CFE iHub Story

Christopher Coghlan Innovation Guelph • 15 January 2021

Our Story 

Our Food Future’s 50x50x50 vision drives the work of the Circular Food Economy (CFE) iHub, a partnership based at Innovation Guelph. The three 50x50x50 goals are: 

  • increase access to affordable, nutritious food by 50%, where “waste” becomes a resource 
  • create 50 new circular businesses and collaborations, and  
  • increase circular economic value by 50%.  

The CFE iHub serves as a Rural-Urban Living Lab with key partners serving as “front doors” to enhance access to a connected, integrated innovation ecosystem. These key partners include: Innovation Guelph, 10C, Business Centre Guelph-Wellington, Guelph Chamber of Commerce, John F. Wood Centre (UofG), LaunchIt Minto, and Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures.

This living lab approach enables CFE iHub to leverage existing partnerships, resources, and programs, while facilitating collaboration and communication across many interconnected projects and opportunities. The CFE iHub works alongside the Our Food Future Smart Cities Office, and other collaborators to further connections throughout the ecosystem. The Front Doors act as conduits between for-profit, not-for-profit, and community actors, along with other relevant players in the CFE iHub. Together they function as a dispersed network of approachable, informed contact points, ensuring that there is “no wrong door” for interested parties to engage with the CFE iHub and Our Food Future initiative. They offer a variety of resources including but not limited to funding opportunities, professional development programs, and additional industry-specific tools. 

Other ecosystem partners assist in the overall Our Food Future project and support Front Door initiatives in terms of programs and research. The CFE iHub also includes one County Connector and one City Connector who help navigate the project and identify opportunities for businesses, researchers and other organizations. The Connectors actively establish appropriate connections based on areas of interest, business sector and other relevant information.  

In pursuit of the Our Food Future vision, the CFE iHub contributes to the development of a sustainable regional food ecosystem by facilitating collaborations between businesses and by fostering circular economy principles. The CFE iHub engages with stakeholders across the rural-urban ecosystem to support the discovery, assessment, and analysis of problems in the current food system, especially as they relate to waste, inefficiency, and information gaps. By leveraging existing community knowledge, local research expertise, specialized mentorship resources, and the power of partnerships, the CFE iHub provides opportunities for innovators to co-create solutions that result in a more sustainable, economically viable and equitable regional food system.   

As a part of Our Food Future’s 10-point recovery plan in response to COVID-19, the Seeding Our Food Future (SOFF) micro-grant program was launched. It offers 40 new and existing Guelph-Wellington food system businesses, not-for-profits, and social enterprises a suite of supports, including grant funds, mentorship, sustainability and resiliency training, and the possibility of an interest-free loan. The program runs from July 15, 2020 to March 31, 2021. The purpose of this program is to enable businesses, impacted by COVID-19 to become more circular, resilient, and sustainable by pivoting their business model or establishing a new business. 

Businesses and SOFF participants involved with the Our Food Future project are exposed to a range of organizations within the Guelph-Wellington business support ecosystem.  Organizations within this ecosystem range from non-profits to crown corporations to academic researchers and programs. 

Our Activities & Events 

In working towards a Circular Food Economy, the CFE iHub and Connectors facilitates problem surfacing-solution generating activities and in-depth challenge, idea lab and hackathon events that engage the Guelph-Wellington community (see Full Circle Model). The purpose of problem surfacing-solution generating activities is to tackle the barriers that generally make it difficult to participate in a Circular Food Economy. The CFE iHub team draws on multiple sources and stakeholders to identify, understand, and prioritize the various problems across the food system value chain. Activities can be one-on-one interviews, focus groups, or larger facilitated engagements. Solutions that can be readily executed will be generated through the Rural-Urban Living Lab Process or through the development of collaborations. For problems that require additional collaborations and/or resources, we move into challenge, idea lab and hackathon events. A continuous, innovative sprint process is employed during and after the events, as applicable. These generate prototypes and minimum viable products which are tested in the community and further refined. 

Our Tools & Resources

Innovation Guelph has a roster of over 50 mentors and industry specialists that are experienced in a range of different sectors. These sectors include but are not limited to agriculture, cleantech, consumer & packaged goods, IoT, waste management, and water technologies, as well as general business, marketing, and financing support. Our mentors work with clients to help identify their business goals and coach them through their proposed projects. Mentors can help a business at any stage, whether it is developing a business strategy, building a prototype, establishing market strategies, scaling-up the company, or exporting products. Our industry specialists support the mentors in specific aspects of a client’s overall goal. Mentors and industry specialists help prepare businesses for investments and provide them with the connections and expertise needed to attract growth. 

In addition to mentoring, businesses participating in the SOFF program gain access to a variety of valuable tools offered by the CFE iHub and its partners. These tools range from funding and learning opportunities to one-on-one engagements. Not only can participants work with industry specialists, but they are also offered courses, including a guaranteed spot in the R-Purpose MICRO course focused on building sustainable practices and business resilience. On their SOFF journey, participating businesses are even presented the chance to engage in events and activities that surface problems and generate solutions surrounding circularity-related topics. These activities are comprised of one-on-one interviews, focus groups and larger facilitated engagements, as well as in-depth challenges, idea labs, and hackathon events. Once businesses finish SOFF programming, they will have an opportunity to participate in additional Innovation Guelph programming.  

The main goal of the CFE iHub within the Our Food Future project is to generate 50 circular businesses and/or collaborations. After the completion of the SOFF program, we will continue to work with Guelph-Wellington businesses in developing circular practices as well as bringing on new businesses. As we work with these businesses we will assess and track their progress in four different categories: the first category, Reduce, measures how you design out waste and reduce your carbon footprint. Reuse evaluates how food waste, by-products, and other waste is utilized and Recycle looks at the appropriate disposal and use of materials. The last category, Access, determines how a business supports adequate and equitable access to food. As a business addresses each category, they develop a more circular business model and establish their role in the Circular Food Economy. 

If you would like to learn more and get involved, please join the conversation in the comments. We look forward to seeing you at the table!