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Dr Hazel MacTavish-West, CEO & Co-Founder of Seedlab.

Exclusive: Meet Australia’s FMCG startup guru

Dr Hazel MacTavish-West, the CEO and co-founder of Seedlab Australia, has made waves in the FMCG industry with her business incubator and accelerator program for Australian and New Zealand producers.

Designed exclusively for Australian and New Zealand producers of specialised, sustainable products, Seedlab aims to bring consumers high-quality, value-added food, non-alcoholic drinks, and personal and home care items. Together with her husband and business partner, Darren West, Hazel founded Seedlab with a mission to support innovative businesses and offer consumers unique, high-quality products that make a real difference.

Tasmania-based Seedlab, founded in 2021, is Australia’s independent business incubator and accelerator program focused on early-stage FMCG startups. Today, Seedlab Australia has expanded its successful Tasmanian pilot program for food startups, already supporting over 100 businesses. The accelerator offers a three-stage program – start, scale and grow – to help businesses at various maturity levels.

Shaking up the industry

As someone experienced in developing businesses, Hazel has always been on the lookout for ways to broaden Seedlab’s influence and extend its reach, whether in Australia and New Zealand or beyond. In a recent interview with Dynamic Business, Hazel shared insights into the program with more than 300 founders in its community and how it supports innovative businesses that offer high-quality, specialised products with a real difference to consumers.

Hazel explained that they invest in startups with intel, not capital, and support them to start, scale, and grow to become retail-ready with a proven training and support program. “We invest with intel (not capital) and support them to start, scale and grow to become retail-ready with a proven training and support program. And they find us”

Seedlab measures its startups’ success in various ways that depend on each business’s goals and needs. “Success for our startups can be anything from them realising they don’t have a unique enough (or protectable) proposition, or perhaps realising there isn’t enough margin in their products for them to make a profit. We help them either address big issues like this or realise that they need to start over.”

Hazel explained that they focus on several metrics to gauge success, including unique value propositions, competitive landscapes, cost of goods, appropriate pricing, and profitable communication with retailers. “Success for others is helping them get listed for a number of stores that they can actually service and supply. Success for some is helping them scale up and find contract manufacturers. It’s not a one size fits all solution. 

“Our program helps them identify where they are in the journey of becoming retail-ready and what the next steps need to look like,” Hazel said.

Overcoming challenges in FMCG

Speaking about the challenges, Hazel said that the most significant obstacle faced by FMCG startups is the tough competition with established players in the market. She emphasised the need to develop unique and valuable products while maintaining the production standards and volume required by national retailers and pricing them appropriately to meet consumer demands.

“Developing products that are truly different and valued, and managing to produce them to the standards and in a suitable volume as required by national retailers, for a price that consumers value.” 

Hazel explained that to help these startups overcome these challenges, “It’s important to clearly identify and articulate the job to be done by the product for a specific consumer demographic. To understand their competitive landscape and how they can truly stand out. To understand the unique value points of their product proposition, and how to communicate this.”

She added, “We also help them understand their cost of goods and price their products appropriately. And how to communicate all of this to the retailer and understand how to make the product work profitably for all concerned. 

“It’s a tough gig, competing with global mega FMCG businesses that have big advertising budgets. The trick is not to try to be all things to everyone.”

The cultivate accelerator program

The Cultivate accelerator program by Seedlab provides participants with comprehensive mentorship and networking opportunities. Hazel said about the program, “Mentorship is provided to our Cultivate accelerator participants by our amazing team – and in some cases, some of our third-party content providers are also available to assist on specific topics.”

The mentorship includes monthly cohort group meetings and individual sessions with mentors as needed. The representative also explained the networking opportunities provided by Seedlab, saying, “For networking, we utilise everything from formal live, online Masterclasses to help connect communities – by people sharing who they are, where they are and what they do in the chat box.”

Seedlab also offers private Facebook groups for their Bootcampers and Cultivators to connect and ask questions of each other. They also have informal online Cuppa and Chat sessions, where participants can talk shop or share information about their businesses, families, and pets.

The program also provides opportunities to participate in trade and consumer shows where Seedlab meets with its participants and speaks with them. In addition, they host informal dinners and debrief sessions during their Australia Woolworths EXPOs every six months, which provide great networking opportunities.

“We have found many of our Seedlabbers meet up with each other at markets and as friends. It’s a great village to be a part of,” Hazel added 

Bringing regional and artisanal producers to the table for national retailers

In response to how the FMCG industry will change in the next decade and how Seedlab prepares their startups, Hazel said, “We provide them with tools and techniques, and systems to go back to for support when things change. 

“People get the message that it’s important to ask questions, to be responsive, and to have a backup plan. That’s all we can do. They are all connected with a local, national and global village of support – and safe places to ask questions and for help.”

When asked about the impact Seedlab hopes to have on the FMCG industry and how it fits into the broader ecosystem, Hazel explained, “Seedlab Australia is building a funnel of hundreds of retail-ready small businesses throughout Australia and New Zealand who can all sit at the table with ‘the big guys’ and hold their heads high – knowing they have their information in place and a solid basis to their proposition and their business.

“We provide national retailers with a pipeline of innovation that is nimble, responsive, and reflects market trends (and, in some cases, market fads) – bringing regional and artisanal producers to the table in a way that makes the job of the Category Managers easier to deliver innovation and interest for the consumer.”

Visit Seedlab here.

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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