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Pathfinder project #4

Harve$t Impact Fund

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Project overview

Great ideas need funding to become reality. The Harve$t Impact Fund offers a local financial marketplace that helps circular food businesses and collaborations attract financial support. 

Working closely with the Circular Food Economy iHub, we act as a matchmaker, connecting investors with change-makers who are applying circular ideas, data and technology to food problems. We help entrepreneurs—traditional or social entrepreneurs—access grants, loans, prizes or social finance investment. We also provide non-repayable start-up capital to high-potential projects.

The Harve$t Impact Fund development team works with both funders and projects to:

  • Build relationships with funding/financing institutions, 
  • Seek and develop de-risking mechanisms, 
  • Collect and coordinate pre-qualification information from both projects and investors,
  • Grow promising projects with early-stage financial support, 
  • Provide a stream of investment-ready projects matched to institutional goals, 
  • Engage support from new philanthropic and granted funds, and
  • Support projects throughout the process to achieve success and measure social and community impact.

Through this project, we ensure a variety of businesses are developed, social goals are supported (and measured) and success leads to further success. Ultimately, Harve$t Impact will enable the long-term sustainability of Our Food Future by de-risking innovative projects and offering them clear paths to investment.


1. Design and launch the Fund

Financing the Fund—To populate the Harve$t Impact Fund, we directed $500,000 from the Smart Cities Challenge award: $50,000 for the Impact Awards and $450,000 for the Social Finance Fund (#SOCFIN Fund). To date, we’ve leveraged an additional $94,000 in grants from foundations and government sources.

  • $20,000 is through the McConnell Foundation’s Solutions Finance Accelerator (Pre-Accelerator group)—a program that provides operational funding to intermediaries like the Harve$t Impact Fund that aggregate capital from investors to support enterprises that are advancing social and environmental change in innovative ways.
  • $50,000 is from the Canadian Women’s Foundation Investment Readiness Program to establish the Nourish Women’s Enterprise Fund—a micro-finance loan fund that aimed at helping local women facing barriers to employment launch socially sustainable food ventures.
  • $24,000 is from the federal government’s Local Food Infrastructure Fund to complete the Nourish commercial kitchen at 10C, which serves as a community infrastructure asset to support startups. 

To support future generations of circular food businesses, we envision that ventures involved in Our Food Future will invest in the Harve$t Impact Fund, either through a percentage of sales or profits or an annual contribution, membership or donation. Over the long term, this revenue stream from successful projects could help us create a self-sustaining fund.

Looking ahead, we’ll also encourage ongoing donations and investments from foundations and individuals by promoting the impacts of projects. 

Mapping the financial ecosystem—The Harve$t Impact will create a comprehensive database of funding and financing sources. To do that, we’re mapping the financial ecosystem to identify traditional and social financing solutions best suited for circular food businesses and collaborations. This work includes building strong relationships with funders. Mapping has begun and will continue for the duration of the project. 

2. Establish funding supports

Accelerating the launch of the Harve$t Impact Fund 

To address immediate community needs created by COVID-19, we’re accelerating the launch of the Harve$t Impact Fund. The application process for awards (see Impact Measurement Awards, below) and repayable social financing loans (see #SOCFIN Fund, below) will begin in fall 2020, with investments beginning in Spring 2021. To leverage our existing funding, we’ll put out an immediate call for private and institutional investment partners. 

Community donation platform 

To support The SEED’s Emergency Food Home Delivery program, we launched a new community donation platform in April 2020—the first demonstration project of Harve$t Impact—with a goal of raising more than $100,000. Our Food Future committed to match up to $90,000 and provide communications support to promote the initiative. These funds support The SEED and several local emergency food agencies and help quickly scale up emergency food provisioning to Guelph-Wellington’s most vulnerable residents. 

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Harve$t Impact—Impact Measurement Awards

In 2021, non-repayable cash awards of $1000 will be awarded to up to 10 successful applicants who have participated in any two of: Seeding Our Food Future program, R-Purpose Micro, and/or Harve$t Impact Cultivator Loan programs. The goal of these awards is to promote a common approach towards impact measurement and foster business capacity and stakeholder engagement towards impact measurement and reporting on the economic, environmental and social impacts of the circular food businesses. Awarded organizations demonstrate excellence in tracking impact, measuring success and storytelling that helps to explain the sustainability and the circularity of their projects. Intake for the Harve$t Impact awards will take place from March 2021 to May 2021, repeating in March-May 2022. $10,000 per year has been allocated for the total prizes awarded, and we will be seeking corporate sponsors to enable future awards. 

Harve$t Impact Social Finance Fund (HI 1.0) provides repayable seed investments to not-for-profit enterprises, businesses and collaborations. Our team helps projects develop social impact investing offerings This fund leverages $450,000 from the Smart Cities Challenge, and we’re engaging local social finance investors—including foundations, businesses and government—to grow the fund to more than $2,000,000. 

Impact investing presents a big opportunity for Guelph-Wellington community members to invest in our tech-enabled circular food economy. There is demonstrated appetite. For example, 10C recently raised close to $2 million in social finance investment through its community bonds product to  purchase and redevelop its social innovation hub. Meanwhile, a survey of the Guelph-Wellington community investors in 2018 revealed significant interest. 

Ongoing support—Our Harve$t Impact team is also available to assist entrepreneurs and collaborators in a variety of other ways. These include:

  • Helping entrepreneurs pitch and promote their campaigns on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, 
  • Helping entrepreneurs list their venture on the Social Venture Exchange (—an exempt market dealer registered with the Ontario Securities Commission that was created by Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District to match social impact projects with investors, 
  • Collaborating with banks, credit unions, the Business Development Bank of Canada and other key lenders, identifying appropriate contacts and core areas of interest and outlining ideal deal structures and requirements, 
  • Assisting entrepreneurs with financing applications and demystifying financing processes, and 
  • Helping entrepreneurs develop evaluation and reporting measures and share impact stories with funders, financing institutions, Our Food Future collaborators and the general public.

Social impact bonds—In the longer term, we plan to explore the potential of social impact bonds. This innovative social policy tool brings together different groups—governments, corporations, private investors, foundations, service providers and social enterprises—to address social issues.  Private investors provide up-front capital to fund projects run by social enterprises and service providers. If a project achieves the desired social outcomes, the government repays the investors, plus a financial return out of the savings it realized as a result of the intervention. This allows the government to explore innovative policy solutions while reducing the burden on taxpayers. 

Depending on the social outcome projects surfaced in the iHub, there may be an opportunity to pilot a homegrown social impact bond in Guelph-Wellington in the future.

Collaborative thought leaders program—In the short-term, we aim to assemble a “human library” of thought leaders and experts willing to share their knowledge and expertise. This could be a business owner who has incorporated circular food practices in their operation, for example, an urban food grower with insights to share, or an academic whose research could usefully be applied in a community setting. In the longer term, we plan to provide funding for these thought leaders to undertake targeted, collaborative projects related to our tech-enabled circular food economy.

3. Measure and report impact

Investors involved in social financing want to support projects that achieve more than just financial profits. However, tracking and reporting social and environmental impacts can be tricky, particularly when it involves changing attitudes and behaviours. Good impact reporting:

  • Tracks meaningful measures,
  • Is as efficient as possible in order to minimize the administrative burden, 
  • Helps funders and investors to evaluate risk and impact, and 
  • Makes it possible to compare the social return on investment of different projects.

By the end of 2021, we aim to create an impact measurement framework that includes financial data but places equal importance on reporting social/environmental factors, linked to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The social impact measurement field is still in its infancy, and the framework we develop will be an important resource for many other organizations. Our first steps are to review the tools and research that already exist and consult with professional evaluators and academic experts. Once we begin accepting funding applications, we’ll also solicit input from applicants to help shape the framework.

Challenges and lessons learned

Creating a self-sustaining system: The $500,000 invested to date in Harve$t Impact 1.0 will allow us to support a number of high-impact businesses and collaborations, and we aim to grow that pool of money in the coming years. However, it will take time to establish a self-sustaining ecosystem with sufficient investment-ready startups, as well as achieve a self-sustaining system where loan repayments and revenues from successful projects provide the funding to support new ones. Meanwhile, investing in new ventures comes with inherent risks. Our financial model must therefore allow for some defaults on loans and investments that do not yield returns, ensuring the Fund is robust enough to withstand these inevitable losses.

Ultimately, we see the need to grow the Fund to a substantial size—perhaps $50 million—to achieve the wholesale changes required to create a tech-enabled circular food economy.

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