Innovating Food with Post-Secondary Institutions

Innovation is critical to the long-term success of food businesses. Whether it’s developing a new disease-resistant strain of crop, modifying product ingredients, or redesigning packaging, consistently innovating products or processes will help to remain competitive in an increasingly complex marketplace.

Although large agri-food companies can innovate internally, smaller businesses often lack the internal resources to perform research and development at a high-level.

To overcome technical roadblocks, small businesses can research and develop innovative food products/processes through a partnership with Ontario colleges and universities. These institutions frequently assist businesses in research new products and ingredients, explore new production methods, and redevelop packaging to improve a company’s overall value proposition.

Businesses can even receive Canadian government funding to perform these types of collaborative research and development projects. There are several funding programs for R&D partnerships, most of which agri-food businesses can apply for.

Why Research with Ontario Colleges and Universities?

There are many reasons why Ontario-based food producers and processors should explore collaborative R&D projects. Some include:

  • Improved Research Outcomes: Students and professors have the knowledge and skills necessary to help your project cross the finish line in less time and company commitment.
  • Access to Research Talent & Equipment: Businesses can test products or services to certify that the research delivers expected outcomes or end products, as well as gain access to specialized equipment and professors with unique focus areas and expertise.
  • Food Industry Talent Development: Providing young researchers with access to projects in the food processing industry will help them develop skills and interest in the sector. By making connections with these youth, food processors can nurture and develop this talent and help them find post-academic employment.

Academic Institutions to Perform Food R&D Projects With

When getting started with academic collaborations, it’s often best to approach an institution with a project to see if they have interest or capacity for it. Contact a local college or university and explain your project, then ask how their resources can help.

Some of the academic institutions in Ontario well-known for food innovation include:

  • Niagara College;
  • Brock University;
  • Carleton University;
  • Conestoga College;
  • Centennial College;
  • Durham College;
  • Fleming College;
  • George Brown College;
  • Ryerson University;
  • Trent University;
  • University of Guelph;
  • University of Toronto.

Government Grants to Support Agri-Food Research Collaborations

Canadian government grants are a great way to reinforce the benefits of these academic collaborations. Both the federal and provincial governments have developed funding programs to reduce research project expenses when a college and university are involved. When used effectively, these small business grants and loans can help agri-food companies greatly improve research projects.

There are two ways businesses can access government-funded research assistance:

Providing Research Internships

Internships can help accomplish specific project objectives without hiring on another full-time worker, which can be a huge benefit to small companies. Interns can also be accessed relatively easily since many post-secondary programs require students to gain internship experience and companies are always being offer work opportunities. They may be entirely based at your organization or split their time between your workplace and their school.

Related: The case for Co-op and Internships for students in food

Canadian Small Business Research Funding Programs:

  • Mitacs Elevate: Up to 50% of a PhD intern’s wages to a maximum $25,000 per year. Internships span for two years, providing a total of $50,000 in funding. Please note that this program can only be applied during periodic application intake windows.
  • Mitacs Accelerate: Up to 50% of a Master’s or PhD intern’s wages to a maximum $7,500 per 4-month internship period.
  • Research Internship Funding Program: Up to 50% to a maximum $60,000 in funding. Companies may receive up to 6 internship units (of 4 months each) to hire post-secondary graduates. Businesses can hire multiple interns or extend the internship period of a single intern by assigning internship units as necessary.

Using an Academic Research Facility

Another way of accessing research talent is by using an academic research facility. College and university professors can express interest in proposed research projects where they feel their skills (and the skills of students) can be used effectively. Once accepted, a statement of work can be developed to define the project, and specific deliverables will be assigned to each party. Professors and their team of researchers will complete tasks in a laboratory and will share results with companies as they come available.

Canadian Government Funding Programs for Small Businesses:

  • NSERC Engage: Up to $25,000 in funding to support projects that that can be achieved by a professor and research team over a maximum 4-6 months. A program called NSERC Engage Plus can provide another $12,5000 and extend these projects for up to 6 months.
  • NSERC Collaborative Research & Development (CRD): Up to $200,000 in funding to support large-scale studies and research projects spanning 1-5 years.

Develop a Government Funding Strategy for Research Grants

To start the process of accessing Canadian government grants for research, small businesses should define their project well and have a concrete plan for what assistance is needed from a university. When the project has been well-defined, a government funding application can be developed and submitted for approval.

Ready to supercharge your outcomes by using small business funding strategies? Contact a Government Funding Planner from Mentor Works.

Author: Jeff Shepherd obtained his Honours Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Guelph-Humber. He has combined his passion for marketing and economic development in his role of Marketing Coordinator at Mentor Works.

Mentor Works is a business support organization specializing in Canadian government funding. The Ontario-based business has helped hundreds of businesses build and execute their funding strategy through a mix of federal and provincial government grants, loans, and tax credits. Mentor Works offers free online resources, funding webinars, and news via their website at

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