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BC Seafood Businesses Get a Boost

Living by the sea provides abundant opportunities for small-scale seafood harvesters, but there are also challenges in growing a sustainable business. Enter, the Centre for Seafood Innovation (CSI) at Vancouver Island University (VIU). This innovation hub was designed to help create new opportunities for coastal communities to support independent fishers and farmers with business development, public education, and projects on how to attract employees.

Although CSI works with industry, VIU faculty and students, and the harvesters themselves, it became obvious that more specific one-on-one business education and coaching was needed to enable small-scale enterprises to accelerate and grow their operations to compete locally and globally.

Farm Food Drink was excited for the opportunity to contribute to the initial concept, and have a small part in supporting CSI’s journey to create an innovative education and acceleration program designed specifically for West Coast seafood businesses. In partnership with the BC Commercial Fishing Caucus, CSI recently launched the Seafood Business Accelerator (SBA) program, and  funding from the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Island Coastal Economic Trust, the Food Processing Skills Canada’s Student Work Placement Program, and T. Buck Suzuki Foundation. 

This new program is a four-month, intensive training to help small-scale seafood harvesters (including wild harvest fish, shellfish, seaweed and farmed shellfish) establish and accelerate their food business.

The SBA is loosely based on the successful Refresh Food Business Program that was delivered by Farm Food Drink to support over seventy BC food businesses to pivot in new directions because of market challenges early in the pandemic. With significant modifications to suit the current economic and market situation, and modules tailored for the seafood industry, SBA participants will receive early business stage coaching, food industry training, plus marketing and project implementation services.

Under the leadership of CSI manager Debra Hellbach, who was a key contributor to the Refresh program, the Seafood Business Accelerator is poised to make a significant impact to coastal communities and the seafood sector.

“These business owners have typically struggled on their own to capture more value for their harvests,” explains Debra. “With the significant and personalised support of the SBA, they can learn to grow farther and faster than they could on their own.”

Because of shared values, a strong working relationship with Debra, and expertise in delivering food business development programs, Farm Food Drink’s managing director, Greg McLaren, is grateful to have helped in a small way to shape the SBA program. He’s excited to lead the Farm Food Drink team in their delivery of SBA workshops, webinars, and one-to-one support covering “Lean Stream Marketing, market research, and social media marketing and branding. These topics are all focused and targeted on the exciting BC seafood community.

“Participants learn new skills, get access to amazing resources, and receive one-on-one coaching,” explains Greg. “The personalized and practical approach of the SBA program really sets them up to better recognise and pursue opportunities and deal with the significant challenges faced by this critical food sector.”

Farm Food Drink will contribute a team of Experts in Residence to facilitate workshops, webinars, and one-on-one support. Through this program, they are honoured to work with a wider group of seafood business experts, all joining forces as part of the SBA mission to grow BC Seafood business. Plus, Farm Food Drink also brought in their creative marketing team to work with Debra and her Team (Yay Olivia Alexander!) to develop the brand for the SBA program and build the website.  The branding is unique to the program but was developed to tie into the parent VIU and CSI brands.

The main challenge for the small-scale harvesters has been their inability to compete in a global marketplace, highlighting the lack of business support and coaching to help them go down that path. The Seafood Business Accelerator program will provide that much needed support not just for this initial cohort, but on an ongoing basis. The sector is poised for exponential growth.

The initial participant enrollment for the March-May SBA slot is full, but you can get on the wait list for the next intake for this exciting program (or tell your friends) on their website.

For more information about our involvement in joint programs or our own Farm Food Drink workshops

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