The Inside Scoop on NPC’s New Executive Talent Program

July 2, 2019

NPC has just launched a new Executive Talent program to help high potential Canadian SMEs get their innovative natural products to market. We talked to NPC’s new Program Director, Kim Johnstone, about the program, and how companies can get involved. NOTE: This article reflects program updates that came into effect December 2020.

Give us the general description of the new Executive Talent program.

It’s pretty simple; we’ll contribute up to $125,000 (50% non-repayable grant, and 50% conditionally repayable loan) to help high potential companies add experienced professionals to their team so they can fill a gap in skillset or experience.

The program was created based on talking to hundreds of companies and gathering input from those in the ecosystem who work with innovative companies. Many times the leadership teams can see the targets they have to achieve but don’t have the experience or background to make it happen. That can hand-cuff their ability to hit key milestones for growth or attract strategic partners and investors.

Can you give an example of the type of hire this program is targeting?

We’re looking to support strategic leadership roles; people who can develop and execute on key initiatives like marketing, regulatory, financing or operations. Many other programs support junior level hires, and that is really important. But this program is specific to building solid leadership teams that can set the direction for success, and share the wisdom, experience, culture and networks that a company needs to reach its potential.

You mentioned high potential companies- what does that mean?

For NPC, a high potential company is one with a novel natural product, technology, service and/or market innovation, in a well-defined market, with potential to generate at least $10 to $15M in revenues per year. They don’t need to be reaching that yet, but the market has to exist, and the company has to be able to execute on the plan to reach these revenue targets in a reasonable period of time for their sector.

How does NPC define a natural product?

We look for innovative products, technologies or services that involve naturally-derived solutions. They can be applied to a broad range of sectors; including nutrition and natural health products; functional food and feed additives; bioproducts including biochemicals and bioplastics; water treatment and waste streams; agri-tech and value-added agriculture; biotech and clean tech.

If you look at our investment portfolio, you can see lots of great examples of the variety and range that we’re talking about.

There’s so many things that innovative companies need on their commercialization journey – how can they decide which role to fill?

Most entrepreneurs have a good sense of the key skills and experience they are lacking. And if they don’t, they are probably learning that pretty quickly! The NPC team—especially the Regional Directors and David Gauthier, the VP Investment—spend a lot of time working with promising companies. They have a pretty good way of helping entrepreneurs pinpoint their key challenge and how to tackle it. That’s really the whole reason this program was introduced. The team has seen firsthand that many entrepreneurial teams are missing key experience that can really help a company take off once it’s filled.

If the role is to help fill a gap, is it a full-time, permanent position or a short-term contract?

It’s meant to augment the management team in a meaningful way, not just as a consultant or mentor, but as a real team member that helps the company to grow. So the program supports the salary for part-time or full-time employment up to 12 months to a maximum of $125,000. That gives both parties time to get to know each other and actually get something done. In our experience, most of the challenges preventing companies from achieving their goals take months or even a year or two to really address.

The Executive may stay on after the initial key milestone is achieved but it’s certainly not mandatory. If they leave, we’d want to see that knowledge transfer has occurred so that the team is left in a strong position.

When a company has established the role they need to fill, how do they proceed?

There is a pretty simple application form to complete. We basically want to know what the company’s potential is, where they are in the commercialization and growth process, the challenge they are trying to overcome by adding the Executive position, and if possible, who they have in mind to fill it. Once we have that, we’ll set up a call with the entrepreneur to review their situation and, if necessary, get a better sense of what they’re looking for in the Executive.

Will you help in finding the Executive?

Yes, if that’s needed. We’re obviously not in the headhunting business but we do have a broad network of corporate executives so we will help where we can.

Let’s talk money. You said 50% is conditionally repayable? 

Yes. NPC’s contribution is in the form of a 50% non-repayable grant, and 50% conditionally repayable loan. The conditionally repayable amount is due 24 months after the project ends. It is interest-free for the first 18 months after the program period ends, and accrues 5% interest after that. The intent of the program is to help the company ultimately increase revenues, which means they should be able to repay the contribution fairly quickly.

Does the Executive need to be in Canada?

Not necessarily, we want the company to find the best person for the job that can really help the company achieve the key growth milestones.

Kim Johnstone is NPC’s Program Director and is responsible for the overall development and implementation of the Commercialization Programs. If you have questions about the Executive Talent program, please review the application form and contact Kim directly.