The New Faces of Greenovation

Haltech Supports “Unconventional Founders” Revolutionizing Sustainability with i.d.e.a. Fund™

By: Jen Brignall-Strong

When you think of an entrepreneur, what comes to mind? Perhaps a lifelong self-starter whose first venture was a childhood lemonade stand? Or, someone following in the footsteps of a family member?

Cohort 2 of Haltech’s i.d.e.a. Fund companies challenges those conventional perceptions, underscoring the notion that inspiration can strike anyone at any time, particularly when it comes to creating more eco-friendly products and practices.

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, Innovate Niagara, Innovation Factory, TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario, 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’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, and Inclusion.

As Cohort 2 comes to a close, Haltech’s i.d.e.a. Fund project lead Idas Levato praises the program’s unwavering dedication to diversity within the tech and entrepreneurship sectors, adding that Haltech’s approach to backing companies is also centred around a dedicated focus on inclusivity.

“For this cohort, our number of women founders was equivalent (to men), which is amazing. We had better than 50 percent representation,” she says. “We had very high intersectional diversity, too; making up nearly 80 percent of our companies.”

While the diversity of Cohort 2 founders was inspiring, Levato says what really stood out for her was the number of first-time founders who didn’t come from a generational entrepreneurial background.

“I think people came to our program from such diverse backgrounds because they believed we’d really do our best to support them,” she says. “We have an excellent representation of different types of founders and companies. For so many, this is their second or third career. People have the preconception that everybody comes from an entrepreneurial family, and that’s not the case.”

Levato points to one such Cohort 2 company, The Dirty Seahorse, which was born from a mother’s determination to ensure her daughter had safe, properly fitting workwear.

The company’s founder, Dianne Finnigan, says ill-fitting and non-functional workwear is a critical issue for women in the trades. The Dirty Seahorse aims to revolutionize the industry; empowering women with workwear that fits right and enhances safety and performance.

“The Dirty Seahorse blows me away. She learned about clothing fabrication because her daughter got a job in trades and couldn’t find clothing that fit her (because workwear was traditionally designed to fit a man), and she thought, well, that’s ridiculous,” Levato explains. “Through that, she started investigating, and saw it was a big problem. So, she started researching how to make it and joined several fashion accelerators.”

“The percentage of women working in the trades is currently 4.5 percent and expected to grow to 15 percent,” says Finnigan. “We’re creating a movement of women working in the trades. Clothing built by women for women.”

Levato says stories like Finnigan’s are inspiring because she’s not only changing the way we look at women working in the trades, she’s also changing the economic picture for that industry.

And when we change that economic picture, she adds, we also change the technology or the ecology of it because we’re bringing diverse perspectives into those spaces.

“It’s just such an incredible story; somebody who doesn’t come from this world all of a sudden was able to tear through it because it was just so personal for her to solve this problem.”

She also cites SyrupTech, another Cohort 2 company, run by Scott Oldewening, as an exemplary example of an “unconventional” founder successfully materializing their concept through the resources provided by the i.d.e.a. Fund.

“The way Scott talks about syrup, you’d think he came from a family of syrup farmers,” she continues. “It’s something he actually taught himself about; his background is in physics and in law. He exited a company in the electricity space and had this time to focus on what he was passionate about.”

SyrupTech has developed a new process for making tree sap into syrup, with a focus on birch syrup and maple syrup. The process uses less energy, requires less labour and generates far less greenhouse gas than traditional equipment. It also gives the user control over the colour of the syrup.

“He had this idea about how to preserve forests, create opportunities for Indigenous people and find an alternative source for sugar that can be produced more ethically as well as sustainably,” she continues, noting SyrupTech is also a stellar example of a company that benefitted from not just the financial portion of the program, but the mentorship component as well.

“Being a part of i.d.e.a. Fund has been invaluable to my business,” shares Oldewening. “Amazingly, the actual funding for the project is the smallest part of the benefits that we’ve enjoyed. The connections to other i.d.e.a. Fund participants, mentors and other networking has been incredibly valuable.”

As Levato reflects on Oldewening’s and Finnigan’s unexpected paths to entrepreneurship, she envisions their unique journeys serving as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring founders, encouraging them to pursue their innovative ideas and embark on their own distinctive business ventures.

“If there’s something constantly on your mind about a problem to fix, maybe you might pay attention to it and give it some considerable thought or at least draft the business case for it,” she says. “If they see a market fit for something, a problem that needs to be solved, maybe it’ll be encouraging to them to see people that are not born-and-bred entrepreneurs actually doing something really disruptive.”

In addition to the Dirty Seahorse and SyrupTech, Haltech’s second i.d.e.a. Fund cohort includes 18 other businesses across a variety of sectors: AI innovate, AI Materia, Day5 Analytics, Doveka Group, Eat Impact, Foli, Foodiee, Helius Originals, LocalOn, Mycro Harvest, NORM, Not Your Child Corp., Pocket Clinic, Reeddi, Soul Chocolate, BIG-nano, Trillagy, and Tropix.

To discover more about i.d.e.a. Fund, visit

To learn more about FedDev Ontario, visit