Freshii taps entrepreneurs

The health food eatery's CEO Matthew Corrin talks about the launch of "Fresh Startups," a program that mentors and funds tech companies to help create new products for use in its stores.

A health food restaurant and an innovation firm are in the midst of launching their own type of Dragon’s Den, but with a fresh twist.

Toronto-born eatery Freshii and consulting company Kinetic Café’s “Fresh Startups” program, which is also based in Toronto, began accepting applications in early September and, at press time, has received 70 responses from young companies looking for mentoring and capital funding.

For the past two years, Matthew Corrin, founder and CEO of Freshii, received daily emails from startup companies pitching to partner with Freshii. To manage the bulk of incoming pitches, he allocated staff to vet for potential partnerships. One such partner startup, D1Mobile, helped Freshii build a mobile app, which allows customers to pay using their smartphones while simultaneously collecting loyalty points.

But Corrin and his team wanted to do more with the external business proposals, so they approached Kinetic Café to help develop a program that would take five candidates under its wing – providing the entrepreneurs with six months worth of coaching, growth capital and direct access to its customers and global retail brand (starting late October).

“The criteria is around health and wellness, [so] you can’t apply if you’re building an interesting piece of technology for the hotel industry, for example. It needs to add value and be consistent with our mission,” notes Corrin. The companies should be able to apply a technological spin to the areas of health and food so that Freshii is able to use their products in stores.

While the innovation firm will provide the business and marketing expertise as well as digital labs for development of product and user experience, Freshii will allow startups to test their tech (for example, nutrition calculator apps or kiosks for food orders) in stores, starting with Toronto, says Corrin. If successful, the product will roll out across its 80 locations within 35 cities across the globe. In addition to testing ideas with store customers, the eatery will also allow candidates to leverage its marketing channels, such as in-store signage – all in exchange for a 5% to 10% stake in the startup.

“It’s important to recognize that we’re not just trying to have a company build something that’s exclusive for Freshii,” says Corrin, adding that this is as much of an investment venture as it is a source for new retail innovation.