Canada’s first circular-economy-focused accelerator and test platform

  • Recipient: City of Guelph
  • Region: Guelph
  • Program: Community Economic Development Diversification
  • Total Fund Allocated: $5 million
Canada’s first circular-economy-focused accelerator and test platform

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Through the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste, Canada is leading the transition to a sustainable and circular economy by banning single-use plastic items which will help keep plastic out of the environment, reduce plastic waste and reuse it in the economy. In nature, nothing ever goes to waste and the output of one process is the input for the next. The term “circular economy” refers to an economic arrangement which builds on this natural model, where businesses maximize the value of resources by reusing or repurposing materials to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, overcome unsustainable manufacturing by filtering out pollution through all stages of production and regenerating natural systems. Today, the majority of products consumed are developed through a linear economy, with raw materials thrown away after use and resources not being used in their highest utility. Through the integration of clean technology and innovative ideas, these day-to-day actions support Canada’s transition to a circular economy, remodeling of supply chains to be more sustainable and resilient while advancing economic growth. For example, using biodegradable cups, purchasing products in glass bottles that can be returned or participating in product buy-back programs, are all practises of circular economy solutions.

As a leader in sustainable development, the City of Guelph and County of Wellington are well-positioned to advance circular-economy-focused businesses and solutions through the development of Canada’s first circular economy accelerator and test platform. In 2019, through Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge, Guelph-Wellington was awarded $10 million for its commitment to reduce food waste and to launch Our Food Future, which created Canada’s first technology-enabled circular food economy. This initiative is supporting the development of an inclusive food-secure ecosystem by 2025, which increases access to affordable and nutritious food by 50 percent, uses waste as a resource to increase circular economic benefits by 50 percent and creates 50 new circular businesses and collaborations.

To support the further advancement of circular economy solutions, in April 2021, the Government of Canada, through FedDev Ontario, provided the City of Guelph, in partnership with the County of Wellington, 10C Social Entrepreneurship Hub, and Innovation Guelph, with a $5-million investment to establish the Circular Opportunity Innovation Launchpad (COIL).

COIL is expanding on the success of Guelph-Wellington’s existing circular food economy platform to include businesses in the environment and sustainability sectors such as food packaging, construction and energy, as well as offering support to companies in other regions of southern Ontario to bring innovations to market faster. This platform provides entrepreneurs, businesses, not-for-profit organizations and SMEs, access to “living lab” facilities to test the impact and application of their transformative circular economy technologies in real-world settings.

Between 2021 and 2024, COIL will provide development and growth support to 70 businesses from southern Ontario through business advisory services, including up to 50 hours of mentorship, up to $40,000 in seed funding and support to commercialize their innovations. On the strength of this newly developed network, the project is expected to result in the creation of 400 jobs and establish over 100 new products or services in the market. Applications for the first cohort opened in October 2021, and by March 2022 COIL worked with over 40 businesses and social enterprises across its four innovation and acceleration programs.

As part of the circular business accelerator, COIL provides clients with data resources by expanding access to the Circular Economy Data Hub. COIL launched a Circular Economy Digital Passport program and ReSource Exchange Marketplace to help innovators identify real-world opportunities and potential collaborators, and to turn what is now waste into new innovative products. Further, companies in the food and environment sector including enterprising not-for-profits now have an additional access to capital avenue through the expansion of the Harvest Impact social impact investment fund, which is raising $3 million and launching a community-based lending facility. The first loans under Harvest Impact were issued in March 2022.

COIL is also launching three circular innovation challenges through the Circulate CoLab program. The CoLab convenes teams of between 2-7 companies across a supply chain to prototype new circular economy business models and technologies over 16 weeks, and then pitch to an expert panel for potential additional funding to scale up their idea into a full demonstration project. To expand business support, the Guelph-Wellington Smart Cities Office and Provision Coalition received funding in August 2021 from Ontario Agri-Food Research Initiative and launched COIL’s newest business support, Re(Purpose) Incubator to reduce waste and commercialize new upcycled products in the food and beverage industry. In addition to COIL’s core project partners, this initiative also includes significant collaborations across educational institutions including the University of Guelph and Ivey Business School as well as regional partners including the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, Provision Coalition, Business Centre Guelph-Wellington and many more across southern Ontario. The collaboration between not-for-profit organizations, industry experts and post-secondary institutions, has established a national network to provide support to businesses in the development and implementation of innovative circular economy solutions.

Through this project, the City of Guelph and County of Wellington continue in their role as leaders in sustainable development, reducing our demand on resources and building a regional circular food economy while supporting the Government of Canada’s commitment to clean growth, post-pandemic green recovery and initiative to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

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