Ontario Agri-Food Technologies will run a pilot project called the Commercial Deal Accelerator, which brings together small startups, large multinationals, and investors
By Jackie Clark
The governments of Canada and Ontario will provide funding to Ontario Agri-Food Technologies (OAFT) to help them support innovation and commercialization in the ag industry through a pilot project called the Commercial Deal Accelerator, according to a Jan. 10 statement. However, this funding (through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership) comes after OAFT’s budget was cut by the provincial government.
OAFT has a 23-year history but “ultimately it’s one of the organizations that fell to the cuts of this current provincial government,” Tyler Whale, president of OAFT, told Farms.com.
“As an organization, our mandate is to advance Ontario-based agri-food technology in the commercial or industrial sphere,” he explained.
This involves connecting startups, corporations and investors in Ontario, across Canada and around the world.
“You could describe us as a navigator, as an enabler,” Whale said. Networking “is critically important, but it’s coupled with the idea that you have a vision as to what the future of ag is becoming or should become,” he added.
Because of provincial funding cuts “we’re in a period of time where OAFT is evolving,” Whale explained.
“OAFT will receive up to $100,000 in cost-share funding to design and launch a pilot project called the Commercial Deal Accelerator,” the Jan. 10 statement said.
The Partnership funding gives the organization some time to go about “innovating on how we commercialize,” Whale said.
“In the short runway we have to exist right now, I’ve got to find a way to sell our services to private industry,” he added.
To do so, OAFT are exploring “the idea of a Commercial Deal Accelerator, pouring gas on the commercialization fire so it burns faster, hotter, brighter,” Whale said.
This pilot project may be a way to mitigate the risk in early-stage investment in startups by bringing together three main players: corporations that don’t interact well with the startup ecosystem, startups without much exposure, and investors, he explained.
“Most corporations don’t scour for the newest innovations,” he added. “We can act as that bridge-builder or that conduit.”
The Commercial Deal Accelerator would be “a very quick way of identifying (startups) that are ready, that have an invention that’s ready and tested but that’s not yet very visible in the marketplace,” he said.
OAFT would provide the service of understanding a large corporation’s goals or needs, finding inventors or startups with products and services that would fill those needs, and then presenting them to the corporation. The corporation would then determine which products or services would be most useful to them, and investors would get that information, Whale explained.
“When the investment community hears that message from a corporation, a multinational saying that if these things were in the market we’d buy them right now, then that’s a huge incentive to invest in those (startups) and bring them to market as much as possible,” he added.
In the end, everybody would win.
“Startups get access to a huge cash flow potential quickly, corporations get access to the agility of the startup ecosystem more efficiently, and investors get deep insight,” Whale said.
In Ontario “we punch above our weight in the efficiency of invention, but we punch well below our weight in the efficiency of commercialization,” he said. So if it were successful, the Commercial Deal Accelerator pilot would provide smoother opportunities to innovate and commercialize.
The provincial cuts are “an interesting opportunity for us to think a little bit differently,” Whale said, framing the situation optimistically.
Through the Partnership the government has “taken the opportunity to put a tiny bit of money back in to help us evolve,” he said.
And evolution could lead to success, because agri-food technology has never been more interesting to investors, Whale said.
“Ag tech as being maybe the next key swimming lane,” he added.
Success of projects like the Commercial Deal Accelerator could also help with future budgeting for organizations like OAFT.
The “government might realize that investing in early-stage innovation commercialization work is a public responsibility,” Whale said.