A Greener, More Inclusive Future

TechAlliance Celebrates Diversity, Collaboration with Second Cohort of i.d.e.a. Fund™

By: Jen Brignall-Strong

Over the past two years, the i.d.e.a. Fund has illustrated that building a green economy is inseparable from cultivating a diverse and inclusive community.

For TechAlliance, the program is about so much more than fostering eco-friendly initiatives; it’s about celebrating the rich tapestry of perspectives that make the local tech scene thrive.  

The i.d.e.a. Fund was created in 2022 to support and position businesses in southern Ontario for long-term growth. The goal is to provide high-potential businesses with the opportunity to receive non-repayable contributions (seed funding) and business advisory supports to develop new green products, services, processes, and technologies and/or redesign existing products, services, processes, and technologies to reduce their impact on the environment.

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 Boundless Accelerator, 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’s growing green technology sector is solving complex problems while creating jobs. Our government is encouraged to see the promising companies that the i.d.e.a. Fund is supporting,” says the Honourable Filomena Tassi, Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. “The innovations that Canadian companies are bringing to the table will help Canadians lead healthier and more prosperous lives. It is critical that we continue to support businesses that provide positive, sustainable solutions.”

In its inaugural year, the program garnered significant acclaim, culminating in the prestigious recognition of the 2023 TECNA (Technology Councils of North America) Innovation Award for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

As TechAlliance CEO Christina Fox proudly looks back on Cohort 2 of the program, she emphasizes the organization’s deep commitment to fostering diversity and innovation in the tech and entrepreneurship landscape. Fox highlights that every opportunity to boost and support a company is approached with a dedicated focus on inclusivity.

“Almost 50 percent of our companies in this cohort are women-led, and that’s really a source of pride for us,” says Fox, also noting that approximately one-third of the cohort’s founders come from underrepresented groups, further strengthening the region’s innovation ecosystem.

“About a third of our company owners identify as Black, Indigenous or a person of colour,” she continues. “We also had 20 percent of our founders in the cohort identify as LGBTQ+ and to me, that composition of diversity is really important to Canada’s competitive advantage in a globally competitive innovation economy.”

Additionally, Fox expresses her satisfaction with the fact that 30 percent of the cohort comprises social enterprises, demonstrating TechAlliance’s unwavering support for ventures with a social impact.

As TechAlliance’s Manager of Venture Growth Andrew Leest shares, the team also strived to diversify their roster of expert mentors, providing i.d.e.a. Fund companies with access to professionals from a myriad of backgrounds.

“I think diversity of experience is also important, especially from an expertise perspective. We now have growth coaches that are focused on press releases and media and some that are more focused on sales and marketing,” shares Leest. “All of these are areas where we’ve seen a lot of demand from our companies. Strengthening the roster that we have in terms of expertise has been really key and well received by our companies.”

With support from the coaches and a strong understanding of what the participating companies need to succeed, TechAlliance was also able to make introductions within Cohort 2 that allowed the companies to connect and collaborate.

“There has been some great overlap, some great connections,” notes Project Manager, Taylor Bentley. “In the health food space, Nuts for Cheese and Seed to Surf have partnered on promo campaigns where they share a recipe to promote their different type of products.”  

“We’ve had a lot of great collaboration, but more so co-support,” Bentley continues. “During our workshops on their cross sectoral issues, the companies have shared ideas on sales, marketing, product management, positive impact reporting; it’s incredible to see the difference and the relatability between founders.”

Leest adds that two other Cohort 2 companies in the food packaging space, CanGreen and Magnolia Polymers, have also joined forces on a research-based project for compostable food packaging.

“The mentors really helped answer questions and suggested ideas to collaborate with other companies in the field to clear the path for commercialization,” says Magnolia Polymers Founder & CEO Ravi Kanaparthi.

“The companies are well-aligned on strategy and green economy,” says Leest.

“We offered an introduction and they took us up on it and it’s turned into a really beneficial agreement to see whether some of the formulations that Magnolia is working on could work for CanGreen’s products,” he adds. “It’s been a really great partnership we’ve been able to help coordinate.”

While reflecting on the remarkable collaborative spirit within Cohort 2, Fox also underscores the impressive impact of capital investment, as well as access to other ecosystem partners on participating companies.

“When we think of some of the companies that are continuing on—not necessarily in a collaborative sense— they now have access to other ecosystem partners locally and globally, like Techstars in Fort Worth, Texas,” says Fox. “We’re also very excited that three of the Cohort 2 companies are recipients of capital investment. These companies have raised significant amount of dollars to help them push into the next phase of the development of their company.”

In addition to CanGreen and Magnolia, TechAlliance’s second i.d.e.a. Fund cohort includes 18 other businesses across a variety of sectors: Adviice, brüst protein coffee, DIFFERENTMATTERS, Ecodemy, Food Security Structures Canada, GOPARITY Canada, ecologicca, NLPatent, Nuts for Cheese, Appello, Proof Line Farms, Pulp & Press, Seed to Surf, Sponge Microgrids, Step Sciences, Tournkey, Upgreen Renewable Energy, vessl prosthetics, and Wheel Easy.

To discover more about i.d.e.a. Fund, visit https://www.techalliance.ca/i-d-e-a-fund/

To learn more about FedDev Ontario, visit feddev-ontario.canada.ca/en.