In this hypothetical scenario, the Niagara Region has become a center for agricultural innovation and excellence. Local agricultural producers are working in tandem with agri-food entrepreneurs to add value to existing products and processes, creating new jobs and driving economic growth to the region, while contributing to a global sustainable food future. New partnerships are formed between Brock and Guleph Universities, the Regional Innovation Centres (RICs) and entrepreneurial hubs (such as BrockLivingLab), the agricultural industry and local municipalities. Through the formation of public-private partnerships and new financing options, entrepreneurs can gain access to the funding they need to work with agricultural producers to bring agri-expertise to new urban centers and explore novel solutions for feeding the cities of the world. Lincoln's first co-working studio is open for businesses after an old school is purchased and revitalized to make space for the in-flux of entrepreneurial talent and investment pouring into the region.
Agri-Food Entrepreneurs Flock to Lincoln, Ontario for Growing Business Opportunities
Cities incubate creativity and serve as labs for innovative ideas and policies.
One such idea that’s gained popularity is cities around the world is the innovation district. These districts are creative, energy-laden ecosystems focusing on building partnerships across sectors. Innovation districts attract entrepreneurs, established companies, and leaders in all walks of life, and provide them with the space to create unexpected relationships and find transformative solutions.
Cities as far afield as Toronto, Las Vegas, and Barcelona have invested in Innovation Districts to solve new and complex problems, which demand increased collaboration to understand the latest trends, and address problems with solutions that are more and more frequently found at the boundaries between different fields.
It’s not all metropolises, though.
Many small to medium sized cities have built vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that can help them compete with large cities for talent and companies. Part of their strategy is to recruit “boomerang” workers who grew up in a small city, moved to a larger metro for college or a job, and many now return to raise families.
This strategy has worked well for the Town of Lincoln, Ontario. In 2025 city officials converted unused office space into a new co-working facility, where their plan for a “Center of Excellence for Agriculture” really came to life. Students from Brock University, the University of Guelph and local agriculture experts work from the space through a series of partnerships that let entrepreneurs of all experience level take a shot at getting their company off the ground.
Whereas nearby cities like Waterloo, Ontario have seen growth through new digital technologies and quantum computing, the Niagara region has leveraged its agricultural expertise to prototype solutions that will “help feed the cities of the future,” says Wendy Randelle Founder of Aquapontics.
Randelle was still a student when she started her first farm. Aquapontics raise’s fish and plants together in a ecologically balanced system. The high-volume production of leafy greens, herbs, fruiting crops, and fish takes place in a recirculating system. The farms use a fraction of the water compared to traditional agriculture and can grow food continuously year-round.
This is just one of many examples of the agricultural innovation taking place in the Region of Niagara since making investments into building their innovation district. Other activities include consulting with towns and urban centers across the country to enhance Canada’s food resilience as the countries weather becomes increasingly more unpredictable.
Why are young entrepreneurs choosing small towns to grow their business? Here are some of the top reasons.
Quality of life
The outdoor-oriented quality of life is a huge attraction for anyone, including entrepreneurs and their potential employees. This same element definitely contributed to the rise of Boulder, Colo as a thriving startup hub. Personal reasons are the main reason entrepreneurs might move to a new location, and quality of life is a big consideration.
A paper examining tech ecosystems in Bozeman and Missoula highlighted “dense networks of active local support organizations” that help entrepreneurs as a main attraction. Many communities are home to support organizations, of course, but the difference in small cities may be that entrepreneurs are actually aware of them because the city is small. A persistent gripe from entrepreneurs is that they can’t find the resources they need when they need them. Correspondingly, many support organizations (and their public and private funders) complain that entrepreneurs don’t know they exist. A small city naturally eases this mismatch.
Going global is required
Most high-growth firms are in major metro areas because they serve those large regional markets. The best and most sustainable way to scale your business is to target global markets. In a small city, this is pretty much your only option, so entrepreneurs must think global from the very beginning. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your only going-global option is in a big city.
Through incubating ideas, working collaboratively across sectors, and thinking beyond physical boundaries, innovation districts are thriving and creating ongoing opportunities for cities. By no means is it an easy process, but these Innovation Districts help pave the way for future experimentation in cities and towns across the country by creating the eco-systems that attract talent to help them thrive.