Protein Industries Canada members are no strangers to coming up with the novel concepts that will propel Canada’s plant-based food, feed and ingredients sector forward. Together they’ve helped launch 39 projects under the supercluster’s mandate, for a total investment of $425 million. When complete, the technology projects are expected to put 520 new products, processes and services in front of Canadians, while creating new jobs and improving the environment.
While each technology project has followed its own process, they each started their Protein Industries Canada journey with the same step: Submitting an expression of interest (EOI).
“[An EOI] tells part of the story about what the consortium wants to do,” Protein Industries Canada Director of Intellectual Property Meghan Gervais said. “In order for an EOI to be successfully reviewed, it really needs to outline who the partners in the project would be, what the overall objectives of the project would be, and then, you know, a high-level sort of overview of the steps that it would take to get there.”
Once the EOI is approved, the project moves into full proposal stage. Proposals often go through multiple drafts, generally with input from Protein Industries Canada staff. This helps ensure the project’s purpose, budget, workplan and milestones are fully fleshed out, improving the project’s chances of full approval and moving into the full proposal development stage.
“We have a lot of coaching discussions with project proponents, typically the leads, oftentimes the entire [consortium],” Protein Industries Canada Program Specialist Diane Harms said. “Once we get the completed proposal from them, we go through a multi-step review. A critical step is an IP review with Meghan, where we analyze the IP Strategy in the context of the work plan … what consortium members are bringing in as background intellectual property and what is proposed to come out of the project, which is called the foreground intellectual property. The review helps our team work with companies to identify opportunities for IP generation and protection to hopefully strengthen the overall individual and collective IP strategy in the project. In the long run we see this as helping companies build out a more robust IP position for Canada’s plant-protein ecosystem.”
Though at times lengthy, this development process can be an exciting time for everyone involved, project proponents and Protein Industries Canada staff alike. It gives everyone an opportunity to get to know how the others work and think, and to truly understand the project and its potential outcomes—and the benefits it will bring to Canadians.
It also provides an opportunity to build trust, which Gervais said is an important element of both developing the project and implementing it once it’s approved.
“There's such a big element of trust in the work that we do,” she said. “The successful projects are the ones where the partners really trust the companies that they're working with, and they're willing to be open and share and be transparent about what their plans are for the project and the opportunities and challenges associated with their scope of work.”
It’s also during this stage that new companies, organizations or research institutions may join the project as either consortium members or subcontractors. This sometimes happens naturally, with existing partners leveraging existing relationships, but often also happens via matchmaking done through Protein Industries Canada staff—a role the team particularly enjoys. This relationship expansion helps bring new expertise into the project, increasing its potential.
Lisa Campbell, Director of Programs and Regulatory at Protein Industries Canada, sees this stage in the process as inspiring, particularly when it involves small- and medium-sized businesses expanding their footprint. That aspect, along with the pieces of the project coming together as a whole, makes this development stage her favourite part of bringing a new project to launch.
“I really like seeing the project come together. It's really rewarding to work with these small companies,” she said. “To work with these small entrepreneurs is really fun and inspiring, so I like that part. Once the project is approved, watching it play out is really exciting.”
The preparation work isn’t complete after the proposal is fine-tuned, however. Everything gets reviewed by the full Protein Industries Canada technology team, to ensure both its thoroughness and that any questions that may come up while reading the proposal are answered along the way. The result of this review may mean another round of edits by the consortium, or it may mean stepping forward to that exciting, near-final step: Review at an Eligible Project Selection Committee meeting.
The Eligible Project Selection Committee is made up of four independent industry experts, Protein Industries Canada CEO Bill Greuel and Protein Industries Canada Chief Technology Officer Chris Anderson. They assess the project on a number of factors, including its relevance to the plant-based food, feed and ingredients sector, its potential benefits to Canadians and the timeframe in which it can be completed. The Committee may approve the project at that first meeting, they may send it back with questions that need to be answered or, occasionally, they may decline the project.
How this stage goes is often dependent on how much information each consortium member was willing to share throughout the development process.
“Sometimes it takes the Committee asking a question for them to realize, ‘Oh, we missed including this,’ ” Campbell said. “Sometimes it's a series of questions, some lengthier than others. Sometimes it can be pretty significant.”
Approval of the project is a celebration for everyone involved, but it doesn’t mean the work is complete. A Master Project Agreement gets developed, and more collaboration is needed to ensure all consortium members are happy with its stipulations and how they’re represented within it. While this is usually a fairly quick process, it can take some time—and a project cannot be fully launched until it’s complete.
Once it’s finalized and signed, however, consortium members and Protein Industries Canada staff members can take pride in what they’ve accomplished. After what can amount to months of work, plenty of meetings and emails, and the establishment of new relationships, they’ve brought an idea to fruition. Better yet, an idea that will help change the plant-based food, feed and ingredients landscape.
“Watching clients take that ideation and convert it into operational steps of what needs to happen in sequence, I think, is the most fascinating thing for me,” said Harms. “When you see the relationships and ideas coalesce … and the project becomes real and actually has results and outcomes, it's really rewarding.”