Food manufacturing is the second largest industry in Canada. This may be intimidating for those looking to enter the market, but it is a welcomed challenge for Janice Bartley, the founder of Foodprenuer Lab based in Toronto. With over three decades of entrepreneurial experience, she actively assists in providing access, particularly for women, to funding and information.
Prior to starting Foodprenuer Lab, Bartley supported similar program initiatives such as HER Startup, a program that helps minority refugee women arriving in Canada. Through the Syrian Canadian Foundation and Jumpstart Refugee Talent, groups of five to ten women in the program graduate with access to business training by corporate partners and venture capital, seed funding of at least $100,000 CAD and one-year incubation participation along with access to a business consultant.
But calling oneself an entrepreneur was usually met with a blank stare and raised brows for Bartley. For her being an entrepreneur was an anomaly.
Setting a Table for Others
“I wasn’t seeing Black women entrepreneurs. At one point or another, I was convinced that my family thought I was unemployed,” she shares.
Bartley navigated this by pressing forward and owning the spaces she found herself in. Her email signature reads that the “magic recipe to living out your boldest dreams: a pinch of delusion, a dash of audacity and a shot of courage.”
Bartley witnessed the genesis of this in her mother who was one of the first Black women in management with Air Canada in the West Indies. This gave Bartley the freedom to grow, discover and run with her ideas and dreams.
In 2018, Foodprenuer Lab became an incubator for food dreams. Entrepreneurs who want to start or scale their business in food manufacturing meet with experts that help navigate them to success.
Entrepreneurs are learning from the best team of experts who provide a tailored approach for starting a food business. Whether it is meeting for an investment pitch, flushing out product details or perfecting shelf life with a food scientist, the coaching gives a clear roadmap of steps for each entrepreneur’s goals. Therefore, the program is designed to equip. Entrepreneurship is not a six-week sprint; it is a marathon.
Applicants of the program, which strategically supports BIPOC individuals launching their food business, start with a one-on-one session with a food product expert. They then enter the learning lab with a course bundle package with three options to best suit applicants’ needs. The execution point takes one from passion to prototype. The community accelerator program is a 12-week commitment that includes a weekly three-hour class with industry experts.
Building a community is one of the reasons Bartley uses the term “foodpreneur.” Foodprenuer encapsulates who you are, your passion, unique vision and product. It is both culinary and innovation.
Recognizing the Need
Before launching Foodpreneur Lab, Bartley worked in hospitality and as a consultant.
After ten years in consulting, she started a company with a business partner which led to the opening of a culinary school to equip chefs and cooks with tools and resources to grow their skill set. The school was instrumental in positioning chefs, particularly Canadian chefs, into top tier restaurants. The programs created allowed for individuals to pursue a career with valuable business insight.
When Bartley lost her partner, she began to rethink the next steps. A friend who was looking for an office manager reached out with an opportunity for a food accelerator. Bartley teetered with the idea of going back into culinary or furthering her entrepreneurship and work as a mentor.
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“Having worked as an entrepreneur for almost 30 years, I was able to identify with the challenges that entrepreneurs face. I started paying attention to things I wasn’t seeing,” says Bartley.
She was not seeing people who looked like her. That very small percentage that did not accurately represent Black culture or its history with food. With commitment and action, Bartley set out to hone in on supporting minority women in food spaces.
Why is this still happening?
“We are not sharing our stories with these women,” she explains.
Bartley was often approached by young and older women and asked how she was so put together, confident and most importantly, how she did it. “We are showing them the result but not the trials and tribulations of charting that course. Everybody has successes. It’s the failures that we need to hear about,” she says.
This means conversations about what to do when the bank says no to the loan or the next steps after you had friendly chats with a competitor who has stolen your idea. Maybe even not getting the same opportunities but watching someone else with less expertise soar to the top.
These are the stories Bartley strives to share not to disappoint but to inspire through mentoring at Foodprenuer Lab.
The Number Crunch
A report by The Diversity Institute of Ontario on building the ecosystem for women entrepreneurs stated that four out of ten programs offer special support to women. Thirty-three percent of organizations offer one or more business services to women. Seventeen percent of organizations retain advisees or employees that can lend support to gender and women entrepreneurship.
The numbers are staggering.
“We talk about startups and scale-ups, but we don’t talk about sustainability,” Bartley adds.
Mentoring, funding and access are tools that help women to reach this sustainability.
“When you look at the ecosystem as it is, it’s so disjointed and this is where they say 33 percent of women are in the entrepreneurial space, only four percent get decent funding (this is white women). If we were to take these same numbers and apply them to feeding people, everyone would starve,” she says.
The Future Is Femme
In the same breath, we talk about empowering women but do not provide funding, access, equal opportunity, especially for Black and brown women.
Equity and equal pay for women continues to be at the forefront of campaigns. It has been demanded by women soccer players and Oscar-winning actresses but sadly muffled by other policies and political gains.
“The gap is so far behind you can’t catch up. You have to create something new,” she says.
COVID-19 impacted 88% percent of underrepresented women according to the Diversity Institute of Ontario.
Still amid COVID-19, businesses have been struggling if not disseminated by its effects. The challenge becomes helping an underrepresented group who did not get the trickles of government funding.
“You do this by education, funding and giving them the tools…it’s not a handout. It’s an active path to surpass where they were before,” Bartley explains.
“My goal is to ensure viable business information, like how to digitize and serve the current consumer demographic reaches marginalized women.”
In Black culture, when you can’t get something, you create it. When you do not have access to something, you create. Our challenges have provided and directed us into great innovation. We find a way over, under or through.
Bartley wants to see more women out in the food sector. The food world has changed; consumer packaging, marketing, and purchasing power. Smaller brands have a voice now especially if their quality product builds community, serves a purpose, or promotes a healthy lifestyle and has a loyal following.
Among them are women running small brands and businesses. Bartley believes it is not a lack of the entrepreneur mindset among women but rather that women do not have the financial support. “We can manage finances in a home, yet on the corporate side we are short-changed. It does not add up,” she says.
Investing in women and providing equity and opportunities would create so many jobs and uplift so many communities.
Pro-Tips That Inspire Growth
Bartley advises those seeking a similar career path to do it afraid. You are going to be scared and there’s no pretending about that,” she admits. Other tips she shares include:
- Own the room – You may be the only person who looks like you, but as you continue, you will gain confidence and a mature perspective.
- Know the vision and mission – Answer with statements rather than questions. This will further your confidence in being in these rooms and at certain tables.
- Ask – There is no such thing as a stupid question. Ask someone to introduce you to someone who knows or has a higher level of expertise. This could save you time and costly mistakes down the line.
- Learn the Language – Omnichannel, evergreen, scale-up. Gather information and study the expertise to navigate into other rooms and communities.
- Partnerships – Share ideas, partner with corporations so that there is representation. This also helps to build a supportive network.
“The beauty of food is its versatility. Food does not discriminate. It crosses palettes, exchanges ideas and becomes our family,” Bartley shares.
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Bartley is excited about increasing the representation in the food sector through an ecosystem that supports women. In the coming months, Foodpreneur Lab anticipates having webinars, a YouTube channel and startup action paths.