Growing food entrepreneurship in Canada with Mike McNeil, Vice President of Operations at Venturepark Labs | FoodGrads Podcast Ep. 83

About Mike McNeil

Mike McNeil is vice president of operations at Venturepark Labs. Venturepark Labs is a non-profit supporting early-stage entrepreneurs in the food & wellness categories. It was initially founded in 2015 as District Ventures Accelerator and District Ventures Kitchen by Canadian business icon Arlene Dickinson. In May 2021, this initiative became Venturepark Labs—a proud community within Venturepark—Canada’s only business growth ecosystem.

Mike began his career as an advisor to Canada’s Minister of Finance, the Honourable Jim Flaherty, but soon discovered a passion for entrepreneurship. As the first hire at Venturepark Labs, Mike established the accelerator program as one of Canada’s leading programs for entrepreneurs. To date, the program has supported over 130 entrepreneurs and contributed over $1B in economic output. In 2023, Mike was named one of the Best Executives in Canada by The Globe and Mail.

In 2023, the Globe and Mail recognized Mike as one of the Best Executives in Canada.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Youtube, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform

Things mentioned in this episode:

This week’s episode is sponsored by:

  •  CareersNow!  is Food and Beverage Ontario’s multi-year workforce development initiative that is connecting students and job seekers with employers in Ontario’s food and beverage processing industry for exciting career opportunities. Check out for more information on exciting jobs, career information, industry mentors and training opportunities for professional development.

Other things we mentioned in this episode:


  • [0:00] Introduction
  • [3:32] Mike’s career journey
  • [13:06] Arlene Dickinson in the Canada’s food space
  • [14:59] Entrepreneurship in Canada
  • [19:33] Entrepreneurship in Canada vs the United States
  • [23:29] Food business certifications in Canada
  • [27:41] Programs Venturepark offers
  • [34:50] How Mike coordinates everything
  • [42:09] Scaling your business as an entrepreneur
  • [44:38] Advice for budding entrepreneurs
  • [48:30] Where you can find Mike
  • [49:05] Outro

Mike McNeil Quotes

Most of the time when businesses get down the road of investing a lot of money into figuring out if there’s like a product market fit it’s just too late. And as a result, you’ve probably could have made some earlier corrections than waiting much later on to keep hearing from retailer to retailer or getting into a retailer. Cause getting into a retailer is like quite half the battle, but actually getting the product off the shelf is what actually dictates success of a lot of these food brands. –Mike McNeil

You could be a solo entrepreneur, you could have a team of just a small amount of people working on your business, but it’s so important to have time set aside on a weekly basis to work on your business because you’re always working in it and to actually meaningfully grow a business. That everyone else can be a part of. – Mike McNeil

But ultimately the challenges of growing a CPG business are quite similar from a, “how do we get cash flow into this business to make it sustainable?” How do we amplify if we do have something that the market’s responding to? That’s what the challenge, the accelerator programs trying to solve. – Mike McNeil

And without that structured time, it’s just very challenging because you get swept up with making your products, putting out fires. Trying to get everyone paid that sort of stuff takes up a lot of your time. So, what we do through our programs is try to create a little bit of rhythm so that the entrepreneur knows that they have this certain amount of time to work on their business to figuring out what progress did they make and what areas of the company are working and what areas need support. – Mike McNeil

I really do think that nobody else in Canada has stepped up like Arlene Dickinson has for this space. And nobody has paid a bigger price for it in terms of just the emotional investment of making this happen. It’s not an easy space to attract investment to capital in Canada. – Mike McNeil

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