“Futurpreneur pulled together an ecosystem for entrepreneurs beautifully. I can’t even begin to think of the lives that have been impacted by Futurpreneur. So, I say, ‘thank you’ for continuing to support and fight for entrepreneurs.”
Having started two businesses by her early thirties, Shelby Taylor exemplifies the spirit of entrepreneurship in Canada.
In her first endeavor, she purchased a health shop outside her hometown of Collingwood, Ontario where she not only provided the local community with a variety of healthy foods and products, but also used the knowledge she gained to develop her second business idea: the creation of a healthy family meal option. As she points out, “I had the health food store and knew that I wanted to create a product or a business around food. What I learned from my customers at the store was that it was a struggle to feed their families a healthy meal that people would actually sit down and enjoy. So, I asked my customers questions constantly. When I asked what meal everyone enjoyed – whether it was healthy or not – pasta came up over and over again.”
Using her customer research, Shelby recalls that, “It got me thinking: Why can’t foods that we already love and are familiar with be made so that they actually contribute to our health?” The answer to that question led Shelby to explore the possibilities of creating a reimagined pasta that used highly nutritious pulses – lentils and chickpeas – but preserved all the qualities of pasta that people loved, including taste. Within months – and with a newborn at home – Shelby was conducting recipe tests that would ultimately result in the creation of her highly successful food company, Chickapea.
As a journalism major, asking questions and undertaking research came naturally to Shelby as she pursued her idea for a healthy pasta. But her academic background did not prepare her for launching a substantial food production enterprise. As she points out, “I didn’t know anything about business. I certainly didn’t know how you could possibly finance a big business.” At the same time, Shelby reports that, “I always had a great belief in myself. I also wanted to do my own thing. And I wanted to make a difference.” That self-assurance and tenacity led her on a journey of discovery. Insisting on the highest standards in food quality and taste and an ability to scale-up production, Shelby undertook tests with local pasta makers and with manufacturers in the U.S. In her search for the best quality product, she eventually settled on manufacturers in Italy who were able to meet her stringent requirements. Launching Chickapea in 2016, Shelby and her team have made the company a leader in the growing highprotein pasta category and they have done it in an environmentally friendly way, relying on organic farming and eco-friendly packaging. Overcoming her reservations about creating a large business, Shelby attributes the rapid rise and success of Chickapea to her well-developed mantra, “I’ll figure it out.”
In both her health shop and her food business, Shelby turned to Futurpreneur for help in meeting her objectives. Initially referred to the organization through a Government of Ontario Employment Assistance Program where she had access to a 10-week business class, she describes Futurpreneur as “always being incredibly supportive. They’ve been great at encouraging people with ideas, encouraging entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams.” Accessing initial capital and a mentor, Shelby was able to get the assistance she needed for her startups. Reflecting on the benefit of mentorship, she points out, “I was assigned a mentor with both companies and got valuable advice, for sure. They really tried to find a personality fit and it worked. Startups can be lonely and mentors provide someone to talk to, to challenge you, to encourage you.”
Shelby ultimately closed the health shop to focus on Chickapea full time and has forged ahead with notable resolve and accomplishment. Reflecting on the last five years, she points out, “It doesn’t feel fast when you are in the middle of it, but we’ve done a lot.” Launching in the Canadian market in July 2016, Shelby began U.S. distribution only six months later in February 2017. And, in the same year, she gave birth to her second child.
While she acknowledges that there were things she would do differently if she had to do it over she is philosophical about the challenges: “Problems in the beginning feel insurmountable. But what I can say now is that there is value in pushing through those challenges and continuing to believe in yourself and continuing to push other people to believe in your idea. I’ve learned so much about myself and my capacity.”
Shelby’s steadfastness has paid off. In 2020, only four years after launch, Chickapea placed at number 70 out of 400 companies in the Report on Business ranking of Canada’s Top Growing Companies. In 2021, she received a $9.3 million investment from major investors to support the company as it continues to grow and expand its product line.
With these milestones, Shelby acknowledges that she now truly sees herself as an entrepreneur. But, she adds, the things that have been most gratifying are the things that the business has allowed her to do. Tremendously proud of her certification as a Woman-Owned Business and B Corporation, Chickapea has embraced environmental responsibility and has committed 2% of all revenue to philanthropic causes each year, including, most recently, a partnership with Community Food Centres Canada and The New Farm to provide regeneratively grown, organic food to those in need. As she sums it up, “The really exciting part of building a business was creating something that was good…good for your body and good for the world. I really wanted to create something that my kids would look up to and something that would have a positive impact.”