Succeeding as a Canadian food entrepreneur
Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. You need courage, perseverance, and an obvious passion for what you are pursuing. And when it comes to food entrepreneurialism, achieving success demands a special ingredient — a true love for making and sharing incredible food.
When York Region partnered with York University’s YSpace and set out to support food ventures with the York Region Food & Beverage Accelerator program, they knew they wanted to give food entrepreneurs in Ontario a boost. The 4,000 plus food and beverage processors in the province generate an impressive $34 billion in sales, but there is always more to do in support of business scale up and access to new distribution channels.
With the York Region Food & Beverage Accelerator Program, York University and York Region had the opportunity to support local entrepreneurs like Jamie Lee and Isabelle Lam with Remix and Lola Adeyemi with It’s Souper — three incredibly inspirational women entrepreneurs with a drive to succeed. These women have business acumen and creativity, but most importantly, they love what they do.
When Adeyemi came to Canada 15 years ago, landing in Winnipeg as an international student from Nigeria, she soon missed her family and African culture.
“I didn’t have an actual light bulb moment when I initially arrived here, but I realized over time that if I wanted to reconnect with my heritage I would have to bring West African flavours to Canada,” said Adeyemi.
She did exactly that by embracing her entrepreneurial spirit and created a plan to develop and sell incredibly flavourful West African soups — which are hearty meals eaten year around in Africa — for the Canadian consumer. Soups like Moroccan Chickpea and Chicken Stew, Meat Lovers Chili, and the vegan Roasted Carrot and Paprika Soup are fresh and totally authentic.
And because once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur, Adeyemi has created a new line of African sauces — West African Pepper Sauce, Mozi Per-Peri and Green Pepper Sauce — that are perfect for the BBQ.
“Connecting people to African flavours and sharing in the joy of food, which is an essential part of African culture, is what motivates me”, said Adeyemi.
“I am first generation immigrant and the team at York Region and YSpace continue to help me build my network of mentors and business leaders who share knowledge, contacts and opportunities,” said Lola.
For Lee and Lam, their entrepreneurial spirit was driven by a dream to offer people healthier snack alternatives that are responsibly made. “While studying to be dieticians in university we recognized that everyone loves to snack and with a little innovation, snacks can be healthy too,” said Lee. From there the chocolate bean bark was born. Using their proprietary black bean recipe together with 70 per cent dark chocolate and upcycled fruit provides optimal nutrition for snackers. The resulting products like Bean Bark Cranberry, Bean Bark Peach and Bean Back Strawberry are also absolutely delicious.
“We are leading the mindful snacking movement with our own mantra: Mindful eating in moderation, no shaming and no guilt. Just feel good and enjoy! “ said Lam.
When asked about advice for young entrepreneurs and those summoning the courage to start a business, all three women say a commitment to lifelong learning and resilience is a necessity, especially when you are up late night wondering about your next move. What they also say is that they are incredibly proud of their chosen path and enjoy their successes, both small and large, every day.
“The York Region Food and Beverage Accelerator Program gave us a community within the food start-up space that we never had before. Through the program’s connections with mentors and industry experts, we were able to experience growth during COVID-19 and expand to retailers across Canada,” said Lee.
Remix and It’s Souper along with other program participants received support from the York Region Food & Beverage Program delivered in partnership by York Region and York University’s YSpace. This two-year pilot program, which was funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) and the first of its kind in Canada, delivered two cohorts, with 20 companies and generated over $912,000 in revenue, acquired 456 new retail locations, and created 15 new job opportunities.