to support both fledgling and scaling food businesses.
Called the Foodpreneur Advantage, the two-pronged program will run both a monthly series of introductory seminars and training sessions, designed for businesses that are just getting started in the food-and-beverage manufacturing space, as well as a Foodpreneur Scale-Up Program — a “10-week program for a select group of 20 businesses that produce consumer packaged goods and have demonstrated high potential to scale operations.”
The program is growing out of a previously announced partnership between Libro and FedDev Ontario that saw more than $7 million in investment for The Grove, the agri-food accelerator program run out of the Western Fair Association. (Libro chipped in $348,000 to that investment.) Libro is committing $160,000 over four years to Foodpreneur Advantage.
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“The Food and Beverage manufacturing sector of Ontario is the third largest in North America and is vitally important to our local and regional economy,” reads the program’s website.
“As our roots are in agriculture, Libro is excited to be a partner in this progressive industry,” says Steve Bolton, CEO of Libro Credit Union. “Our credit union has remained committed to agriculture and supports more than 3,200 farm and agri-business owners with world-class financial services, including $1.2 billion in lending to all sectors. This initiative forms another important part of that work.”
Working with Libro on this project are a number of small business development centres in this part of the province, including the London Small Business Centre as well as similar organizations in St. Thomas, Oxford County and Windsor-Essex — organizations that have worked together in this space before.
“While the Foodpreneur Advantage initiative is new, the partners on this collaboration are not,” reads the initiative’s website, noting that the Foodpreneur Advantage initiative is just their latest way to “come together to share resources and improve access to training and guidance for food business entrepreneurs.”
“We are continually impressed and inspired by the growing number of food entrepreneurs who are pursuing their visions with purpose and passion,” adds Steve Pellarin, executive director at the London Small Business Centre. “So many other communities are experiencing the same upward trend, and I am excited to see what we can accomplish when we pull our resources and connections together to positively impact our region and businesses we collectively serve.”
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Natalie White, owner of London-based Cafézia Coffee, is one area manufacturer looking to take advantage of the program.
“The food industry is a tough one,” says White. “With low margins, high expenses and heavy regulations, it can seem daunting at first. But if you love your product and are passionate your chances of making it improve tenfold. The London Small Business Centre has helped my business by providing me with the information I didn’t know I needed to know.”
The seminars for new businesses begin in early April, while the Scale-Up Program is launching in September with applications opening in August. Kieran Delamont