As a scientist and investor, David Gauthier is clearly hesitant to make big claims. But when he talks about the opportunity for Canada’s natural product industry, you can see it’s tough for him to hold back.
“There’s a direct link between natural solutions and the big global challenges we’re seeing like food security and environmental sustainability,” he says. “The demand for what Canada can provide is extremely high.”
Gauthier, VP Investment for Natural Products Canada (NPC), says Canadian innovators from private companies and research institutions are creating solutions for a wide berth of industries.
“The innovations address the demand for clean, green and natural that is coming from virtually every sector,” says Gauthier. “They include everything from natural health products and functional ingredients, to agricultural applications such as biopesticides and soil inputs, and value-added agri-products like bioplastics and other biochemicals.”
This demand for ‘clean and green’ is a big part of NPC’s enviable track record. In just 36 months, they have assessed and supported over 500 natural products or technologies in various stages of development. They’ve invested in six Canadian companies, attracting a 7X leverage of additional capital. And they’ve experienced two exits–a stat that has garnered interest in the investment world.
But Gauthier says NPC’s most important milestone is establishing a network of over 2000 individuals across Canada and beyond.
“Everything we’re trying to do relies on a strong and diverse community of people who believe in the potential of Canadian natural products.”
Central to that community are regional node partners, including Ag-West Bio, the PEI BioAlliance, the Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods, the University of Guelph, and BioAlberta.
But other key players are the large corporations–think Cargill, Nature’s Way and others looking for the kinds of quality innovations coming out of Canada’s entrepreneur and research community. There are also investors and a plethora of provincial, regional and federal agencies, accelerators, incubators, consultants and others who help develop and commercialize natural products.
With so much opportunity, and the importance of increasing connections and collaboration, NPC recently moved to a cluster model.
“The cluster helps us facilitate those crucial linkages in a more efficient way,” says Gauthier. “It gives us a central connecting platform to help members find the innovation, capital, expertise and support they need.”
The connecting platform is actually a suite of strategic offerings under an umbrella they refer to as the Innovation Hub, which includes investor meetings, a database of companies and opportunities, virtual pitches, personal introductions, and innovation scouting.
“There’s a lot of complexity and nuance when developing a trusting relationship between a corporation or investor and a start-up,” says Gauthier. “We play a key role in the middle to help navigate the conversations quickly and efficiently,” says Gauthier.
But he is clear to point out that there’s more to the cluster than just match-making. “There’s significant power that comes with having a coordinated, cohesive and collaborative group of industry professionals right across the country,” he says. “The representative economic impact, expertise, and market share of this group is substantial. If they see a challenge or issue, they can tackle it together and see real results.”
Gauthier says NPC sees its role in the cluster as a central, coordinating figure – providing the structure, programs and services to advance a sustainable pipeline of natural product innovations to their full commercial potential.
The commercialization programs launched by NPC over the summer are a key part of that.
“We built the programs to address three key needs we heard from our clients and the innovation support community in a survey last fall,” says Gauthier. “Executive leadership, commercial viability, and strong go-to-market plans.”
He adds that the commercialization programs are a strategic feeder system for another key part of NPC’s vision for the cluster: private capital.
“The innovations that make their way through the programs are mentored and guided by industry experts in the cluster,” says Gauthier. “They pass a whole series of check points on things like strategy, market differentiation, management, and sales projections that make them attractive to potential partners and investors.”
NPC helps in that process by providing introductions to investors, and in some cases, partnering in those deals to help de-risk the opportunity.
Gauthier thinks the combo of introductions, investment, programs, and strategic advice offered through one central cluster is the right formula for advancing the sector across the country.
“No matter who we talk to—entrepreneurs, researchers or corporations and investors—they all tell us that knowledgeable connections are key,” he says. “The cluster brings those experts and resources together under one virtual roof.”
David Gauthier, VP Investment for Natural Products Canada, moderates a panel of investors at the Agri-Tech Venture Forum