Innovative Student Leveraging College Resources to Grow His Business Start-up!
When Alex Villeneuve decided to enrol in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Program at Olds College, little did he imagine he would end up founding an award-winning company and becoming an entrepreneur at the young age of 19 years old.
After attending a high school with a culinary arts program, Villeneuve pursued his passion with a chef’s apprenticeship and then decided to round out his education in the brewing industry.
Just a few days into the program at Olds College, Villeneuve noticed that the spent grains left after brewing beer were just being discarded and thought that there may be a way to reuse that material.
“The idea for my business came to me in the first few days of attending the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Program at Olds College. When I saw the spent grain from the beer brewing process being—essentially—dumped, I immediately wondered if I could grow mushrooms with it instead. I had some experience cultivating mushrooms for community garden and culinary arts project during high school so I was able to make the connection quite quickly,” recalls Villeneuve.
After experimenting in his dorm room closet, Villeneuve determined that the spent grains were indeed an ideal growing material for gourmet oyster mushrooms. And further testing showed that due to the mushroom cultivation process, the “waste” material had become an ideal high-protein livestock food.
With the assistance of Olds College’s Centre for Innovation in starting a research project, Villeneuve founded his company, Ceres Solutions Ltd., and incorporated it in his second month of school.
Named after the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres Solutions Ltd. is proud to be environmentally focused.
“Sustainability and up-cycling is incredibly important to Ceres,” says Villeneuve. “By adding value to brewer’s grain we are able to bring high quality and affordable food to dinner plates while supporting Canadian brewers, farmers and ranchers.”
Brewing one litre of craft beer can use over 20 litres of water and more than three-quarters of the spent grains would normally get taken to a landfill site. Villeneuve’s company is working hard to change that.
Villeneuve explains, “Brewers traditionally had three options to deal with their grains. They could find a farmer to come and collect the grains to be used as feed, they could pay a private composting company to remove the grains or they could throw their grains in the garbage. Since there has been a significant increase in the number of craft breweries in the past few years, many of which are located in densely populated cities, these existing options have largely become impractical or very expensive for breweries in cities.”
Recent Government of Canada information states that food and beverage processing is the largest manufacturing industry in the country, with yearly sales of $112.4 billion and accounting for approximately 2% of the national Gross Domestic Product. As Canada’s biggest employer in the manufacturing industry, it provides an occupation for over 285,000 people.
“It goes without saying that the Agri-food industry is vital to our economy. I’m grateful to be part of an industry that provides local, high quality and affordable food to Canadians,” says Villeneuve. “The best things people can do to assist our local food and agriculture industries is to take an interest in where their food comes from, learn how its grown or raised and, most importantly, to vote with their dollars.”
The support of Villeneuve’s educational community at Olds College was vital in helping him get his business off the ground.
“My time at Olds College in the Brewmaster program and my time working with the Olds College Centre for Innovation and the Technology Access Centre for Livestock Production facilities has been incredibly important to the formation of the company and where we are today. Without the principals learned in the Brewmaster program and the support from college professors, researchers and farm staff the project would likely have not gone further than the experiment I initially conducted in my dorm room closet,” Villeneuve explains. “Olds College assisted me in many ways throughout the growth of my company. They provided warehouse space, equipment, access to a laboratory, expert advice, feedback on my business plan and introduced me to funding agencies and representatives.”
In 2016, Villeneuve won the Alberta Innovates VenturePrize Student award with $20,000 for his business concept, and in 2017 his company was the Canada 150 in 150 Grand Prize winner for its contributions to the future of Alberta and Canada.
And according to Villeneuve, the ideal time for students to use their entrepreneurial spirit and launch their own company has never been better.
“Students have an unparalleled opportunity to start a business. With the support of their school and the opportunities that come along with that including clubs, professor advice, events, guest speakers, classmate feedback and competitions I believe it’s one of the best times to start a business. My advice to student entrepreneurs is to start saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity and event that comes your way, look at obstacles or setbacks in your business’ development as a chance to innovate and take advantage of the support your school provides,” he says.
“I’m excited to have created myself a job that involves all of my passions; craft beer, local food and agriculture.”
By Jackie Fritz