Need business help? Tips on a ‘dating platform’ and diverse groups to financing options

Need business help? Tips on a ‘dating platform’ and diverse groups to financing options

By Kathy Kerr

Starting a business, growing a business and scaling up a business can seem a daunting task in any sector. For entrepreneurs in the plant-protein space, there is the extra challenge of the deep dive into a fast-changing emerging market.

But there is help available for your many business challenges.

“There’s a good network of funding support, technical support and consulting support. There are a lot of players,” says Alan Hall, chief operating officer for Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta (PPAA).
“But what we find is a lot of these companies are so busy just trying to make ends meet — to get the plant up and running, and to get the product out the door — that tying into some of this support is quite challenging for them.”

Business Basics

Audrey Allotey, Business LinkTo get started, businesses need to access some basic resources. One free to low-cost source of information is Business Link, a non-profit organization offering advice, particularly to startup entrepreneurs, in Alberta.

Business Link adviser Audrey Allotey says most services are free, with just a nominal fee of $25 for one-on-one sessions with professionals like accountants or lawyers.

There are Business Link offices in Edmonton and Calgary, and advisers travel to other cities and towns around the province. It also provides webinar training.

Business Link helps entrepreneurs explore ideas and navigate the business set-up process, provides market research services, and assists in exploring financing options.

Business Link offers specialist programs aimed at indigenous and immigrant entrepreneurs.

The organization works with entrepreneurs from all sectors, including agrifood, and at all stages of development.

The provincial government also has many resources listed about where you can get support, access programs and learn about regulations.

Unique Networking

Marcela Mandeville, Alberta Women EntrepreneursThere are a variety of business associations with varying types of services. They range from chambers of commerce, startup groups and economic development associations to diversity-driven organizations and sector-specific groups.

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs has supported women in business for close to 25 years.

“If the entrepreneur is looking for networking and connections, we have manufacturers and exporters who are part of our network. We have women involved in agriculture, energy and in a lot of the underrepresented industries,” says AWE’s CEO Marcela Mandeville, who adds the organization is keen to hear from more entrepreneurs in the plant-protein area.

AWE offers advice and training, including a business planning three-session program for startups at $69 and a more intensive digital marketing course.

AWE also offers loans up to $150,000 for female entrepreneurs and the loan comes with the help of an adviser.

The Alberta LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce is a newer player on the business networking front, so now is a great opportunity for businesses run by LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and their allies to join and grow with the organization, says Jonathan Berube, Alberta LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerceboard chair Jonathan Berube.

The LGBTQ+ Chamber offers networking and is developing workshops on topics such as selling to the federal government and marketing, says Berube. The chamber can also promote members’ businesses to its wide social and email network, numbering at about 1,600 people.

“If companies are looking to access that unique audience and are LGBQT2+ or allies, there is a space for them here with us,” says Berube.

The plant-protein space also has a variety of sector-specific associations and networking opportunities. The Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta is a great umbrella group to meet peers at every stage of development and to get advice. PPAA workshops on fractionation will be offered this fall in Red Deer, Grande Prairie and Taber. Networking and information sessions are regularly held in Edmonton and Calgary.

The Alberta Food Processors Association also provides a lot of training and courses for its members.

Finding a Partner

Elizabeth Pratt, PaartnersThere are also specific services to streamline the search for business partners. Take, for instance, a brand looking for a co-packer or co-manufacturer or a manufacturer looking to work with a new brand. Networking can take time and it may be a matter of luck to find a perfect fit.

Paartners, a firm out of Calgary, provides a more definite way to find a match.

Co-founder Elizabeth Pratt calls Paartners, “a good dating platform for the food and beverage manufacturing sector.”

The business works much like an internet dating site, allowing food and beverage brands on one side of the equation, and co-manufacturers and packers on the other, to fill out detailed profiles of their businesses.

“We have an algorithm that detects the frequency of matches between their answers.

When our algorithm detects a match, both parties would receive a notification, notifying them of a match and explaining the key areas of compatibility,” says Pratt.

If both parties agree they want to connect and discuss a partnership, they pay an introduction fee of $29. Company identities are kept confidential until an introduction is made.

Paartners has about 400 firms from Canada and the U.S. in its database so far, says Pratt.

Plant Power

Beyond the basics of running a business, entrepreneurs in the plant-protein arena have sector specific needs, including help in product development, in accessing pilot-plant facilities and in scaling up production.

One of the first stops for those needs is the Alberta government’s Leduc Food Processing Development Centre.

The centre provides a variety of services and state-of-the art facilities. Scientists and technical staff can help businesses with specific problems on a fee-for service basis. The centre helps companies develop new and improved products and processes. It’s also home to a business incubator for food-based businesses.

The provincial government also has a Bio-Industrial Unit that offers clients of natural health, personal care and industrial product development access to services and equipment for scaling up to commercialization.

Some entrepreneurs may want to connect with the Cannabis and Hemp Innovation Centre in Vegreville, which offers programming and a business incubator/accelerator.

The University of Alberta collaborates with companies at its Agri-Food Discovery Place, which has a pilot-plant facility and labs.

Looking for Dollars

Every company needs money. The usual sources for startups and small-medium businesses are open to plant-protein entrepreneurs but the sector also has some more targeted funding available.

Hall says the big player federally is Protein Industries Canada.

“They’re sitting on $150 million in federal government money that will be matched up with $300 million or so of private money through project type work.”

They regularly have calls for projects in four different categories.

In the natural health care and personal-care product world there is Charlottetown-based agency Natural Products Canada, says Hall, offering tens of millions in investment. In the West, they have offices in Edmonton and Saskatoon.

Western Economic Diversification has calls for proposals two or three times a year.

And the National Research Council and IRAP, Industrial Research Assistance Program, have programs of interest to companies developing products and processes.

The Canadian Agriculture Partnership is another useful federal/provincial program for companies in food production and processing.

Private industry through investors, investment groups, venture capital, banks, Farm Credit Canada, Agricultural Financial Services Corporation and others are showing increasing interest in the agrifood sector.

Kathy Kerr, a former deputy and business editor at the Edmonton Journal, is a freelance writer

Posted on Sept. 17, 2019


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