Looking to Europe? Don’t Miss This!

June 1, 2018

 There are a lot of programs designed to help Canadian companies do more international business. This one—a partnership between the Canadian embassy in France and food and agri-tech accelerator, ToasterLAB—provides valuable mentorship, market information, and more to help you take your food-focused company to European and international markets.

 With the deadline for applications coming up June 12th, we asked Sandrine Caduc, Trade Commissioner, Innovation, Science & Technology, to explain what this opportunity is all about.

Q: What’s the benefit of attending ToasterLAB?

For a company outside of Europe, the primary benefit is access to a large and highly active network of food business contacts for their European development. ToasterLAB is the only European acceleration program supported by an international food business cluster called Vitagora, which has over 370 members, including major players such as Danone, Lactalis, Nestlé and General Mills and more.

As a participant in ToasterLAB, you have access to mentorship by industry professionals within the Vitagora cluster. These mentors offer expert advice and feedback based on their experience, plus targeted contacts from their personal networks to develop your business in Europe. This can mean everything from product development and testing partners, to commercial partners and clients.

Q: Aside from mentorship and network, what are the other benefits?

We have tried to make this experience as valuable as possible. Some of the key advantages are:

  • A soft landing in Europe – To make sure the transition is smooth, we provide accommodation and co-working space, French lessons‎, access to Vitagora’s market intelligence for European markets, and the full benefit of a Vitagora membership.
  • Zero equity commitment – Unlike a lot of accelerators, ToasterLAB is open to companies anywhere in the world, with no requirement to relocate permanently to France, and no hidden fine print beyond the entry cost of 3000 euros NET (for Canadian applicants).
    In addition, each start-up has access to an envelope of 3000 euros in “vouchers” to spend at their discretion on support for specific needs: legal assistance in drawing up contracts, IP protection, branding and marketing support, financial planning etc. All of these tasks are carried out by approved experts provided by ToasterLAB.

Q: What kinds of progress do companies experience?

Previous participants have told us about a number of ways the program has helped them, including:

  • Several million Euros in investment through the identification of potential investors
  • Sales of several million Euros thanks to the targeting of potential clients and commercial partners, including a number of large national or international companies
  • Creating 3-year strategic action plans
  • Visibility through Vitagora’s communications activities (press and public relations, member communications)
  • Visibility via contests suggested by the ToasterLAB team and mentors
  • Highly valuable “insider” knowledge of target markets thanks to experienced mentors and partners from the program.

Q: Can you walk us through the program?

The program is organised in two stages: a 3-month Acceleration Phase; and then a 9-month Post Acceleration Phase focused on fast, effective go-to-market and commercialization.

1. Acceleration Phase

The Acceleration Phase starts on September 18, 2018. During this phase, each start-up has 1-2 personal mentors that they can contact several times per week. We adapt the mentors to the specific profile of the start-up.

The acceleration phase follows a 3-step format of SHAPE-BUILD-SELL:

  • SHAPE Areas of focus: business model for French or European markets and target consumers, business plan, HR/management, regulatory and IP questions etc.
  • BUILD Refine the go-to-market and industrialisation plan, financial management, marketing plan/positioning
  • SELL Product promotion, investor pitch training in French and in English, targeted relevant contacts in France or abroad.

The Acceleration Phase requires one full day of training per week. Guests and trainers are experts and company representatives from within the Vitagora network, adapted to the specific needs and profiles and markets of the current cohort. Outside of the weekly training day, ToasterLAB organizes meetings with potential clients, technical or scientific partners according to the company’s specific needs.

2. Demo Day The acceleration phase concludes with a Demo Day where representatives of major food business and investors are invited to attend the pitches of the accelerated start-ups.

3. Post-Acceleration Phase
After the on-site Acceleration phase, the participants continue to gain support from the ToasterLAB team and mentors for the 9-month Post-Acceleration Phase to ensure that their go-to-market and commercialization plans are implemented correctly, and to respond to any additional needs as they arise. This means the start-up can go home to Canada and carry on their business while still accessing support and services from ToasterLAB.

Q: Why would a company be looking for strategic partnerships in Europe when the US market is so big and so close?

There may be a number of reasons to look to Europe. There may be market opportunities for specific markets or there may be a gap in the competition. CETA (free-trade agreement for Canada and the EU) may be opening new markets for Canadian start-ups as well.

A reminder that Vitagora has among its members a number of major food business players with both European and international activities. These represent among them huge markets throughout the world. The business contacts provided by Vitagora are highly qualified and give access to high level contacts among these companies actively engaged in open innovation. Very few food-specific accelerators can do this.

But I should add, the ToasterLAB experience shouldn’t be the reason a start-up considers Europe. In fact, key criteria in the application process is an existing interest in developing activity in Europe.

Q: On that note, what is the application process?
There are two steps: an online application form, and a ‘pitch’ to the selection committee.

  • Application Form: The official deadline is June 6th to complete the application form with detailed answers. But we can accept applications up to June 12th, providing they complete the form on GUST or F6S (the platforms that host the application forms).
  • Selection Day: July 9th and 10th – Selected finalists present their company to the selection committee. International start-ups may pitch via video-conference and are not required to be present in person. The selection committee chooses 6-10 of the most promising start-ups to take part in the program.

Q: How does an entrepreneur know if they are ready for this?
If you are at the “proof of concept” stage and are looking for support for market access and scale up, with an existing interest in Europe, ToasterLAB may be for you. ToasterLAB is NOT an incubator or a seed investor, so early stage start-ups may not be mature enough to get the full potential of the acceleration. In addition, “older” start-ups or SMEs can apply if they need support in pivoting their activity.

Applications are due by June 12th. For more information, visit the website at http://toasterlab.vitagora.com/