Innovate Niagara’s First i.d.e.a.™ Fund Cohort Working Together for a Greener Tomorrow
By: Jen Brignall-Strong
As the team at Innovate Niagara reflects back on their inaugural i.d.e.a. Fund cohort, they can’t help but marvel at the achievements of the funding recipients. They say these achievements wouldn’t have been possible without mutual support and guidance.
A brewery and an agritech company coming together in an effort to reduce waste water. Two unique water purification companies collaborating to open new markets for one another. A team of industry experts pooling their knowledge to offer sound entrepreneurial guidance to over a dozen early-stage technology companies.
The goal? To create more Ontario jobs while simultaneously contributing to a green recovery.
“These companies were really great at recognizing each other’s strengths and ended up partnering,” says Innovate Niagara’s i.d.e.a. Fund project lead N’ora Kalb. “We were able to make those introductions, and it’s been great to see them work together.”
The i.d.e.a. Fund is a southern Ontario-focused initiative that helps clean innovation firms unlock their potential and access the capital and mentoring needed to commercialize innovative technologies.
The program 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 being delivered by six Regional Innovation Centres (RICs): Innovation Guelph, Haltech, WEtech Alliance, Innovation Factory, TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario, and Innovate Niagara.
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 a healthy and prosperous future for Canada.”
There have already been several great success stories to come out of this first cohort, notes Innovate Niagara’s Client Service Advisor, Rohit Sharma.
“We have those companies who are now working together and several others who have secured additional grants, as well as one who made a half a million-dollar sale,” he adds.
Two of the companies that have supported each other through their i.d.e.a. Fund projects are Enereau – specializing in low energy advanced wastewater treatment – and Aclarus Ozone, which solves complex water problems with advanced ozone technology.
“Both companies work within the wastewater purification space, so there are a lot of synergies between them,” says Sharma. “They each had certain knowledge as well as connections to open new opportunities for one another in northern Ontario and South America.”
Making connections with other established industry experts was an integral part of the entire i.d.e.a. Fund process, notes Kalb, sharing that Innovate Niagara met regularly with its team of mentors to update everyone on the companies’ progresses and brainstorm ways to address specific needs within the cohort.
“We had meetings once a month where we got together with all the mentors and went through all 19 clients so we could all share and come up with other resources for each other,” she explains. “We did a lot of cross mentorships, so they were all familiar with every project, which really worked out well.”
“A lot of the companies needed hands-on sales help; that was a big need,” she continues. “For that, we brought in a specific sales mentor to work closely with the companies and do some more intensive work, rather than higher–level strategies.”
“We’ve also been able to reach out to the other RICs for help as well, which has been great,” adds Sharma. “Seeing all these collaborations and synergies come to fruition has been very rewarding.”
For i.d.e.a. Fund recipient Greg Hanna of Destiny Copper, it was an initial connection by Innovate Niagara that put his business on the road to success.
The cleantech company owner, who moved to the region from South Africa eight years ago, had the idea of developing a cost effective, modular copper extraction system; an energy-light, green alternative to the heavy greenhouse gas emitting incumbent technologies.
“We met with the team from Innovate Niagara and they pointed us in the direction of Brock University,” he recalls. “We were able to get set up there with some lab space and worked with Professor Ian Brindle, who is a globally renowned professor of chemistry.”
After spending several years in the lab doing research and development, Hanna says Destiny Copper decided to scale up and build a pilot plant in Quebec, where its was able to test the purity of the copper being extracted through the company’s proprietary method.
“The i.d.e.a. Fund really drove us forward in terms of being able to complete the pilot project, testing the purity of the copper at an independent level by one of the best labs in the world for this type of testing,” says Hanna. “The lab found that we got 99 percent pure copper, so a really high purity, and we had used almost no energy.”
Now, Hanna says, Destiny Copper is in the midst of relocating the pilot plant to Niagara, eventually expanding to a full-scale demonstration plant with 20 times its current production space. As the company scales up, it’s projecting even more efficiencies in terms of greenhouse gas reductions and energy reductions.
“It’s a big jump,” says Hanna. “This is all pretty much happening based on the funding we’ve received from the i.d.e.a. Fund.”
The advice Destiny Copper received from its i.d.e.a. Fund mentor also proved to be invaluable, he adds.
“The advice from our mentor was incredible,” says Hanna. “Hugh Scholaert is a proven entrepreneur, and he has been an incredible mentor to us, really pointing us in the right direction in terms of other government grants and just guiding us through the processes.”
Hanna says his company appreciated that the program met it where it was at.
“What we really liked about the i.d.e.a. Fund is that it comes in where you are in the process,” he says. “Commercializing a new process or technology is a long journey, and the team jumps in right where you are and advance you from that point, so it’s been highly valuable to us. I can’t tell you how thankful we are for that funding and also to be on the radar for future funding and exposure.”
As the first cohort comes to an end, Kalb says Innovate Niagara is looking forward to continuing the relationships forged with the i.d.e.a. Fund companies and assisting the businesses as they continue to grow.
“One of the great things about the program was is that it expanded our reach; we had all these companies that otherwise might not have come through as clients,” says Kalb. “Now that they’re clients, there are other services we offer that we can bring them into.
“After the graduation of the i.d.e.a. Fund, companies will be eligible to receive no-fee business development services in line with their existing client ecosystem,” adds Kalb. “Available services include business advice and mentorship, market Intelligence, a technology-based incubation ecosystem and access to a wide catalogue of programming held in partnership industry experts.”
In addition to Destiny Copper, Tagtrace, Bench Brewing Company, Enereau and Aclarus Ozone, Innovate Niagara’s first i.d.e.a. Fund cohort also includes 14 other companies across a broad range of sectors: AfiyaBeauty, Argent Electrical, Biosa Technologies, Belair M.I., Caddle, EnvAI, Epiloid Biotechnology, Fitec, Goldnote, Intuitive Shipping, Manifest Climate, Rocky River Paddles, Tailwind and Urban Stalk.
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 www.innovateniagara.com/site/idea-fund.
To learn more about FedDev Ontario, visithttps://ised-isde.canada.ca/site/feddev-ontario/en.