The Golden Horseshoe Food & Farming Alliance has provided $10,000 in funding to Toronto’s Food Starter, an incubator focused on helping early-stage food processors and manufacturers from Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe grow their business – moving food entrepreneurs’ ideas from concept to shelf.
The funding comes as part of the Alliance aim to Foster Innovation, helping to foster product and process innovation within the food sector. Specifically, the funding from our 2015 budget helped to purchase a liquid fill line that will support companies bottling soups, sauces and other hot fill products for both retail and foodservice sale.
Providing the equipment, facilities and training needed to get started, the new incubator is an incredibly valuable resource for start-ups. Shared and private production spaces include: a soups and sauces kitchen, a ready prepared meals kitchen, a salads and condiments kitchen, a catering and food truck kitchen, a bakery, and packaging area.
Executive Director of Food Starter, Dana McCauley, explained that a pilot plant project, which supported 25 companies (including Aidan’s Gluten Free, Evelyn’s Crackers and Good Food For Good) proved there was a lot of demand for support navigating the regulatory labyrinth that makes it very complicated for early-stage food manufacturers to grow their businesses.
“The appeal of the pilot project facilities — which were very small and not terribly diverse in their equipment offering — told everyone that there was a tremendous need for low-cost production space in this part of the province,” shared McCauley.
Along with the production space and all necessary equipment, Food Starter also offers training, access to expert advisers and industry insiders, mentoring from food sector experts and experienced entrepreneurs, hands-on assistance, and other rental space for businesses who need a step between incubation and moving into their own plant.
The range of expert advisers include executives from management teams at successful food companies, established entrepreneurs, academics from universities and colleges, professional accountants, and lawyers, who share their insights, contacts and backstories with the entrepreneurs. The training is also conducted by similar experienced people.
“We have MaRs working with us on business concept development, George Brown focusing on product development, and Conestoga College leading seminars on manufacturing and quality assurance,” said McCauley.
A variety of experts hone in on other diverse topics. For instance, chartered accountant Tammy Lai talks to clients about inventory control systems, and sensory scientist John Hale helps entrepreneurs train their palates.
Sunny Sharma, owner of Sherni’s, is one of the food entrepreneurs taking advantage of these resources.
Sharma told us that Food Starter is critical for an early-stage business because it offers the opportunity to plan and perfect your business processes without having to invest in a manufacturing plant, which Sharma says has helped create a strong foundation to build his business on.
“For myself, I am taking advantage of their very informative courses, and of course manufacturing our sauces with the latest equipment. Dana’s vast experience and knowledge help in guiding entrepreneurs through the intricacies of developing an idea into a money-making business reality,” said Sharma.
At the end of October, Food Starter welcomed its first cohort of the Food Commercialization Program with six dynamic entrepreneurs who are bringing innovation to the food and beverage sector.
The new Food Starter facility is an expansion of the Toronto Food Business Incubator pilot project.
Our funding falls in line with the GHFFA Action Plan, under the pillar Foster Innovation, where we have aimed to support incubators that provide access to capital, processing line time and expert advice for entrepreneurs in food and farming.