Incubator uses Growing Forward 2 funding to give local food businesses a start

By Lilian Schaer

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Toronto – A not-for-profit food business incubator in Toronto is helping entrepreneurs get their fledgling food companies off the ground.

Food Starter offers food prep, processing, packaging and storage facilities to industry entrants at a reduced rate, as well as courses to teach entrepreneurs about key aspects of the food industry, like food safety, regulatory compliance, labelling, accounting, marketing, business management and human resources.

The Toronto Food Business Incubator partnered with the City of Toronto to access funding from Growing Forward 2 to develop and launch Food Starter in November 2015.

“A lot of people here are good at recipes but don’t know about all the other things needed to run a food business,” explains Carlos Correia, Food Starter’s Facility Manager. “We cover all aspects of business development to give them information they didn’t know existed but would be road block to keep them from moving forward.”

Food Starter’s 24 incubator clients are new food entrepreneurs who access shared space by the hour on an as-needed basis to develop or perfect new recipes, scale up production or get ready to launch their first product.

Esther Jiang has been using Food Starter’s training courses and incubator space to launch Gryllies, a line of high protein pasta sauces using cricket flour from Norwood, Ontario’s Entomo Farms.

“Food Starter has been paramount to setting us up for success. In food, there are a lot of boxes to check and this is building that foundation to launch us for the market place,” she says. “Without Food Starter, everything would have taken 20 times longer and I don’t know that I would still be doing this if it wasn’t for their help.”

Food Starter’s seven accelerator units are available for longer-term use where clients can bring their own equipment into a dedicated space but still receive support and advice from Food Starter experts and fellow entrepreneurs.

Jaswant’s Kitchen is a family-run Indian spice blend company that co-owner Simi Kular says was ready for its own space to increase production and grow their business.

“Food Starter has taught us what a food production facility entails, from food safety to pest control and Good Manufacturing Practices,” explains Simi. “And learning from the experts and the other businesses here is invaluable – the collaborative relationships make it fun to come to work every day.”

Correia says the ultimate goal is to have entrepreneurs outgrow their accelerator space and move into their own facilities – like Rob Fuller of The Duke Brothers. His cold-brew coffee business has taken off after less than a year with Food Starter and he’s ready to spread his wings.

“I had an idea but not a lot of direction or background. I learned a lot from Food Starter’s courses and being able to use the space here,” he explains. “Food Starter encourages you to grow, they understand your business, and I’ve had a quick growth curve from start to running a business thanks to their support.”

According to Correia, Food Starter meets a critical need for early stage training and support for new food businesses in Toronto, and space in the incubator is in demand.

“Our main focus is to develop business. We create jobs and we’ve already seen some of those results as companies here at Food Starter are hiring staff as they grow,” says Correia.

“We couldn’t develop this without the funding we’ve received. Food Starter is an amazing concept that gives a lot of benefit to new start-ups, and this facility wouldn’t be possible without that support,” he adds.

Food Starter was funded in part through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.