Category Archives: Business & Commercialization Solutions

Grad returns to help next generation of professionals

During her studies at Niagara College’s Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce and Global Development) program, Adriann Knight spent six months as a research assistant with the Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team at Research & Innovation. After graduating in 2017, she was hired as a business information officer for the City of St. Catharines. Adriann has now returned to NC as a research lead, overseeing the student research projects at the BCS centre.

We catch up with a busy Adriann to find out what’s new:

In addition to her BCS position, Adriann is also studying remotely to complete a Master’s of Economic Development and Innovation (MEDI) at the University of Waterloo – graduating in spring 2022. As part of her co-op, she’s also the entrepreneurship and economic development coordinator at the university. And, if that isn’t enough, this past June, she was married.

In August, she will be starting a full-time job with local technology start-up Intuitive Shipping as their business development manager.

Tell us about your role as research lead with the BCS team:

As the research lead, I am responsible for helping the student teams ask the right questions to find data that results in meaningful information. The role oversees the students’ work to help them capture and translate the data into a story that gives us insight into the business’s industry, clientele, opportunities and risks.

What’s it like to be back at Research & Innovation to impart what you have learned?

Working with the next generation of professionals has been my favourite part of this role. After working with the start-up community for more than three years, I can now impart what I have learned to the current research assistants. Seeing the students grow in their capabilities and critical thinking throughout each project has been rewarding! 

After being out in the workforce, what insights are you bringing back with you?

Our small business community can benefit from tapping into post-secondary institutions. As they look to scale their businesses, having the expertise to provide guidance on topics from marketing to risks and regulations is critical! There are so many hard-working and talented entrepreneurs in Niagara and beyond who are making a difference and creating jobs every day.

For students: If you will be working with a small business, you need to understand that a lot of time, money and love has gone into building this dream. You need to treat it as if it were your own, work hard and be open to learning every step of the way. You will never know everything, so never assume that you do. Knowing where to find information and translating it into actionable items will help you leaps and bounds in your career.

Lastly, know what your skills are and how they can make you successful in current and future roles. Each person is different, and as you develop in your career you will see what you enjoy doing and happen to also be VERY good at!

What is it about this field that you enjoy most?

I am passionate about economic development – which comes in so many forms – from connecting our community to existing resources and finding ways to grow sustainably. This role plays a part in the business economic development side. When businesses start, grow and thrive, they hire and contribute to the quality of place and life. We have seen this with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our business community makes up the fabric of our culture, way of life and quality of life. Being in this role and being able to support local businesses, as well as those beyond Niagara, has been rewarding.

How has your experience been working on your Master’s degree remotely?

Studying online was a challenge as you miss the social aspect of education. I always would pick my professor’s brain after class or meet up for a coffee with a classmate to share ideas. With an online platform, that isn’t the case. I also started a full-time Master’s degree while working full-time, which can only lead to one thing – burnout! This was a common thread amongst other students. A few other classmates and I thought that since we don’t have to travel and we are at home anyway, that we have all the time in the world to do both! Reality check, we didn’t! I moved to part-time and told myself to go slow and steady. Education is not a race, and we only have so much time and energy.

After earning your degree next year, do you have a specific career goal in mind?
I am so excited about my new upcoming role that I have not been able to sit! The founders of Intuitive Shipping are entrusting me with creating the role of business development manager. Building this department will be a new challenge and fits well with my skillset (project management, analysis, communication, networking and strategic thinking). I am looking forward to helping the company scale and grow its team.

Can you expand on how you’ve grown since your original Where Are They Now? feature…

At that time, I had been in my role for about 1.5 years; I was just past the learning stage and became confident in my skillset. Yes, grads – some roles can take six months to one year to learn and even then, you’re still learning every day!

Since then, I have met and worked with a thousand more aspiring entrepreneurs and grew the training program from 20 to 60 participants. This helped strengthen my communication, presentation, organization, conflict management and overall project management skills as the cohorts for programming grew. I also now understand what my strengths are and how they can be applied in various situations and industries. Some may graduate with that self-awareness; others, it takes time to truly find what makes you unique and an asset to an organization. 

Anything else you want to say?

First, don’t burn your candle at both ends. Burnout is real; take on only commitments that you know you have the capacity to fill. It is better to do well at one thing and excel than mediocre at many. I learned that the hard way!

And second, it is by challenging yourself and being open to learning that you grow.

A passion for inspiring, helping others

Call it an entrepreneurial spirit or the “it” factor. Karla Perez-Islas was seemingly born with it. The rest – a drive for independence and a devoted student of life – has empowered her along the way.

As a child, she sold trending toys to classmates, and in high school, she marketed and sold skincare products. During a university class project in her home country of Mexico, Perez-Islas started her own business selling customized T-shirts, mugs and laptop bags.

And while her long-term goal is to open her own business, for now, her passion lies in helping current companies flourish. In her role as a business research assistant with Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team, the Niagara College student gets to do just that.

“I honestly see myself doing both. Since I started working as a research assistant, I became more passionate about helping businesses from different industries thrive.”

“I feel very happy when I’m walking down grocery store aisles and see products from the brands I’ve worked for or whenever they post an exciting announcement on their social media channel.”

In her capacity with BCS, Perez-Islas works with industry partners – mainly small- and medium-sized businesses – to solve problems related to operations management, sales and marketing. Projects include market research, competitive analysis, marketing plans and target market identification.

“I feel very happy when I’m walking down grocery store aisles and see products from the brands I’ve worked for or whenever they post an exciting announcement on their social media channel.”

Wanting to broaden her horizons and improve her language skills, Perez-Islas moved to Canada at age 19. Less than a year later, she completed NC’s English for Academic Preparation program. Today, she’s in her third and final year of the Business Administration-Marketing program.

Working on real-world projects with BCS, Perez-Islas puts into practice what she’s learning in her class studies.

“Most importantly, I get to help businesses achieve their goals, make an impact and learn valuable lessons from my research leads who have an amazing work ethic and are very knowledgeable.”

Perez-Islas says she was grateful for the opportunity to work remotely during the pandemic since joining the BCS team in March 2021. In fact, she completed her first research project while in hotel quarantine after returning to Canada from a six-month stay visiting family in Mexico last year. 

“The work we do at the Business & Commercialization Solutions department is so impactful because we are helping brands grow.”

“This first project will always have a special place in my heart because I realized that the work we do at the Business & Commercialization Solutions department is so impactful because we are helping brands grow,” says Perez-Islas, describing the project as an environmental scan, competitive and target market analysis and creating the pricing and promotions strategies for a pasta sauce brand.

Following that project, Perez-Islas worked on market research for a notable Canadian chef looking to start a root vegetable chips brand.

“What I liked about this project was the chef’s passion for connecting with consumers from various communities such as Caribbean, African, Latino, and Asian through her brand image, flavours and marketing messages,” she says. “As a person who loves cultural diversity, this was an exciting and valuable project.” 

She also describes herself as someone who is easily bored, so learning from different areas in a field like business and marketing is a perfect fit for her curious nature.

“I like how this field allows you to explore your creativity while putting into practice a set of multiple skills,” she notes. “You learn a little bit of everything, from accounting, business law, international commerce, marketing and even psychology because you have to understand consumer patterns and behaviours.

“All the skills I am acquiring can later be transformed into something big like a brand or product.”

Her appetite for learning new things was evident at her previous employment with a local Japanese restaurant. The company has what they call a “roll test” in which the server would learn the ingredients used to make 82 different sushi rolls – among other things – on the menu. 

After acing the quiz, Perez-Islas then wanted to learn about the marketing side of the restaurant. She contacted the human resources manager and asked if she could join the marketing team as an apprentice.

“I knew they were not hiring, but I did not care about the pay; I genuinely wanted to learn more about my program,” notes Perez-Islas. “When the marketing director saw my passion, he decided to give me a chance.” 

“I like how this field allows you to explore your creativity while putting into practice a set of multiple skills.”

As a marketing apprentice, she learned customer data management, market mapping and how to create promotional materials. Although she left that job to accept her current position at BCS, Perez-Islas is now learning the Japanese language online in her spare time.

Reflecting on the past few years, Pere-Islas says she was not expecting to stay in Canada after her English course was completed, although “deep down,” she always wanted to pursue a career here to have a better quality of life and gain her independence.

“I didn’t have the chance to be as independent as I am now because of the lack of opportunities,” she says. “And with the level of violence, primarily in my city, I couldn’t even go out by myself – which is something everyone should be able to do without fear.”

Looking to future goals, Perez-Islas vows to help empower other women, particularly those living in her home country.

“Although Mexico is a beautiful country, there is a surge in violence against women and gender inequality. There is so much talent that has been overshadowed by the lack of opportunities for women,” she adds.

“I want to inspire them to fight for their happiness, to believe that they can achieve anything, and to take the reins of their life.”

Advanced business strategies for sauce company

Despite finding success in major grocery stores, a niche gourmet sauce company wanted to take its brand to the next level. Yet, they needed extensive market research to help drive their business decisions.

La Dee Da Gourmet Sauces was struggling with targeting its message to the right audience in order to elevate sales and advance its business strategies, says co-owner Mary Marino, who, along with partners Jo Anne Torrance and Marlow Italiano, operate the sauce company.

“We needed a total forensic audit of our social media channels and messaging,” she says. “Making sure we were targeting the right market, knowing exactly who our competitors are and how we can make the most noise on the busy CPG [consumer packaged goods] shelves.”

The Ontario-based company creates plant-based, vegan, dairy- and gluten-free gourmet sauces. It sells its products in major grocery stores, specialty retailers and online from a website offering a flavour line-up that includes cauliflower alfredo, butternut squash beet, twelve veggie tomato and savoury mushroom basil.

Last year, La Dee Da engaged with food scientists at Research & Innovation’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre for a project to help improve their new sauce formulation, ingredient sourcing and packaging recommendations.

For this marketing research project, the company looked to R&I’s Business & Commercialization Solutions’ (BCS) expertise to help increase brand visibility and better reach their target audience to advance their product sales.

The business research team investigated the Canadian sauces market, looking at key trends, the competition and identifying opportunities toward an integrated marketing communications plan.

A comprehensive report presented to La Dee Da provided, among many things, strategies on how to take advantage of digital marketing trends and revealed how algorithms work for the multiple social media channels to boost engagement.

“With the help of Niagara College we were able to save exorbitant amounts of money and present the ad agency with the final plan to create an ad campaign.”
~ Mary Marino, co-owner, La Dee Da Gourmet Sauces

“It has helped us gain a better understanding of where we are and where we need to go to continue on a successful path,” Marino says.

Part of the overall intention was to deliver in-depth groundwork in preparation for an ad agency to implement – market research that can sometimes be expensive.

“We also needed assistance to fully understand what it is an agency would be looking for,” adds Marino. “With the help of Niagara College we were able to save exorbitant amounts of money and present the ad agency with the final plan to create an ad campaign.”

Alongside providing essential assistance to a small business, the research project also provided practical, real-world experience for the business research assistant with BCS, whose hours were funded through the RBC Future Launch program – a $500 million Canadian initiative aimed at helping young people access meaningful employment through practical work experience, skills development, networking and access to mental well-being supports and services.

Through the BCS, the RBC Future Launch program is being used to connect students with businesses who require support for market research, go-to-market strategies and steer or creatively pivot their business model.

“This role gives me real-world experience, so now I know what businesses are looking for, what are their struggles, what are the resources needed to grow a brand, and how to provide them with efficient solutions to their problems.”
~ Karla Perez-Islas, research assistant

For student Karla Perez-Islas, the business research assistant and primary investigator on the La Dee Da market research, she says working on the project was an invaluable experience.

“This role gives me real-world experience, so now I know what businesses are looking for, what are their struggles, what are the resources needed to grow a brand, and how to provide them with efficient solutions to their problems,” explains Perez-Islas, who is in her third and final year of NC’s Business Administration-Marketing program.

“Also, you make lots of connections as you are working with people who have valuable years of experience.”

To discover if your business could be a candidate to receive assistance by the research students at Business & Commercialization Solutions through the RBC Future Launch program, contact project manager Paula Reile at [email protected]

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful prior to engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.

Go-to-market research for new agriculture product

Researchers Christine George and Derek Schulze with AETIC are shown evaluating the performance of hydrangeas at Kamps Hydrangea farm in Vineland. These blue-flagged hydrangeas have been amended with varying levels of zeolite as part of a trial with International Zeolite Corp. 

Zeolite is one of nature’s more multifaceted minerals. With its microporous honeycomb structure, the volcanic mineral acts as both a natural filter used in water and air purification and an absorbent utilized by the agriculture industry to modulate water and nutrients.

Toronto-based International Zeolite Corp., which operates its own zeolite mine in British Columbia, is a supplier and marketer of natural zeolite and zeolite-infused products for environmental, livestock and agriculture industries.

International Zeolite’s newest venture entails creating a Canadian and North American market for the Cuban product Nerea, a proprietary, environmentally friendly technology that embeds nutrients directly into the zeolite. According to the University of Havana Foundation research, when used as a substrate or a soil amendment in agriculture, Nerea produces higher yields of crops and uses less water.

The company has partnered with Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division to conduct two equally significant research projects. One project comprises a comprehensive market analysis of the greenhouse environment in Canada to determine the industry where Nerea fits best. The other involves hands-on trials to test and validate the product’s technical performance.

“The challenges are to verify that the benefits obtained in Cuba can be replicated in Canadian conditions,” explains Ray Paquette, CEO, International Zeolite, “and also to determine how to promote commercial adoption of Nerea-based substrates and soil-based media.”

If validated, Paquette says the benefit to southern Ontario is that growers will gain access to an innovative technology that substantially improves greenhouse production systems’ environmental performance while enabling yields and costs of production that are competitive with existing production systems.

“Working with the Business & Commercialization research team has been both a pleasure and professional. The team was great, and their market research report is a valued guideline.”
~ Ray Paquette, International Zeolite

In addition to potentially contributing to enhanced plant productivity, and therefore grower profitability, Nerea differs from conventional greenhouse hydroponic systems, says Paquette, in that the plants access the nutrients and water only as they are required, rather than continual cycling of soluble nutrients.

“This product has significant potential to improve greenhouse agriculture in southern Ontario in the production of vegetables, berries and floriculture,” adds Paquette.

Researchers from R&I’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team took up the challenge of understanding the markets and analyze where the company could potentially focus on commercialization.

Throughout the project, the BCS team performed comprehensive research on a number of markets in the Canadian greenhouse industry: horticulture, floriculture, organic, tropical plant and vertical indoor farm production.

The research experts also provided an extensive breakdown of the substrate industry, including the materials used in substrates, their various properties and common uses. An analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on these industries was completed to better understand relevant trends in the industry.

Results of the market research suggest Nerea would be an ideal candidate for growing lettuce in the greenhouse hydroponic market, a soil amendment within the horticultural industry, and also as a retail plant or home-growing solution.

“Working with the Business & Commercialization research team has been both a pleasure and professional,” says Paquette. “The team was great, and their market research report is a valued guideline.”

International Zeolite is also currently engaged with R&I’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre for an applied research project to conduct trials of Nerea.

Both projects have received funding through the Niagara College-led Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful before engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.

Salon business achieves new revenue stream

Salon owner Paola Girotti still finds it emotional to talk about the early days of the pandemic. Specifically, the point when she knew everything had changed and her business faced a long road of lockdowns.

Girotti has operated the Toronto-based SugarMoon Salon for more than 20 years. With three locations, the business offers their clientele body sugaring, skin care and spray tanning. The business model was successful and by January 2020, Girotti’s company – a living wage employer with dedicated staff – had big plans in the works for franchising the business within Canada and the United States.

That all changed in the spring of 2020 when it gradually became clear to Girotti that her business would likely never be the same.

“We had to unwind our mindset because we went from building an entire franchise model to, ‘How can we support ourselves?'”
– Paola Girotti, SugarMoon Salon

“We went from preparing for a franchise expansion to me writing records of employment for my staff,” Girotti explains, visibly choked up. “We had to unwind our mindset because we went from building an entire franchise model to, ‘How can we support ourselves?’”

While it was a difficult time, Girotti says that things started to turn the corner when she decided to make a drastic pivot. In the face of continued lockdowns, in which her salon could not accept in-person clientele, Girotti decided to bring her sugaring products and skin care line directly to people’s homes.

Ultimately, the one thing that offered optimism for the future, she says, was working on a plan for this new revenue stream with Niagara College’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team, part of the Research & Innovation division.

 

 

“Working with the research team kept us hopeful,” says Girotti. “And it kept us committed because we knew we could learn how to take this product to a new level.”

The Sugaring Take Home Kit includes everything used by professionals but is made easy to use at home. Sugaring is different than hair waxing in that it is made with all-natural sugar, water and lemon juice and is much gentler on the skin for hair removal.

Even though the business already had developed at-home kits, they needed a better understanding of this new market and who and how to target this market. They also needed in-depth knowledge of navigating the world of social media and online sales, says Cailey Ward, the salon’s marketing manager.

“We went to school to learn how to take care of people, not about social media; that’s really a specialized skill and it’s prohibitively expensive to pay for that expertise.”

The research team at BCS conducted an environmental scan to uncover key trends of the hair removal industry, looking at consumer perceptions and hesitations. They then did a comprehensive competitive analysis, target market identification and outlined potential markets in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer channels and their behaviours.

“We learned an exceptional amount from the Niagara College team. The research was invaluable to a small business like ours.”
– Cailey Ward, SugarMoon Salon

In a final report, researchers presented the company with a range of promotion strategies on how to best reach the identified target markets. A detailed understanding of social media strategies and how to successfully execute these campaigns were shared, along with branding and distribution ideas.

As part of the recommendation, SugarMoon has since implemented a separate e-commerce-based website to sell the at-home boxed kits, along with skin and body care products.

“We learned a lot about how people behave online,” explains Ward. “The team strongly suggested we have a stand-alone Instagram account, to complement our website, and we are so glad we followed that advice.

“We learned an exceptional amount from the Niagara College team. The research was invaluable to a small business like ours.”

Today, SugarMoon Salon is in the process of opening a fourth location, in Girotti’s hometown of Thorold. As more revenue from this new location streams in, the goal is to expand their online store and incorporate more key strategies outlined in the BCS report.

“We are so grateful for Niagara College’s help… we would work with them again in a heartbeat,” adds Girotti.

Alongside providing essential assistance to a small business, the research project also provided practical, real-world experience for the business research assistants with BCS, whose hours were funded through the RBC Future Launch program –a $500-million Canadian initiative aimed at helping young people access meaningful employment through practical work experience, skills development, networking and access to mental well-being supports and services. 

Through the BCS at Niagara College, the RBC Future Launch program is being used to connect students with businesses who require support for market research, go-to-market strategies and steer or creatively pivot their business model.

Kaitlyn Jonker, a former research assistant with BCS, credits working on research projects like these with helping her become career ready. The 2021 graduate of NC’s Business – Sales & Marketing program was recently hired locally as a sales & marketing representative at Martek Supply.

“It was working on projects like SugarMoon that provided me with the knowledge and experience that I take with me into my new career,” says Jonker, who was on the research team providing market research and promotions strategies for the business.

“For me, the Research & Innovation centre at Niagara College was a foundational part of my college career,” adds Jonker. “It helped me gain personal confidence in my abilities, while learning new skillsets that will benefit me in my future endeavours.”

To discover if your business could be a candidate to receive assistance from the research students at Business & Commercialization Solutions through the RBC Future Launch program, contact project manager Paula Reile at [email protected]

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful before engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.

 

Leading Canadian duck farm gains valuable market insight

One of the largest duck farms in Canada, King Cole Ducks is a third-generation, family-owned and operated agribusiness that started more than 65 years ago. Their farm-to-fork focus on duck production includes breeding, hatching, growing, processing and cooking for consumers and the foodservice industry.

The Stouffille, Ont. company is known for practising sustainable, responsible farming, raising their ducks in a free-run environment with a hormone- and antibiotic-free diet. Over the past decade, the company has expanded its collection of raw, ready-to-cook products to include a variety of fully cooked products to serve customers throughout North America and beyond.

The management team of four sisters wanted to challenge “what we know” and looked to Niagara College’s Business & Commercialization Solutions team to help with market intel.

“After seven decades in the duck business, how could our company and products continue to evolve to fit the changing interests of Canadian consumers,” asked Patti Thompson, vice president, sales and marketing for King Cole Ducks. “The project posed to the Niagara College team was ‘help us validate who is eating duck, who could be eating duck and how we should move forward with marketing efforts and products that will serve a new customer.’”

The Research & Innovation team conducted in-depth research of competition in the market, duck consumption, how King Cole was positioned, where potential markets could be developed and nurtured and how to best reach new customers.

For team member Angela Walsh, a student in NC’s Honours Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce and Global Development) program, it was her first project as a research assistant since joining the Business & Commercialization Solutions centre last October.

“Through this project, myself and other research assistants conducted an environmental scan of the duck industry – a challenging first market to navigate – which included a market analysis and competitive analysis, in order to come up with promotional plans on how King Cole Ducks could reach new markets,” says Walsh.

“The information provided validated our experience to date, but inspired a more robust effort in connecting with new customers through a wider range of marketing efforts and platforms. In fact, it inspired a larger budget commitment to product innovation and marketing support.”
~ Patti Thompson, King Cole Ducks

She says the team developed a target market based on the size, anticipated growth, patterns of meat consumption and personal values. Trends in the current food and flavour market, as well as opportunities for creating new products, were also introduced. And in its recommendations as to changing the brand perception, the team advised that social media should be used for the largest shift.

“The information provided validated our experience to date, but inspired a more robust effort in connecting with new customers through a wider range of marketing efforts and platforms,” explains Thompson. “In fact, it inspired a larger budget commitment to product innovation and marketing support.”

For example, the company is now in the process of changing packaging that will feature QR codes to help educate their consumers at point of sale and they have added targeted social media campaigns to help share their story, and are launching a virtual cooking class to reach more consumers across the country, adds Thompson.

“The research completed by Niagara College was a wonderful opportunity for us to learn more about our customers and meet our new customers,” says Thompson. “The results have helped us redirect our marketing efforts to include a more well-rounded integrated marketing plan with a focus on digital marketing where we can reach a younger demographic.” 

For research assistant Walsh, it was a chance to not only learn about a new market, but also contribute important intel to enable a company to move forward with a stronger effort in the consumer retail space.

“As I enter the final year of my degree and prepare for grad school, I have found the experience to be extremely valuable in preparing me for my future,” adds Walsh.

The research project was possible thanks to funding from the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI), through the College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program.

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful prior to engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects visit the website.