NGen commits funding to new $72 million production facility that involves Canadian tech startups

Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen), Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, has committed to invest $16.8 million into a new protein production facility in Ontario aimed to address global food insecurity.

“At $16.8 million in Supercluster funding, this project represents a high mark for NGen.”

The project, which has a total commitment of $72.7 million, will bring together tech startups and other private businesses to employ various technologies that support non-meat protein production that is safe for the environment.

Several startups are bringing their technologies to this project, including Aspire Food Group, which is leading the project, as well as IoT startup Swift Labs and Darwin AI, both of which are based in Kitchener-Waterloo. Other partners on the project include Telus Agriculture and A&L Canada Laboratories.

The project partners will use industrial automation and robotics, IoT, analytics, and deep learning, to farm crickets that have a similar protein quality to meat and an environmental footprint similar to plants. These crickets are processed into sustainable, superfood ingredients that Aspire claims are nutritionally on par with or superior to livestock, cell-cultured, and plant-based alternatives.

Aspire Food Group has begun construction of the cricket production and demonstration facility in London, Ontario. The startup, founded in Montreal in 2013, produces ethical, automated food-grade protein production systems, targeting markets that use crickets and their byproducts in human and pet nutrition, biomedicine, and agrochemicals.

“The facility will establish Canada as a leader in the rapidly growing insect and protein industries,” said Mohammed Ashour, CEO and co-founder of Aspire Food Group. “The technologies and products developed by TELUS Agriculture, Swift Labs, DarwinAI, and A&L Laboratories will accelerate technology adoption in the manufacturing and agricultural industries and grow an inclusive and digitally skilled workforce.”

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NGen claims this is the largest project funded by the organization to date under the federal government’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative. The Innovation Superclusters Initiative was launched in 2018 with $950 million in funding over five years to promote large-scale collaboration among industry leaders, small to medium-sized businesses, and post-secondary institutions and develop and scale high-potential technologies in Canada.

Last month, BetaKit reported that NGen had committed almost two-thirds of its $230 million budget. NGen is one of three Superclusters lobbying the federal government for additional funding to support its efforts beyond the program’s initial five-year timeline. The other Superclusters part of these lobbying efforts include the Digital Technology Supercluster and the Prairies-based Proteins Supercluster.

“At $16.8 million in Supercluster funding, this project represents a high mark for NGen,” said Jayson Myers, CEO of NGen. “This is a truly innovative and ground-breaking project and supports the objectives of NGen: developing transformative and applied world-class advanced manufacturing solutions while creating mutually beneficial partnerships that will have a positive impact on Canadians and the economy.”

Ashour told BetaKit the $72.7 million for the project is fully committed, and noted that Aspire is looking to expand the project’s scope, which may involve raising capital in the next few months.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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