Innovation and the Human Connection
First Haltech i.d.e.a. Fund™ Cohort Driven by Passion and Purpose to Create a Greener Tomorrow
By: Jen Brignall-Strong
From biodegradable medical supplies to pet food made with alternative proteins, the products of tomorrow are being created today by small businesses hoping to make a big impact.
For Haltech’s inaugural i.d.e.a. Fund cohort, a more sustainable future is being built on green technology, innovative thinking and, most importantly, ethical choices that benefit people from every walk of life.
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, WEtech Alliance, Innovation Factory, Tech Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Innovate Niagara and Haltech.
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 healthy and prosperous future for Canada.”
“What we’ve learned from this program is how sometimes even a small grant can have such a big impact,” says Haltech’s i.d.e.a. Fund project lead Idas Levato.
“People really appreciated the belief in their company and the support,” she continues. “The mentorship made such a big difference. That human touch component was really key, having someone by their side throughout this process.”
That mentorship was provided to the companies through Haltech and a team of carefully selected advisors who are experts in their respective fields. Not only did these mentors provide invaluable guidance in such areas as marketing, finance, logistics and business strategy, they also made vital connections to potential clients, suppliers, associations and even fellow i.d.e.a. Fund companies.
“We actually had two pet food companies in different arenas, and we were able to broker a conversation with them,” explains Levato. “Both of them felt it was really important to speak to someone who is also in the pet food space to be able to bounce ideas off each other. Even though they are slightly competitive, there could be co-opetition there and so that was really lovely.”
Levato says they were also able to connect another company, ScriptString.AI, with the rest of its i.d.e.a. Fund colleagues to use as test subjects for its project, which includes automated ESG modeling and score-carding companies’ sustainability goals.
“We made referrals within the program to them so that was really amazing; they were using the other people in the first cohort to pilot their AI project,” explains Levato. “Part of what these companies are doing is focusing on their environmental impact so it really worked out perfectly and we were happy to make those introductions.”
In addition to facilitating business connections, Levato says the program has also seen a lot of big wins and success stories, with many of the companies completing pilot projects and commercializing their products.
“Atelier Bala developed prototypes of this amazing ecological furniture and they’re in the final stages of testing and will be ready for commercial production soon,” she explains. “They’ve recently rebranded their ecommerce site as well and all of this is a result of funding from the project.”
Another i.d.e.a. Fund company, Crisp Greens, has completed its vertical farming pilot project; supplying fresh, locally grown leafy greens to consumers across the GTA. The socially responsible method of farming uses 90 percent less water than traditional farming methods and helps reduce waste by shortening the supply chain.
Also in the food and beverage realm, Levato points to the excitement of a new craft soda launched by local beekeepers Backed by Bees.
“They were able to launch a new product called Honey Soda which meets the needs of environmentally conscious consumers who want to drink better and feel better,” she says.
Levato is filled with enthusiasm and pride as she shares all the exciting developments that have emerged as a result of the ground-breaking i.d.e.a. Fund program, including one of the recipients successfully spinning off a whole new company.
“Datec was able to start a whole new company, Symbient Environmental Technologies, based on this funding,” she shares. “They were able to build, test, and commercialize this catalyst technology for water treatment and private equity investment of about $900,000 was secured during the idea fund project. In addition, $1,500,000 was secured from SDTC in February of 2023. Symbient is also receiving $150,000 in funds from Bioindustrial Innovation Network Canada to support the first milestone of the SDTC sponsored project. Significant R&D, patent and investment wins for them.”
It’s not just investments and product launches that have stood out to Levato; it’s also the resiliency and determination of the founders behind these projects that have really showcased the spirit of the program.
“One company that just floored me was Nova Institute and what they were able to do during the pandemic,” says Levato. “They were able to provide medical grade masks that were both biodegradable and biocompatible at the same cost as those lower quality masks.
“People said to them, ‘why don’t you just make cheaper masks or charge more money?’ and they said, ‘no, we refuse.’ They’re so resolved in what they do as a company to be ethical,” she continues.
On top of creating a more sustainable form of PPE, Levato says the company also strived for inclusive hiring practices, employing people from disadvantaged communities as well as recent immigrants—most who didn’t speak English very well, and who were warmly welcomed and accommodated.
“They just shocked everybody; they were so determined to do it that they defied all the odds and showed that they could actually sustain an environmentally conscious company that hires people who are underemployed and be successful.”
As the team looks ahead to the launch of cohort two, Levato says she’s looking forward to finding more of these dynamic founders, specifically from traditionally underrepresented groups.
“I think what really energizes us is this vision for these underrepresented founders and being able to work with them and bring really strong, diverse mentors to them,” she says. “We’re so keen on receiving applications from everybody; it’s so important for everybody to be able to see themselves in this program.”
In addition to Atelier Bala, Backed by Bees, Crisp Greens, Datec, ScriptString.AI, and Nova Institute, Haltech’s first i.d.e.a. Fund cohort includes 14 other businesses across a variety of sectors: CNEM, Enertics, GrainData Solutions, Green Apple Gives, Green-ii, Hope Pet Food, Innovia Geo, Jeosal Materials, Korotu, Newfood, PAHK Solutions, Pomp & Sass Luxury Towels, Sigma Healthtech, and Spotwork.
Applications for the second cohort of funding recipients is open from March 24 to April 17, 2023.
To discover more about i.d.e.a. Fund, or to apply for the 2023 cohort, visit www.haltech.ca/ideafund.
To learn more about FedDev Ontario, visit https://feddev-ontario.canada.ca/en.