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Ontario Centre of Innovation
How an Ottawa startup is helping communities grow food locally year round

Success Stories

How an Ottawa startup is helping communities grow food locally year round

The Growcer has a solution to the rising cost of produce and the inability to grow food locally in remote areas of Canada.

The Ottawa-based startup offers hydroponic vertical farming solutions that allow local communities to grow produce even in the harshest weather conditions.

Growcer makes this possible through modular farms that are designed to work all year round in different weather conditions to help people, businesses, and communities grow fresh foods. They are also built to use less water, no chemical pesticides, and provide higher crop yields.

“We aim to empower people and communities to grow food locally, and really believe that everyone should have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food,” says Alida Burke, Growcer’s Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer.

Burke created the company alongside CEO Corey Ellis while the pair were attending the University of Ottawa. What started as a school project has turned into a thriving business with more than 70 farms across Canada. These farms grow approximately 5 million servings of vegetables every year with the local food production also creating jobs.

The company has worked with a number of Indigenous communities as well as food providers like Co-Op, Compass Group, and Sodexo.

The farms also have uses in educational settings such as post-secondary programs that teach agriculture or biology. Growcer also works with partners such Vaughan non-profit Reena, which uses the farms to create growing opportunities for people with disabilities.

Canada’s harsh weather conditions make it challenging to grow fresh foods except for a couple months a year, especially for remote and northern communities. These types of communities also tend to deal with high food prices. Many of Growcer’s customers are remote Indigenous communities. Having a local modular farm makes produce more easily accessible, less expensive, and allows for food sovereignty.

The Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI) first connected with Growcer in its early days. The company, which was founded in 2016, found connections and support through the University of Ottawa’s Startup Garage as well as Invest Ottawa. As Growcer went through those programs, it also connected with OCI business development lead Chris Ritchie. OCI provided Growcer with grants through the SmartStart Seed Fund and what was formally the Voucher for Innovation and Productivity program, which has allowed Growcer to work with Carleton University to find a way to grow strawberries in its farms. OCI later invested in a financing round with the company through what is now called Ready 4 Market.

“OCI is a great example of the local support network that has really helped us advance our business over the last seven years,” says Burke. “The Ontario [innovation] network does make a big difference in terms of helping companies like ours grow and I think it’s just a testament to how those types of investments do pay off and help grow the Ontario economy.”

Over the last 7 years, Growcer has grown to a team of more than 30 employees and is quickly expanding its reach. Growcer has 45 new farms planned for the coming year, and is expanding beyond Canada for the first time with a few international deals in the works.

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