Ryerson introduces new food incubator

[Left to right] Alexander Mines, Tanner MacDonald, and Trevor McConnell, three of the four founders of the Food Innovation Hub, attend the Urban Farm Fall Harvest Party on October 25, 2016. Osama Sbeitan (not pictured) is the fourth founder and director of the Food Innovation Hub. (Courtesy Chayonika Chandra)

[Left to right] Alexander Mines, Tanner MacDonald, and Trevor McConnell, three of the four founders and directors of the Food Innovation Hub, attend the Urban Farm Fall Harvest Party on October 25, 2016. Osama Sbeitan (not pictured) is the fourth founder and director of the Food Innovation Hub. (Chayonika Chandra)

 The Food Innovation Hub (FIH) is Ryerson’s first student-led food incubator that helps companies start to grow and monetize their businesses. The FIH is a subset of the new initiative in the science faculty called the Science Discovery Zone (SDZ).

“Toronto is a mecca for food; go around any corner and there’s 50 different ways in which different cultures innovate around food,” says Alexander Mines, one of the four founders and directors of the FIH. “Why don’t we have a place that cultivates this as a lightning rod centred around food?”

The FIH is operated by a team of 15 entrepreneurship students, some of whom are Ryerson alumni.

The idea to create this incubator was developed last year in Munich at the Academic Program for Entrepreneurship boot camp.

In March 2015, the co-founders started brainstorming ideas for Ryerson’s own.

They then went to Sicily, Italy for a summer school program hosted by the Future Food Institute, which is an Italian-based non-profit that collaborates with various food-related innovators.

This is where they established a sustainable partnership with the Future Food Institute and gave birth to the FIH.

One of FIH’s current incubatees, led by Gultegin Barkhudarov, is testing prototypes for edible glue made from plantain sap.

The FIH has also been assisting former Ryerson student Sarah Brigel in monetizing the Microbe Hub, a student-led compost program which diverts organic waste from Ryerson into a vermiculture farm.

A vermiculture farm is comprised of worms which are fed compost and the excrements are used as organic fertilizer.

“Our original idea was to collect the castings (worm poop)and sell them, but no one on our team was business-minded,” says Brigel.

The FIH has assigned two Ryerson business management students to the Microbe Hub team to help them market their product and make their business financially sustainable.

Since it began, the FIH has racked up five incubatees and two contracts for local businesses. Their goal is to double the amount of incubatees and contracts by the end of the school year.

“Our long-term goal is make an ecosystem for people by connecting them to services and investors, which will help grow and commercialize their business,” says Trevor McConnell, another co-founder and director of the FIH. The FIH achieves this goal through educational seminars, networking events and corporate alliances.

When the FIH was in the preliminary planning stage, the co-founders intended it to be a Ryerson zone.

“In order to make it a zone, it would have to be approved by a bureaucracy of people and the whole process would’ve taken two years, which (as students) we didn’t have,” says McConnell.

McConnell believes this is the right time for the FIH to exist.

“Ryerson wasn’t interested in a food zone five years ago,” says McConnell. “Foodies and their food pictures on Instagram had just started gaining popularity so the idea was still pretty fresh.”

Ryerson has capped the number of zones to 10 so the idea turned into a hub affiliated with the Science Discovery Zone.

The SDZ space, which will include the FIH, is currently under renovation.

The renovations are being done by those involved in the SDZ and its startup collaborators since they don’t have enough budget to hire outside contractors.

The space will officially open Jan. 13, 2017.

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