Weekly Regional Business Intelligence
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Nuts For Cheese closes $5.35-million financing round to support production expansion

London’s vegan cheese star Nuts For Cheese, founded by vegan chef turned entrepreneur Margaret Coons (pictured) in 2015, has closed a $5.35-million financing round, capital that will be used to expand its Pacific Court manufacturing and distribution facilities as they continue to mint partnerships with major U.S. retailers. “It’s been such a journey, from a rented commercial kitchen to building out our current 25,000-square-foot facility,” said Coons. “What once looked huge to me is now quickly becoming ready for more expansion. This investment comes at a perfect time for us to be able to keep pace with our growth.”

The upshot: It’s a growing-up type move for a company going from local producer to international brand, and one that matches their impressive expansion into the U.S. market, notably through a deal with Whole Foods, as demand for vegan product continues to grow. The vegan cheese producer partnered with experienced names in the CPG space Mike Fata (co-founder of global hemp foods brand Manitoba Harvest) and Dror Balshine; Fata will also be taking on the role of board chairman, overseeing a newly-formed board of directors for the company.

Read more: London Inc. | Vegconomist
VersaBank to enter U.S. market with purchase of tiny Minnesota bank

London-based fintech firm VersaBank, a publicly traded Canadian chartered bank and fully digital financial institution, has acquired Stearns Bank Holdingford (SBH) in Minnesota, a subsidiary of Stearns Financial Services Inc. and a federally chartered bank that focuses on small business lending (the bank holds around U.S. $60 million in total assets). “This acquisition represents a transformational next step in VersaBank’s long-term growth strategy,” David Taylor, VersaBank’s founder, said in a statement. “We have built a tremendously successful digital banking operation in Canada … with the acquisition of U.S.-based SBH, we will have a platform from which to replicate that success in the Western world’s largest banking market.”

The upshot: Though a small acquisition ― Stearns Bank Holdingford (pictured) is a single-branch bank with only four employees located north of St. Cloud, Minnesota ― the U.S. $13.5-million acquisition gives VersaBank a U.S. charter and, thus, a toe into the American market. Acquisitions of small community banks like this have been targets of fintech companies in recent years, as it provides access to the domestic American market and can fast-track parts of the approval process.

From the magazine: It’s still early days for autonomous agriculture technology, but a Southwestern Ontario firm is out in the fields, proving the feasibility and value of robotics and automation

Haggarty AgRobotics, based in the town of Bothwell southwest of London, wants to see that agricultural revolution coming to life here, in Southwestern Ontario, on some of the most fertile farmland this country has to offer.

Read more: London Inc.
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Paystone named to inaugural Team True North List

Paystone is London’s only entry on a new list, called the Team True North List, that aims to spotlight fast-growing, high-potential tech firms north of the 49th. Published by Waterloo-based Communitech, a regional accelerator that aims to help tech firms tap capital and talent, it highlights companies that are tracking to $1 billion in annual revenue. “Making it on this list is a true testament to Paystone’s potential,” said company CEO, Tarique Al-Ansari. “Many founders aspire to achieve the level of scale that allows them to build a billion-dollar company.”

The upshot: Global interest in the Canadian tech space is heating up, particularly in Toronto, which was recently identified as the third-largest North American tech hub. That is something that can only be good for the entire Southern Ontario corridor. In celebrating the Paystone inclusion, TechAlliance CEO, Christina Fox, noted: “I am confident that London and Southwestern Ontario companies will continue to be named to this extraordinary list, as I know first-hand the impact of our regional ecosystem and its dedication to the world’s tech ecosystem.”

Read more: London Inc. | Business Wire
Flair Airlines lands at YXU

Fresh off a victory in a regulatory row over ownership status, Flair Airlines announced it is coming to town. The budget airline will begin offering a route between London and Tucson, Arizona that will start running in December of this year. Tickets for Flair flights are sometimes under $100 and often heavily discounted ― and have been a hit with consumers looking for affordable airfare. “We’re delighted to add an additional airport to our upcoming Tucson winter base, and we’re very excited to add London to our network,” said Stephen Jones, chief executive of Flair Airlines. “We’ve seen the demand for non-stop sun this winter and we are pleased to offer an affordable option to London and the surrounding area.”

The upshot: Flair’s arrival is positive news for YXU, which has weathered considerable turbulence over the pandemic and is just starting to see passenger numbers improve. More destinations and a deepening partnership between Flair and the London International Airport seem likely, and YXU boss Scott McFadzean said that they are actively exploring new destinations, which should start being offered later this year or early next. “We look forward to building the relationship with Flair Airlines over the long term and offering travelers in London and Southwestern Ontario direct air service to exciting destinations at extremely affordable prices,” he said.

Keith Gibbons appointed chair of Western’s board of governors

Western’s board of governors have tapped long-time fixture of the local business scene Keith Gibbons (pictured) as its new chair, and the equally impressive Sarah Shortreed as its new vice-chair, the university announced on Thursday. Gibbons, who has been on the board since 2016, is the former vice-president of London Life and the CEO of McCormick Canada; Shortreed, a Calgary-based board member since 2018, has worked with Bruce Power, Blackberry, IBM and Union Gas. “It is truly an honour to become chair of Western’s board of governors. The board has an amazing mix of talent and experience from the private and public sectors as well as from faculty, staff and students,” Gibbons said. 

The upshot: Gibbons takes the helm as the university approaches its 150th anniversary and charts its way through a new strategic modernization plan called Towards Western at 150, which has put a heavy emphasis on forging connections and collaborations outside of the campus grounds. “This is such an exciting time. We are already seeing elements of the plan come to fruition, and the board is committed to ensuring we are able toachieve the aspirations within the plan,” Gibbons says. “To have a role to play in this, as chair of the board, can only be described as humbling.”

Read more: Western News
Dispatch: June 17, 2022

A summary of recent business appointments and announcements, plus event listings for the upcoming week.