Program Manager, Circular Economy iHub, Innovation Guelph
Anne Toner Fung
CEO, Innovation Guelph
A long-time leader in cleantech and sustainability, Guelph is transitioning to the circular economy. Here’s how Innovation Guelph is supporting that transition.
Cleantech innovation and sustainability are nothing new to the City of Guelph. “Guelph has always been a bit of a natural centre for cleantech activity,” says Anne Toner Fung, CEO, Innovation Guelph, a regional business incubator that helps to accelerate start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Guelph was one of the first North American Cities to develop a community energy plan (CEP) and there has long been a cluster of companies in the Guelph Wellington area that fall into the cleantech sector. They range from wastewater management firms to water quality companies to solar panel manufacturers.
More recently Guelph has seen increased activity around the circular economy – an economic model that aims to transform the linear “take, make, waste” paradigm to the circular one of “reduce, reuse, recycle” and further to include “reimagine and redesign.”
It started about three years ago at the intersection of the food sector and sustainability with a Smart Cities project to create a circular regional food economy in Guelph-Wellington. This project has now expanded to include broader environmental issues. “It’s no longer just around food waste and access to food, but sustainability and cleantech in general and it’s now tied to the post-COVID green economic recovery,” says Toner Fung.
Innovation Guelph offers funding, mentorship and education programs
Innovation Guelph has been supporting the cleantech ecosystem in and around Guelph for the past decade through funding, mentorship, and education programs. These programs range from supporting women-led businesses, to start-up mentorship, to project-based programs for more established SMEs.
As the city and county further embrace the circular economy, Innovation Guelph is expanding its programs to do likewise. Building on its experience and expertise as one of the program delivery partners for the Smart Cities “Our Food Future” initiative, Innovation Guelph is also contributing to its next stage: COIL (Circular Opportunities Innovation Launchpad). COIL is an innovation platform and activation network dedicated to advancing circularity in businesses and communities. Through COIL programs, companies have the opportunity to create, prove, and scale transformative solutions. “The vision for this is a user-centred open innovation eco-system which fosters the development of new businesses and collaborations that support regional circular economy,” says Christopher Coghlan, Program Manager, Circular Economy iHub & COIL Accelerators, at Innovation Guelph. One of COIL’s key programs, the Activate Circular Accelerator, for example, focuses on funding and accelerating innovative circular economy businesses working in the nexus of the food and environment sectors.
Gaining momentum and attracting international attention
Both within Innovation Guelph and around the City of Guelph, the circular economy is gaining traction with broader initiatives taking place. “We’ve managed to garner the attention of some international players,” says Toner Fung. “One of the entities that provided curriculum for the Activate Circular Accelerator program was the University of Exeter in England, which is affiliated with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global group of thought leaders on the circular economy, so I’d say the momentum is fairly significant and we’re just a piece of it,” says Toner Fung.
In support of COIL, Innovation Guelph has engaged with circular economy accelerators and investment firms around the world, such as Closed Loop Partners in New York City, Tondo in Milan, and Circular Valley in Germany. “The work being done here is certainly attracting interest in organizations that are working in this space worldwide,” adds Coghlan.