Future Swirl whipping up a storm with plant-based soft-serve and ICON grant

Woman wearing apron in front of soft-serve machine.

Future Swirl founder Maddalena Eastbrook at her pop-up van.

Future Swirl is a Canberra-based start-up whipping up a storm in the ice-cream world.

Founder Maddi Easterbrook wanted to challenge the popular coconut, almond and soy-based ice-creams that dominate the dairy free alternatives market, with an oat milk soft-serve.

A hugely successful summer season with a pop-up van in Braddon showed Maddi that her idea had real potential.

“We opened Summernats weekend in Braddon and I was blown away by the response,” said Maddi.

“It was by far our best weekend during that January to May period in the van. It was really reaffirming. I thought the Summernats demographic would not be my audience, but we had so many converts and repeat customers over that weekend who turned into oat milk soft-serve lovers! It showed me there’s a lot of potential for us to grow.”

That experience paved the way for Maddi to secure an Innovation Connect (ICON) grant from the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN).

CBRIN receives funding from the ACT Government to support entrepreneurs, innovators and start-ups—like Future Swirl—in Canberra. It offers business support, programs, grants and access to networks of other entrepreneurs.

“The idea [for the ICON grant] was to take that soft-serve, which you can only get when I’m selling at markets in the van, and bring it to independent grocers in Canberra and straight to our customers in take home tubs.

“I received matched funding for $30,000,” Maddi said. “I contributed $30,000 myself and bought machinery to scale the business and work on product development.

“With that money I can move manufacturing out of the pop-up van and into a premises.”

The take home tubs are being manufactured at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Technology (CEAT) at ANU. CEAT is another ACT Government grant-funded spin out from the Priority Investment Program.

“I would encourage anyone who is thinking of applying for an ICON grant to do it,” she said.

“I was nervous about pitching my idea against people developing AI and high-tech solutions.

“But plant-based food alternatives are a growing and global industry, valued at nearly $5 billion and it’s expected to reach just over $100 billion by 2030. Being a vegan myself, I’m in a unique position to create a product that I would want to eat, rather than multi-nationals that are producing because there is a gap in the market.

“CBRIN could see my product has the capacity to scale and succeed.”

Maddi’s oat milk soft-serve is also filling a much-needed gap in the food allergen market. Her soft-serve is nut free, dairy free and soy free.

“It was amazing to see children who had never eaten a soft-serve or ice-cream before, sitting in the park enjoying their first taste in their 10 or 12 years of life,” Maddi said.

“My desire to start Future Swirl came from being vegan and being passionate about sustainability and plant-based food being the best way for individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. But meeting this need in the food allergen market has been an added bonus.

“It’s pretty great seeing the joy of a kid eating an soft-serve in the park! And soft-serves are very nostalgic.”

White and brown soft-serve icecream in cone being held. Future Swirl’s signature and most popular vanilla and chocolate oat milk based soft-serve.

As for what’s next for Future Swirl, Maddi is preparing to bring her take home tubs to Canberrans but also has her eyes set on the Sydney and Melbourne market.

CBRIN’s ICON grants are currently open and close on 11 September.

For more information visit the ICON website.

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