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Photo: Bryan Chong

This Ryerson food startup is hungry for business

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By Emily Theodore

Ryerson’s Food Innovation Hub (FIH) plans to become a leader in the food market, yet it doesn’t sell food at all.

Operating out of the Science Discovery Zone, the FIH is a business incubator for the food industry. Ryerson business grads Trevor McConnell, Dara Jarallah, Osama Sbeitan, Tanner MacDonald and Alex Mines opened the hub in September to consult entrepreneurs with food-related business start-ups and connect them with resources.

The team came up with the idea for the FIH in March 2016 while participating in an entrepreneur boot camp in Munich with Ryerson business prof Steven Gedeon. There, while working with students and faculty from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, they realized the business opportunities in food innovation, especially in Toronto.

“Food has always been big, but it’s fragmented around the city and campus,” said FIH co-founder Alex Mines. “What other industry can you say a consumer interacts with at least three times a day?”

Mines says their goal is to connect food-related startups with food enthusiasts and help solve food sustainability problems.

“There has never been a bigger need to collaborate and solve these issues. By 2050, [Earth’s] population will grow to nine billion and North American food production will need to rise to 150 per cent,” Mines said. “We currently waste one-third of the food produced, and that’s $680 billion a year, mostly through retail and the consumption of food in the value chain.”

Already, the hub has corporate recognition. On Sept. 24 and 25, it hosted the Food to Think hackathon, sponsored by Loblaws. On Nov. 8, it held a food innovation showcase at George Brown College’s The Chef’s House, in an effort to a create a partnership with the college.

McConnell says the heart of the hub’s success is people’s love of eating.

“Being a foodie is cool now,” said co-founder McConnell. “There are so many cool diets and interesting restaurants. Everyone can relate to it, there are endless possibilities.”

Tasty, Buzzfeed’s food brand, has over 100 million likes on its Facebook page. Its recipe videos gathered almost 1.8 billion views in September alone, according to video analytics company Tubular Labs.

“Millennials are really interested in food, in a way my generation wasn’t,” said Gedeon. “When I was 20 years old, I barely knew how to boil an egg. I certainly didn’t take pictures of food, cook food or have a passion for it.”*

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified this quote as being said by McConnell. It was actually a quote from Gedeon. The Eyeopener regrets this error.

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