Guelph, Wellington and partners unveil initiatives to support economic recovery

GUELPH – Last year Guelph and Wellington County won the Smart Cities Challenge for their Our Food Future project that came with a $10-million prize and immediately the groups started working on a plan.

In January this year they released their 10-point plan and in March they changed it to reflect the reality of COVID-19.

But they haven’t strayed from their original vision of developing a circular food economy, to enhance access to nutritious food, to reduce our carbon footprint, to turn food waste into a valuable resource, and to create new economic opportunities.

“We had to pivot quickly and be responsive to economic recovery,” Barbara Schwartzentruber, executive director of the Smart Cities project, said in an interview.

In many ways COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the issues the project intended to take on and they are more relevant than ever.

The project launched two initiatives last week to foster innovation, promote the circular food economy, educate, and support eligible companies in Guelph-Wellington.

Seeding Our Food Future

The Seeding Our Food Future micro-grant program will offer 40 new and existing Guelph-Wellington food system businesses, not-for-profits and social enterprises grants to support sustainable transition and recovery from current economic shocks.

The successful applicants will each receive a $5,000 non-repayable seed funding grant through Innovation Guelph’s Circular Food Economy iHub (CFE iHub) – an initiative that supports new business creation and promotes collaborations contributing to the circular food economy.

In addition to the cash, the program will provide up to 30 hours of expert advice with guidance from a lead mentor and industry specialists ($4,500 value).

Selected applicants will also receive a guaranteed spot in R-Purpose MICRO, a 12-week educational program focused on building sustainable practices, circularity and business resilience, delivered by Provision Coalition, a food industry advisory firm ($1,200 value).

Successful applicants of the Seeding Our Food Future program will also be eligible to apply for one of 30 interest-free loans of up to $10,000 through the Harvest Impact Fund and the Waterloo-Wellington and Saugeen Community Futures offices.

The $300,000 in total financing will support businesses shifting their practices in a way that contributes to the circular food economy. Details will be announced in June on

“While we are invested in growing and nurturing Our Food Future for the long-term, we know that action is needed now,” said Anne Toner Fung, chief executive officer, Innovation Guelph.

“Providing immediate support to new and existing food systems companies and organizations locally is a critical part of how we are supporting our community’s economic recovery.”

To apply for a Seeding Our Food Future micro-grant, visit Applications are due by June 30, 2020. Successful applicants will be announced on July 15, 2020.

R-Purpose Micro and R-Purpose

The second program is actually two programs: R-Purpose Micro and R-Purpose. The programs aim to help food and beverage companies increase efficiency, circularity and profits while reducing operating costs and waste.

R-Purpose Micro, the first to launch, is a 12-week virtual program with weekly 2-hour intensive sessions delivered remotely via a suite of specially developed software tools. R-Purpose Micro will be offered three times over the next 18 months, with the first session beginning June 5. Interested companies can enroll today.

R-Purpose Micro will be offered free of charge over the next 18 months for up to 50 small food and beverage businesses based in Guelph-Wellington. Contact to reserve your spot now and use the code “SeedingOurFuture”.

Applications are also open for R-Purpose, the full program. Cost-sharing options will be available for up to eight food or beverage manufacturing companies local to Guelph or Wellington County. Successful applicants will receive 12 to 18 months of one-to-one business support to help them save money and grow faster through purpose, sustainability and circularity. The R-Purpose program is available now, with expressions of interest due June 5. The program can be delivered remotely while physical distance requirements are in place. Contact Provision Coalition for information.

“This is great opportunity for the city and the county to be leaders in the sustainable food economy,” Schwartzentruber said.

“What was envisioned is a new way of doing business in the food economy and this is underway,” Toner Fung said. “All businesses have to be more responsive now.

“COVID-19 is pushing us outside our comfort zone, but that’s where we innovate.”